Hamilton recovers in FP2 to edge out Alonso and Rosberg

Leave a comment

Lewis Hamilton has bounced back from a suspension problem to finish the second practice session for the Chinese Grand Prix as the fastest driver ahead of Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso and Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg.

The British driver lost some track time early on in the session, but once he came out he managed to lay down a pace that was good enough to edge out Alonso by one-tenth of a second. The Spaniard had threatened to go back-to-back following his charge to P1 in the first practice on Friday.

An increase in track temperature for FP2 meant that conditions were far more representative of what teams can expect to encounter during qualifying and the race in China, and as a result there was less of a reluctance to get out early. For Mercedes and Hamilton, though, there was little choice in the matter as the team continued to work on his car following a problem during the first session.

Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat was the early pace-setter during FP2 with McLaren drivers Kevin Magnussen and Jenson Button slotting into second and third place behind the Russian youngster. However, his lead soon vanished when the front-runners came out as Sebastian Vettel and Felipe Massa traded fastest lap times. Nico Rosberg was eventually the first driver to dip below the 1:40 mark, but Fernando Alonso pulled out another half a second on the Mercedes driver.

Having not set a time during first practice, Kimi Raikkonen finally emerged from the pits for Ferrari after his car had been fixed by the team. The Finn did appear to get in the way of Esteban Gutierrez under braking, prompting the Mexican driver to complain over the radio that he had lost time as a result.

Pastor Maldonado was the first driver to make the switch to the soft compound tire, and jumped up into fourth place as a result thanks to the added pace and grip of the options. However, his session soon took a turn for the worse as he crashed his car on the entry to the pit lane, ending his session in the barrier and giving his team some repair work to do overnight.

Despite the yellow flags, Nico Rosberg was able to go fastest once again on the soft tire, pulling out another half-second over Alonso at the top. Teammate Lewis Hamilton finally managed to get out on track after his team had fixed the W05 car, and the Briton went into sixth place with his first attempt. Fernando Alonso soon returned to the top of the timesheets on the soft tire, suggesting that Ferrari has made a step forwards this weekend after a difficult weekend last time out in Bahrain.

Hamilton was one of the last men to make the switch to the soft tire, but it paid off as he went fastest of all by one-tenth of a second with 40 minutes remaining in the session. Kimi Raikkonen also ventured out on the options after his delay, and went seventh fastest.

After this set of soft tire runs, most of the teams turned their attention to race simulations to prepare for Sunday afternoon, and the times went unchanged as a result. Daniel Ricciardo put in a good stint on his long run with the prime tire, whilst Hamilton reported that his options were wearing very quickly, and even told the team that he wasn’t at all happy with the car.

Mercedes might be back on top, but it is hard to believe that the team’s advantage is just one tenth of a second. It will be interesting to see what result qualifying produces tomorrow, but with rain forecast, this weekend might not be as straightforward as Mercedes may have wanted it to be.

Cooper solidifies PWC GT presence with Callaway Corvette

Callaway, Cooper, Gill. Photo: PWC
Leave a comment

Pirelli World Challenge could use a “face” of the series from a driving standpoint, and American Michael Cooper is a good candidate to fill that role for 2018.

Cooper, 27, has won PWC Touring Car, GTS and, most recently the SprintX GT titles within the series and has quickly blossomed into one of the series’ top GT stars.

It’s been a rapid rise for the Syosset, N.Y. native, entering into a world filled with series stars and champions such as Johnny O’Connell, Patrick Long, Alvaro Parente and a host of others.

But under O’Connell’s tutelage, Cooper admirably filled the rather gaping shoes vacated by Andy Pilgrim at Cadillac Racing, steering the Cadillac ATS-V.R to multiple race wins in the last two years – including a sweep of this year’s season finale weekend at Sonoma.

Cooper and Jordan Taylor were the model of consistency in SprintX this year, winning once at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and surviving contact at Circuit of The Americas to take that title.

With Cadillac withdrawing its ATS-V.R program at the end of the year though, Cooper was left a free agent for 2018. Fortunately with one door closed another opened, in the form of the GM-blessed but full Callaway Competition USA effort with its Callaway Corvette C7 GT3-R that will come Stateside next year. Cooper and Daniel Keilwitz will be in the team’s two cars for the full season; the car was fully unveiled last week at the PRI Show in Indianapolis.

The Callaway is a proven commodity in Europe but couldn’t run in the U.S. unless the path was cleared by one of GM’s factory programs to end a direct, potential head-to-head competition.

Moving from the Cadillac to the Callaway Corvette should be a natural transition, Cooper said last week.

“It worked out incredibly well that GM decided to allow Calloway to run the car in the United States and it created an opportunity for me that wouldn’t have been there otherwise,” he told NBC Sports. “I talked to a lot of other GT teams and at the end of the day, I felt like this was the best direction for me to be competitive next year and to also continue furthering my career with General Motors.”

Indeed Cooper has graduated from the Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R in GTS to the Cadillac and now to the Callaway Corvette. Cooper hailed the Cadillac team for what they did for his career growth.

“Working with Cadillac Racing has been instrumental in developing my abilities both on and off the track,” he said. “So I’m definitely a much more well-rounded driver now and have a lot of experience in the World Challenge GT field, so I kind of know what to expect going into that first race and going into that first corner in St. Pete.”

As noted, the car’s success in Europe means it’s a well-oiled machine by the time Reeves Callaway has worked with PWC to bring it Stateside next year. And as Cooper explained, discussions had been underway for a bit of time to ensure his presence in this car and team.

“I think the car is going to be extremely capable. It’s already won championships and races in Europe. I think, in bringing it over here, we’re going to hit the ground running straight away,” he said.

“Calloway had wanted me to come drive for them in July or August. We always kept in touch since then, and there was a lot of work trying to put together a program before they decided that they were going to do a fully fledged factory program. So once they made that decision, I think the pieces were kind of in place already, and the conversations had been had to be able to say ‘You’re going to be our guy.’”

December is late for IMSA programs to get finalized, but it’s relatively early for PWC, with the season not starting until mid-March in St. Petersburg. An extensive testing program should follow, as Callaway establishes its U.S. base and infrastructure.

“It’s definitely early for a Pirelli World Challenge program to be announced in December when we start racing in March. So that’s very good,” he said. “But, the team has a lot of work ahead of them in terms of getting infrastructure set up here in the United States, because a lot of their racing program has been in Europe. So, there will be a testing program, but they have to get the infrastructure in place first. But, we’ll be well prepared for St. Pete, I’m certain of it.

“Last year was the first year when I could sit back, kick my feet up, and know what I was doing next year. So, to be able to have everything done and be able to announce it this early on makes my life less stressful and now I can just focus on preparing myself and my team for next year.”