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Martin Truex Jr. leads five-driver pack to exceed 200 mph in first Sprint Cup practice at Talladega

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It’s rare a driver gets a second chance in NASCAR, but Martin Truex Jr. did during Friday’s first practice session at Talladega Superspeedway for Sunday’s Aaron’s 499.

Truex sat on the outside pole for the season-opening Daytona 500 back in February, but his hopes and dreams of a win in the Great American Race ended after just 30 laps when the oil pump on his Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet broke.

End of story, end of race for Truex, who ultimately finished last in the 43-driver field.

But in the first of two practice Sprint Cup sessions on Friday, Truex reached back for some of the same magic he had during qualifying at Daytona.

The New Jersey native, who is in his first season at FRR after a four-year stint with Michael Waltrip Racing, was the fastest in the early afternoon practice.

Not only that, Truex cracked the 200 mph mark in doing so, leading the 47 cars that took part in the practice session with a top speed of 200.721 mph.

Truex is currently 27th in the Sprint Cup standings heading into Talladega, 159 points behind series leader Jeff Gordon.

And while his record at Talladega is far from stellar – he’s managed to finish just nine of his prior 18 starts there, Truex is optimistic that he can build upon Friday’s practice time.

“The car is fast, and we knew it would be as fast as it was in Daytona,” Truex said after the first practice session. “We just didn’t have a chance to show the speed at Daytona.

“It’s good that we still have the speed in it.  We put ourselves in the right spot today to hit the big number. I think we only did nine or 10 laps and everything felt good so we’re ready to go and qualify tomorrow.”

As a result, Truex said he would not take part in Friday’s second practice session.

As for qualifying Saturday, Truex said there’s more from where Friday’s practice speed came from.

“We would like to be in the same position as we were today,” he said. “At the start of practice we got in front of a line of cars and were able to make a run up there.

“The difference (during Saturday’s qualifying) is that we don’t know what everyone else’s plan is going to be.  Everyone will be trying to do what we did in practice today and that’s to be in the right position to get the fastest speed.

“And at the same time, it’s going to be a risky session. Our No. 1 goal right now is to make sure this Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet races on Sunday. If we feel like we’re in a danger zone, we’ll abort. It really doesn’t matter where you start here.”

Truex is coming off a season-best finish of 10th at Richmond last Saturday, had plenty of company as four other drivers also cracked 200 mph:

Justin Allgaier (200.666), last year’s ‘Dega spring race winner David Ragan (200.599), Marcos Ambrose (200.540) and super rookie Kyle Larson was fifth-fastest (200.372).

Sixth through 10th were Carl Edwards (199.921), Michael Waltrip (199.875), David Gilliland (199.666), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (199.654) and Danica Patrick was 10th-fastest at 199.625 mph.

On the flip side, several drivers struggled to find speed in the first session. Kyle Busch was 41st-fastest (195.389 mph), Dale Earnhardt Jr. was right behind (195.337), six-time and defending Sprint Cup champ Jimmie Johnson was 45th-fastest (190.537) and J.J. Yeley brought up the rear of the field at an almost glacial 187.331 mph.

Chevrolet dominated the first practice session from a manufacturer’s standpoint with 11 Chevy-powered drivers among the fastest in the top 20.

Ford had seven drivers while Toyota continued its struggles with only one driver in the top 10 (Waltrip, seventh-fastest) and Clint Bowyer (18th-fastest).

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Rosberg wary of engine power deficit in Abu Dhabi

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 27:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP drives during practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Nico Rosberg is anticipating a tough weekend in Abu Dhabi due to a deficit in engine power caused by the high mileage on his current unit.

Rosberg and the Mercedes team have managed to avoid any engine-related grid penalties in 2015 by keeping within the limit of four power units per season.

By doing so, Mercedes has been forced into extending the milage of its engines, with a failure for Rosberg at the Italian Grand Prix in September having a knock-on effect at the end of the season.

Rosberg therefore arrives in Abu Dhabi with an engine down on power that makes him wary of his chances despite leading practice on Friday.

“It’s been a good start here in Abu Dhabi, but it will be a tough weekend for me as I have quite a high mileage engine in my car,” Rosberg said.

“After the Monza problem, we have had to stretch the engine life more than we had planned over the 19 races, so I definitely have a small lack of power on the straights and therefore need to make up extra time in the corners.

“It will be a big battle with Lewis here. He didn’t really bring together his quick laps, so it will be even closer tomorrow I’m sure. I’m looking forward to it and I definitely want to win this race and give the boys in the garage a reason to celebrate at the end of the season.”

On the other side of the Mercedes garage, world champion Lewis Hamilton was left unhappy with Mercedes’ long-run pace in practice, believing that there is ground to be made up.

“The long run pace doesn’t feel quite as strong so that’s something I need to work on,” Hamilton said. “I’ll probably make some more tweaks tonight and hopefully tomorrow it will be better.

“It’s very hard to overtake here, so of course it’s better to be up on pole. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to win from further back.”

Renault: Lotus announcement “very likely” next week

xxxx during practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
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Renault Formula 1 chief Cyril Abiteboul has said that the French manufacturer expects to make an announcement regarding its pending takeover of Lotus next week.

Renault has been engaged in negotiations with Lotus over a takeover of the team for many months, and signed a letter of intent back in September confirming its plans to revive a works F1 operation at Enstone.

Although a deal is still yet to be formally agreed and announced, Renault employees have already started working at Lotus to lay the foundations for 2016.

It was speculated that Renault may announce its takeover of Lotus during the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend, but Abiteboul confirmed on Friday that nothing would be made official at Yas Marina.

The Frenchman remained coy when asked what exactly Renault’s involvement in F1 would entail in 2016, saying: “I’m afraid I can’t answer to that question. I would like to be in a position to be able to answer to that questions, but I am not today.”

Despite there being no announcement in Abu Dhabi, Abiteboul said that he envisages one being made next week following the conclusion of the 2015 season.

“What I can say is that there will be no announcement regarding Renault’s future – short-term or middle-term future – over the weekend, but there will be an announcement, very likely, in the course of next week,” he said.

“We have always said that we would like to do that after the season. The season is ending on Sunday, around the start of December and that is what we will do stick to that plan, which is to make an announcement then.”

Abiteboul said that every effort was being made to finalize the deal with Lotus, but he is excited about the prospect of Renault returning to F1 with a works team for the first time since 2010.

“It’s fair to say that there is a process going on since the signing of the letter of interest on the 28th of September, there is a process involving a lot of people,” Abiteboul said.

“I think 50 people have been working night and day on the realisation of a possible acquisition of a majority stake in Lotus. It’s just a project, It’s been a proper rollercoaster, very exciting.”

Vettel, Raikkonen take on world’s fastest rollercoaster in Abu Dhabi (VIDEO)

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Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen both live life at high-speed racing in Formula 1, but how would they get on when faced with the fastest rollercoaster in the world?

To celebrate the fifth birthday of Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, Vettel and Raikkonen took on the Formula Rossa rollercoaster alongside reserve driver Esteban Gutierrez and other members of the Ferrari team.

Raikkonen is known for being the ‘Iceman’ and showing little emotion, and this was true even at the fastest points of the rollercoaster ride as he kept a straight face while Vettel raised his arms and whooped with excitement.

Never change, Kimi…

Alonso: Tough year with McLaren “necessary”

xxxx during practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
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Fernando Alonso believes that his tough 2015 Formula 1 campaign with McLaren was a “necessary” stage within his racing career.

Alonso left Ferrari at the end of 2014 after five seasons with the Italian marque to rejoin McLaren ahead of its new partnership with Japanese manufacturer Honda.

McLaren-Honda enjoyed immense success in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but 2015 has proven to be a stark juxtaposition thanks to numerous problems with the power unit.

The issues have limited Alonso to just two top-ten finishes in 2015, yielding 11 points to leave him a lowly 17th in the drivers’ championships.

However, the Spaniard was upbeat when reflecting on the season in spite of McLaren’s troubles, believing it to be an important stepping stone.

“Well, tough year, obviously difficult and struggling with the pace all year and the reliability, so definitely a difficult season for us,” Alonso conceded.

“But personally I think it was necessary. It was a step forward in my career after the two championships, after five fantastic seasons fighting for the world championship but arriving second, so I needed some new motivation, some new project that I could trust and I could believe is the only way to become champion again.

“After one difficult season, as I said, I learn so much. I enjoy working with McLaren, with Honda, with all the Japanese discipline and Japanese culture into the team.

“I still remain very positive. I’m very, very happy and looking forward to next year being a little bit easier than this one that, as I said, has been difficult in terms of results.”

Looking ahead to 2016, Alonso expects McLaren to make progress and move up the grid, but is unsure whether it will make enough of a leap forward to challenge for race wins once again.

“At the moment there’s a question mark, I guess, where McLaren-Honda can be next year,” Alonso said.

“There are a lot of expectations in the team. I think we worked really all season, being united in some difficult moments and always moving forward, so I think for 2016 the main goal for the team is to come back to where we belong, we think, and being competitive, fighting for the top positions.

“I don’t know if that means fighting for the championship, I don’t know if that means fighting for victories of just being on the podium sometimes, that’s always difficult to know in a very complex sport like Formula One.

“There are definitely some big challenges ahead in this winter and I see all the things that the team has done in the last couple of months and these seem very logical, very positive and I’m confident that it’s going to be a completely different season next year and I’m happy with the progress.”