Photo courtesy of IMSA

IMSA: Barbosa, Cadillac dominate Rolex 24 qualifying

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The new Cadillac DPi-V.R dominated proceedings on Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, with top three sweeps in both practice sessions before Joao Barbosa took the Action Express-run No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac to pole position for the 55th Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Barbosa has taken the overall pole with James French (PC), Joey Hand (GTLM) and Alessandro Pier Guidi (GTD) taking the other class pole positions.

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What appeared to be a near unassailable 1:37.169 lap set by Ricky Taylor was eclipsed by the rapid Portuguese driver, with Barbosa setting a 1:36.903 lap around the 3.56-mile Daytona International Speedway. This sees the Cadillac on pole for the debut of the new Daytona Prototype international (DPi) platform, which premieres alongside new-for-2017 LMP2-spec cars.

The second Action Express entry, the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac, ended within a tenth of Barbosa in second place. Dane Cameron shot up to second at 1:36.973 right near the end of the session, and will start second for the first race of his Prototype class title defense in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

Barbosa shares his No. 5 car with longtime co-driver Christian Fittipaldi and Filipe Albuquerque, while Cameron is in the No. 31 car with Eric Curran, Mike Conway and Seb Morris.

Neel Jani took the No. 13 Rebellion Racing Oreca 07 Gibson up to third right at the end of the session at 1:37.123, with Taylor’s early flier leaving him only fourth.

Jani shares his car with Stephane Sarrazin, Sebastien Buemi and Nick Heidfeld while Taylor will share the No. 10 car with brother Jordan Taylor, Max Angelelli in his final start and Jeff Gordon in his first Rolex 24 start in 10 years.

Brendon Hartley did well to take the No. 22 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPi up to fifth on the grid. The best of the Mazda RT24-Ps was only ninth, while the sole Ligier JS P217 from PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports was eighth and the sole Riley Mk. 30 from VISIT FLORIDA Racing was 11th. DragonSpeed will start from the rear of the Prototype field following a crash in second practice, and did not partake in qualifying.

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The lone team with one car in Prototype Challenge, Performance Tech Motorsports, saw off the two teams fielding two cars to secure the pole position for the class’ final Rolex 24.

James French clocked a 1:42.559 in the No. 38 Oreca FLM09, which was more than eight tenths quicker than veteran Johnny Mowlem. French shares the No. 38 car with Kyle Masson, Pato O’Ward and Nick Boulle.

Mowlem is back for one more, final final, go-’round in the No. 26 BAR1 Motorsports entry. He had announced his retirement following last year’s Petit Le Mans but has come back to Brian Alder’s team. He won the 2015 and 2016 poles here.

“I can say this is officially my last race; Sebring was offered but I said no,” Mowlem told IMSA Radio after the session. “If there was no watch to win, I wouldn’t be here!”

The 2004 Indianapolis 500 champion and 2009 Rolex 24 overall co-winner, Buddy Rice, was third in the second BAR1 entry. Incidentally, Rice is set for a full-time driving return for the first time in nearly a decade.

GTLM

In GT Le Mans, Ford Chip Ganassi Racing’s Ford GTs dominated qualifying, with a 1-2-3 sweep in class.

Joey Hand, who will share the team’s No. 66 Ford with Dirk Mueller and Sebastien Bourdais, took the top spot at 1:43.473. That trio was the winning lineup at last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and look to follow that up with a Rolex 24 win this weekend.

The Nos. 67 (qualified by Richard Westbrook) and No. 68 (Olivier Pla) Fords were second and third, within 0.231 and 0.514 of a second, respectively.

Toni Vilander was the top non-Ford in his No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE, fourth at 1:44.121 and 0.628 of a second back, while Patrick Pilet qualified fifth in the new No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR for that car’s race debut, 1:44.251.

The top Corvette C7.R was seventh with Jan Magnussen, the top BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM in 10th in the 11-car class.

GTD

The 27-car GT Daytona field sees a front row sweep by the Ferrari 488 GT3 in its Rolex 24 at Daytona debut, the car having only made its North American debut a race later at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring last year.

Alessandro Pier Guidi took the No. 51 Spirit of Race Ferrari to the top spot at 1:47.099, just 0.018 of a second clear of fellow Italian Alessandro, Alessandro Balzan in the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 at 1:47.117.

Both times were ahead of the last dry qualifying pole time set in 2015, James Davison in an Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3 at 1:47.272.

Pier Guidi was part of the winning lineup at the 2014 Rolex 24 in a Ferrari 458 Italia GT3, part of the last-lap shootout between he and Markus Winkelhock in an Audi. Pier Guidi shares this car with Davide Rigon, Maurizio Mediani, Peter Mann and Rino Mastronardi.

After the pair of Ferraris, the first Aston Martin, Porsche, Lamborghini, Audi and Acura came next to make it six manufacturers in the top seven. Only Lexus (best car 13th), BMW (17th) and Mercedes-AMG (18th) were outside the top 10 of the nine manufacturers entered in class. Acura did well to qualify both of the debuting NSX GT3s in the top-10 with Andy Lally and Jeff Segal.

In a weird alphabet quirk, the top-five in class featured four Italians and five drivers whose first names all end with the letter -o. After the pair of Alessandros, Marco Sorenson (No. 98 Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3), Matteo Cairoli (No. 59 Manthey Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R) and Mirko Bortolotti (No. 11 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracán GT3) completed the top-five. Those five cars were separated by 0.686 of a second.

Beyond that, the top 19 cars down to Ben Keating in 19th in the No. 33 Riley Motorsports-Team AMG Mercedes AMG-GT3, were within two seconds. Keating was 1.957 seconds off the pace.

RESULTS

Robert Hight extends Funny Car victory streak to 13 seasons

Photo: Gary Nastase and Auto Imagery
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MORRISON, Colo. (AP) Robert Hight beat Tommy Johnson Jr. on Sunday in the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway to extend his Funny Car victory streak to 13 seasons.

Hight topped Johnson with a 3.995-second pass at 317.57 mph in a Chevrolet Camaro SS for his 38th career victory.

“We definitely struggled through the first few rounds and we were lucky to get those round wins, but I have a great team who figured things out and helped get me to the winner’s circle,” Hight said. “It’s definitely a long-time coming and we hadn’t had much luck, but today we had some luck and we hope this continues throughout the Western Swing.”

Antron Brown won in Top Fuel, Drew Skillman in Pro Stock, and Eddie Krawiec in Pro Stock Motorcycle.

Brown edged teammate and No. 1 qualifier Leah Pritchett with a 3.792 at 319.82. He has three victories this season to push his career total to 64.

Skillman raced to his second straight victory and the fifth of his career, beating points leader Bo Butner with a 6.916 run at 198.15 in a Camaro.

Krawiec topped Matt Smith with a 7.145 at 188.28. The Harley-Davidson rider has two victories this season and 38 overall.

Sauber confirms Matsushita for Hungary test as well

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Honda junior driver Nobuhiro Matsushita will have a run with Sauber F1 Team on the second day of the Hungarian Grand Prix post-race week test, in the team’s C36 chassis.

Sauber’s engine selection for 2018 is up in the air. While the team announced a switch from year old Ferraris to Hondas, this was done under prior team principal Monisha Kaltenborn and rumors have persisted the deal may be off, or wasn’t fully done in the first place.

That Matsushita is running at this test for his first day in an F1 car – Gustav Malja will run on day one – could indicate the Honda switch isn’t yet a dead topic.

“When I was four years old, I was fascinated by Michael Schumacher, watching him racing in Formula 1. Since then my dream was to become a Formula 1 driver,” he said. “I am very excited about my first Formula 1 test and I am really looking forward to driving the Sauber C36-Ferrari at the Hungaroring – it is a great opportunity for me. I hope it will be a productive day for the team as well as for myself, so that I can learn as much as possible. I would like to thank the Sauber F1 Team for making this happen.”

New team boss Frederic Vasseur, formerly of Renault, gave his take on the test.

“I am pleased that Nobuharu has this great opportunity. He deserves the experience of his first test in a Formula 1 car. Ever since his debut in Formula 2 with ART Grand Prix, I have been following his progress closely, and have watched him advance his performance from year to year. With this Formula 1 test, he comes one step closer to his dream of becoming an F1 driver one day.”

Renault confirms Robert Kubica will test in Hungary

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Renault Sport F1 Team has confirmed Robert Kubica will make his return to a current Formula 1 car in the post-Hungarian Grand Prix test, which will only continue to fuel the hype train for a possible race return.

The Pole has undertaken two tests in recent weeks with older cars but this day in the Renault R.S.17 will provide the team a chance to evaluate him in current machinery to gauge his race level fitness.

It’s a story that has got the F1 world buzzing in recent weeks as Kubica, injured in a rally accident before the 2011 season, has made a comeback to restart his racing career.

Poor Nicholas Latifi, also confirmed for the test that runs the Tuesday and Wednesday after the Hungarian Grand Prix, will be undoubtedly overlooked as a result.

Jolyon Palmer will race in Hungary this weekend at least but whether the Brit continues beyond the summer break that follows afterwards remains a question mark.

Haas F1 driver Romain Grosjean to launch cookbook

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Haas Formula 1 driver Romain Grosjean may be one of the sport’s most promising talents on-track, but he also has a burning passion off it: cooking.

Grosjean may have been spent a good part of this year cooking his brakes, but you’ll now be able to cook bakes instead…

F1’s resident foodie is set to release a cookbook alongside wife Marion Jolles in the coming weeks, as announced on his Facebook page.

Grosjean currently sits 13th in the F1 drivers’ championship with 18 points to his name, helping Haas to match the points total from its debut season after just 10 races in 2017.