Food City 500 - Practice

Can Jimmie Johnson become fifth different winner of 2014?

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With five previous victories at Auto Club Speedway, a lot of eyes are on defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson this weekend as the series returns to the two-mile oval in Southern California.

Johnson has yet to win so far in this young Sprint Cup season, but last weekend at Bristol (where he finished 19th after an early tire failure), he said he felt no pressure whatsoever to effectively lock himself into the Chase for the Sprint Cup with a win.

Today before practice began for Sunday’s Auto Club 400, Johnson reiterated those beliefs when asked if he was getting antsy about the matter.

“It’s not even close to time yet,” he said. “When you look at the stats, 16 different winners in a year is a rare occurrence. I still think that points are every bit as important as they’ve been until you get to Homestead.

“Even when you get into the Chase itself, the top guy in points will advance in every scenario – even the final one for the race at Homestead. Points are still the focus and we’ve been able to win multiple races a year with a certain mindset. I’m not going to chase home runs.”

Only twice in NASCAR history have there been more than 15 winners in a season’s first 26 races. And that particular feat has never occurred during the Chase era, which started in 2004.

So while Johnson’s mindset may run counter to the “win and your in” mentality that’s being emphasized more this season, he can be easily forgiven for having it.

It may all be a moot point anyway if Johnson can continue his mastery at Fontana, a place that has become one of NASCAR’s top tracks in regard to on-track action.

Johnson’s won eight times at both Dover and Martinsville, but Fontana is next up in terms of success for the six-time Cup champ. In addition to five wins, he’s earned 12 Top-5s and 14 Top-10s in SoCal over the course of his career.

The track has become a tricky one over time, but in Johnson’s mind, he believes that’s been a good thing for him and his team.

“I think our team has done well on low-grip level race tracks and this track’s in that category,” he said. “…The character in the track continues to change and the bumps, last year especially, are as big as I’ve ever seen them.

“The paving seams are very sensitive for running the right-side tires on – we’ve seen that in the NASCAR vehicles and also in IndyCar. So, I think those challenging elements are good for the 48.”

F1 testing returns, as do the sounds of this year’s cars (VIDEO)

MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 27:  Nico Hulkenberg of Germany driving the (27) Renault Sport Formula One Team Renault RS17 on track during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Today marked the first day of running for Formula 1’s new 2017 cars in anger at the Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona, as this week sees a four-day test from today through March 2.

And thanks to an apparent relaxing of the rules to allow for teams to post quick video on social media, you can hear the new cars as well as see them.

This is a good spot from F1 on NBC Sports producer Jason Swales:

Teams and onlookers at the test have taken the opportunity to post up these video clips to Twitter. An assortment of clips are below:

MERCEDES

RED BULL

FORCE INDIA

WILLIAMS

MCLAREN

TORO ROSSO

HAAS

RENAULT

Ferrari and Sauber haven’t yet released clips from their official accounts, but those may come later today. In the meantime, here’s a couple still shots the teams released:

FERRARI

SAUBER

Roborace unveils ‘Robocar’ at Mobile World Congress

Robocar by Roborace. Image by Chief Design Officer Daniel Simon
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Roborace has formally unveiled the ‘Robocar’ that will take part in the world’s first electric autonomous motorsport series in the near future.

Roborace was announced as a new support series for Formula E late in 2015, planning to push the boundaries of autonomous vehicle development through a racing championship.

Roborace has been present at Formula E rounds throughout season three, with its software being tested out on the ‘Devbot’, a self-driving Ginetta LMP3 car.

On Monday at the World Mobile Congress in Barcelona, Roborace officially unveiled the Robocar, with CEO Denis Sverdlov expressing his pride at the launch.

“This is a huge moment for Roborace as we share the Robocar with the world and take another big step in advancing driverless electric technology,” Sverdlov said.

“I am so proud of the entire team and our partners and particularly the work Daniel has done creating this beautiful machine. It was very important for us that we created an emotional connection to driverless cars and bring humans and robots closer together to define our future.

“The progress with Devbot on track and building the Robocar in less than a year has been extraordinary and we cannot wait to continue the journey of learning with the Robocar.”

The Robocar was designed by Daniel Simon, who has created vehicles for Hollywood sci-fi films such as Tron Legacy and Oblivion. It has four 300kW motors and a 540kW battery, capable of producing speeds of almost 200 mph, according to Roborace.

“Roborace opens a new dimension where motorsport as we know it meets the unstoppable rise of artificial intelligence,” Simon said.

“Whilst pushing the boundaries of engineering, we styled every single part of the Robocar. We take special pride in revealing a functional machine that stays true to the initial concept shared, a rarity in automotive design and a testament of our determination. It’s a great feeling to set this free.”

Roborace plans to continue to test with its Devbots at Formula E rounds throughout 2017 before putting two Robocars on-track together towards the end of the year.

Pascal Wehrlein’s timetable to return ‘still unclear’

during practice ahead of the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 18, 2016 in Melbourne, Australia.
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Sauber F1 Team’s new recruit for the year, Pascal Wehrlein, is yet to make his driving debut with the new team and is unclear at the moment when he will.

The German suffered a back injury in an accident at January’s Race of Champions in Miami and was ruled out of action for this week’s first test of the new Formula 1 season at the Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona, with Ferrari reserve driver Antonio Giovinazzi filling in for him this week.

Wehrlein is still on site in Barcelona this week and updated reporters of his progress, although still doesn’t have a timetable yet for his return.

“I’m feeling okay, no pain, nothing, just something as a precaution, to avoid any more difficult injury than I have at the moment so it’s just something to be safe for the future and that’s it,” Wehrlein told reporters at the test.

“I hope, at the moment it’s still unclear as I will have a check again at the end of this week, I will see some doctors and then let’s see, I hope for sure that they will give me green light and they say everything is fine and you can get back to racing but you never know.”

Wehrlein joined Sebastian Vettel for the RoC Team Germany at the event, and while he didn’t feel the injury was that bad at the time, he said the lingering effects have continued to persist longer than he expected.

“After the crash everything felt fine, I checked that everything was fine with the passenger,” Wehrlein explained. “I said tomorrow I will drive again, (and) was already speaking with Sebastian about the next day and felt completely fine, but after a crash you always go to a doctor and check yourself and they said it’s better you don’t drive tomorrow, then I went to the doctors again in Europe and said I should skip this test.

“Just in the first few days I had a bit of pain, sore everywhere which is normal after a crash, but at the moment I have no pain, feeling fine, doing my training as normal, and I can’t wait to go back into the car.”

It stands to reason Wehrlein would need at least next week’s test at Barcelona, from March 7-10, to get enough running in before the season starts. If he isn’t cleared by doctors, it could open the door for Giovinazzi to make his Grand Prix debut in Melbourne.

Bottas debuts, McLaren and Red Bull struggle in F1 testing

MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 27: Valtteri Bottas driving the (77) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO8 locks a wheel under braking on track  during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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MONTMELO, Spain (AP) Valtteri Bottas impressed in his debut drive for world champion Mercedes on Monday as the new Formula One pre-season got under way.

Bottas outworked the rest of the field with 79 laps during the morning session at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. That total surpasses the 66 laps of the Spanish Grand Prix held at the same venue each season.

The 27-year-old Finn also owned the fastest time until Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel bettered Bottas’ best effort by 0.378 seconds.

Bottas, formerly of Williams, inherited the driver’s seat at Mercedes from world champion Nico Rosberg, who retired in December five days after clinching the title.

Bottas’ teammate and three-time former champion Lewis Hamilton will take over driving for the Silver Arrows during Monday’s afternoon session.

While Bottas and Vettel took turns churning out the laps under sunny and dry conditions, McLaren and Red Bull endured inauspicious starts to the new campaign.

Fernando Alonso’s McLaren was stuck in the garage following a sole trip around the track as its technicians reportedly tried to repair an oil-related problem with its Honda motor.

Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo didn’t do much better, getting through just four laps before his new RB13 car ground to a halt near Turn 4 because of what the team called “a sensor issue.” The stranded Australian was ferried back to the boxes under a red flag.

Neither Ricciardo nor Alonso got back behind the wheel before the end of the four-hour opening session.

The opening test will continue later Monday and run through Thursday.

Teams are trying out their cars after a rulebook overhaul produced new aerodynamic and tire regulations. The designs have led to wider vehicles, which increases downforce and grip with the goal of boosting speeds.

Mercedes’ rivals are hoping the changes will help them make up ground on a team that has won 51 of the last 59 races en route to three consecutive driver and constructor titles.

To compare with times on the same track from last year, Vettel’s fastest effort of 1 minute, 22.791 seconds on Monday marks an improvement on his own leading time of 1:22.810 he set over the four days of last year’s opening test.

The track near Barcelona will host a second round of testing from March 7-10 before the season starts at the Australian Grand Prix on March 26.