Is there a ‘right way’ to go about car development?

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Winter testing has left us with more questions than answers. Mercedes were strong during the final test in Barcelona, but the team maintain that they are not favorites for the opening round in Melbourne. Closest challengers Ferrari have set their sights on a podium, as have Red Bull despite the latter failing to repeat their championship winning form during the pre-season, whilst McLaren have said they merely want points. Jenson Button believes that by sacrificing the first few races to focus on car development, the team will be stronger come the end of the season. This yields the question: is there are ‘right way’ to go about car development?

The ideal path is to prepare, be quick initially, and to sustain this pace throughout the season, although this is nigh-on impossible to achieve. Red Bull came close in 2011 as Vettel coasted to a second title, but they did struggle mid way through the season as Ferrari and McLaren caught up. It was already too late though, and Button’s 2009 championship victory was a similar story. He won six of the first seven races after Brawn’s preparation (two years in the making) paid off, and although he failed to win after the Turkish GP, it proved to be enough.

Mercedes (who emerged from Brawn GP) appear to be taking this route for 2013. Their late-2012 form suggests that the 2013 car has been their primary focus for a while now, and if the Silver Arrows can get the jump on their rivals in the early rounds, it could be a fruitful season for the team.

However, Red Bull’s 2012 success also shows how the “slow and steady” approach can work. It wasn’t until the end of the European season that Vettel really found championship winning form, but by having the quickest car, he always had the upper hand over Fernando Alonso. McLaren appear to be taking this route in 2013, and it could work in their favor should Mercedes’ pace not continue.

With the new Pirelli tires providing a fresh challenge for the teams, the ‘long term’ approach could be the better option. The opening few races always throw up surprises, and McLaren could use this to their advantage by snatching a win or two even with a ‘slower’ car. There is also a large amount of risk behind this method though, and they could find their championship hopes in tatters by the beginning of the European season in Spain. Whichever approach the teams choose to take, it does add a fascinating dynamic to the 2013 season.

Starting lineup grid for IMSA Petit Le Mans: Tom Blomqvist puts MSR on pole position

Petit Le Mans lineup
IMSA
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IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship contender Tom Blomqvist put the Meyer Shank Racing Acura at the front of the starting lineup for the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta.

Blomqvist turned a 1-minute, 8.55-second lap on the 2.54-mile circuit Friday to capture his third pole position for MSR this season. Earl Bamber qualified second in the No. 02 Cadillac for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ricky Taylor was third in the No. 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing, which enters Saturday’s season finale with a 19-point lead over the No. 60 of Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves) for the 10-hour race.

PETIT LE MANS STARTING GRID: Click here for the starting lineup l Lineup by car number

PETIT LE MANS: Info on how to watch

With the pole, MSR sliced the deficit to 14 points behind WTR, which will field the trio of Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley in Saturday’s race.

“We really needed to put the car in this kind of position,” Blomqvist said. “It makes our life a little less stressful tomorrow. It would have given the No. 10 a bit more breathing space. It’s going to be a proper dogfight tomorrow. The guys gave me such a great car. It’s been fantastic this week so far, and it really came alive. I’m hugely thankful to the boys and girls at MSR for giving me the wagon today to execute my job.

“That was a big effort from me. I knew how important it was. It’s just awesome for the guys to give them some sort of reward as well. It’s always nice to be quick. If you do the pole, you know you’ve got a quick car.”

Though WTR has a series-leading four victories with the No. 10, MSR won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and has five runner-up finishes along with its three poles.

The strong performances of the ARX-05s ensure that an Acura will win the final championship in IMSA’s premier Daytona Prototype international (DPi) division, which is being rebranded as Grand Touring Prototype in the move to LMDh cars next season.

Taylor qualified third despite sliding into the Turn 5 gravel during the closing minutes of qualifying while pushing to gain points.

“Qualifying was important for points,” Taylor said. “Going into it, if we outqualified the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura, they had a lot to lose in terms of championship points. So, we were trying to increase the gap over 20 points which would’ve made a big difference for tomorrow. We would have loved to get the pole and qualify ahead of the No. 60, but in the scheme of the points, it didn’t change a whole lot. I’m feeling good since it’s such a long race, and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura team does such a good job strategizing and putting us in a good position.

“I’m very confident in our lineup and our team compared to them over the course of 10 hours. I’d put my two teammates up against those guys any day. I think we are all feeling optimistic and strong for tomorrow.”

In other divisions, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports (LMP2), Riley Motorsports (LMP3), VasserSullivan (GTD Pro) and Paul Miller Racing (GTD) captured pole positions.

The broadcast of the 10-hour race will begin Saturday at 12:10 p.m. ET on NBC, moving at 3 p.m. to USA Network.


QUALIFYING

Results

Results by class

Fastest lap by driver

Fastest lap by driver after qualifying

Fastest lap by driver and class after qualifying

Fastest lap sequence in qualifying

Best sector times in qualifying

Time cards in qualifying

PRACTICE RESULTS: Session I l Session II l Session III