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Lots of learning achieved for de Silvestro in debut Supercars season

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Former Verizon IndyCar Series standout Simona de Silvestro has endured somewhat of a global odyssey since her last full season of IndyCar competition in 2013.

She spent 2014 in an affiliation with Sauber F1 Team and tested older chassis with the goal of entering Formula 1 with them in 2015, but the two parted ways in the Fall of 2014.

She briefly rejoined the IndyCar ranks in 2015 and ran three races with Andretti Autosport (St. Petersburg, NOLA Motorsports Park, and the Indianapolis 500) before entering a pair of Formula E outings at the London ePrix double-header in 2015 – the final events of the inaugural Formula E season – also with Andretti Autosport. That sparked a full-season effort in the 2015-16 campaign with the same squad, dubbed Amlin Andretti Formula E at the time.

However, the 2017 season saw a complete change in direction for the 29-year-old native of Switzerland, who has spent her career in mostly open wheel categories, as she joined the Supercars Championship, commonly referred to as V8 Supercars, in Australia. Having had a taste of Supercars competition in 2015 and 2016 after entries into Bathurst 1000 those years, she spent the 2017 season with Nissan Motorsport, her first full-season foray that did not involve an open wheel machine.

On paper, the season appeared to be a struggle, as she had a best finish of only 15th. However, she appeared to make progress at every round, with the season-ending Newcastle 500 likely her best outing of the year, as she battled inside the top ten and looked set to finish sixth before wall contact on the final lap relegated her to 20th.

Race 2 showed positive signs as well, as she ran near the top 1o before a spin dropped her through the field, leaving her to finish 17th.

However, in an article posted on Australian news outlet Speedcafe, de Silvestro expressed a sense of optimism after ending the season with a strong performance, even if the finishing position did not ultimately reflect it.

“This is really positive for next year to end this season with such good pace,” she said following the weekend. “I had a strong car for most of Sunday afternoon and was able to pass a few cars, which was cool. But unfortunately, we got turned around by a pretty silly move, which ruined our day. The car was really strong this weekend, so I’m annoyed we didn’t record the results that reflected that pace.”

De Silvestro added that the Newcastle venue, new to the Supercars championship this year, proved beneficial as it meant her lack of familiarity with the tracks – she saw nearly all of them for the first time this year – was not nearly as much of a handicap as in previous races since everyone needed to learn the circuit.

“I think the biggest thing from the weekend was that everyone started from a level playing field. Because the track was new, we were able to be more in the mix and not start behind the ball. The track also suited me quite well. I really enjoyed it,” she explained.

De Silvestro, who finished 24th in the championship in 2017, is slated to remain with Nissan Motorsport in 2018 for her sophomore Supercars campaign.

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Ferrari teammates Vettel and Raikkonen fastest in rainy final practice at Australian GP

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen went one-two in the final practice session ahead of qualifying at the water-logged Australian Grand Prix on Saturday.

Vettel set a best-lap time of 1 minute, 26.067 seconds, more than 2.4 seconds faster than his teammate in second.

Both Ferrari drivers switched from their intermediate tires to the super-fast, ultra-soft tires for the final few laps of the session, testing conditions on the track after a day-long downpour left it slick and filled with small puddles.

Mercedes drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton did not opt to try out their soft tires, sticking to the intermediates for the entire session. They had the seventh- and eighth-fastest times, after topping the leaderboard in practice in dry conditions on Friday.

The heavy rains subsided by early afternoon, allowing the track to rapidly dry during the third practice session and making conditions safe for drivers to test their soft tires.

Still, only a few drivers completed a timed lap with the softer compounds, with Mercedes, Red Bull and most of the others staying with their intermediates.

Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson had the third-fastest time of the session on ultrasoft tires, followed by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen on intermediates.

Hamilton remains the favorite to capture his fifth straight pole position at the Australian Grand Prix in qualifying later Saturday. He had the fastest laps on ultrasoft tires in the two practice sessions on Friday, though Verstappen was right behind him.

Verstappen and Vettel both slid on the slick track early in the third practice session, but maintained control and completed their runs without incident.

Verstappen’s teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, had the sixth-fastest time of the session. The Australian’s chances of winning his fifth career Grand Prix on his home track in Melbourne took a hit late Friday when he was assessed a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

The Australian driver was penalized for driving too fast under red-flag conditions during Friday’s second practice session because of debris on the track.