Vettel quickest in final practice for Malaysian GP

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Defending world champion Sebastian Vettel looks set to be in the running for pole position for the Malaysian Grand Prix after finishing quickest in the final free practice session.

The Red Bull driver posted a time of 1:36.435, edging out a charging Lewis Hamilton at the top after the Briton led for most of the session. Also in close contention were Adrian Sutil and Mark Webber, both of whom finished within two-tenths of Vettel’s time.

Although heavy rain had been forecast, Free Practice 3 saw the track basking in hot and sunny conditions, allowing the teams to make the most of the dry track ahead of qualifying later. Most of the drivers opted to focus on their longer runs on the harder tire before switching to the medium compound later on in the session. With around five minutes to go, Vettel posted the quickest time to take P1 from Hamilton.

Red Bull and Mercedes will be very pleased with the result, as will Force India, who finished 3rd and 6th ahead of both Ferrari and McLaren. Qualifying could see a dramatic change in the running order, but with the top ten separated by less than one second, it appears the battle for pole position is wide open.

Malaysian GP – Free Practice 3 Classification

1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:36.435

2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:36.568 +0.133

3 Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1:36.588 +0.153

4 Mark Webber Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:36.613 +0.178

5 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus-Renault 1:36.806 +0.371

6 Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1:36.807 +0.372

7 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:36.822 +0.387

8 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:36.946 +0.511

9 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:36.949 +0.514

10 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:37.302 +0.867

11 Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1:37.359 +0.924

12 Sergio Perez McLaren-Mercedes 1:37.538 +1.103

13 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber-Ferrari 1:37.685 +1.250

14 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1:37.690 +1.255

15 Valtteri Bottas Williams-Renault 1:37.936 +1.501

16 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari 1:38.294 +1.859

17 Jean-Eric Vergne STR-Ferrari 1:38.376 +1.941

18 Daniel Ricciardo STR-Ferrari 1:38.425 +1.990

19 Charles Pic Caterham-Renault 1:38.995 +2.560

20 Jules Bianchi Marussia-Cosworth 1:39.717 +3.282

21 Giedo van der Garde Caterham-Renault 1:40.209 +3.774

22 Max Chilton Marussia-Cosworth 1:40.495 +4.060

Cadillac, Acura battle for top speed as cars back on track for Rolex 24 at Daytona practice

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The new hybrid prototypes of Cadillac and Acura battled atop the speed chart as practice resumed Thursday for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Richard Westbrook was fastest Thursday afternoon in the No. 02 Cadillac V-LMDh with a 1-minute, 35.185-second lap around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway.

That pace topped Ricky Taylor’s 1:35.366 lap that topped the Thursday morning session that marked the first time the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was back on track since qualifying Sunday afternoon that concluded the four-day Roar Before The Rolex 24 test.

In a final session Thursday night, Matt Campbell was fastest (1:35.802) in the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsports Porsche 963 but still was off the times set by Westbrook and Taylor.

Punctuated by Tom Blomqvist’s pole position for defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing, the Acura ARX-06s had been fastest for much of the Roar and led four consecutive practice sessions.

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But the times have been extremely tight in the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) category that has brought hybrid engines to IMSA’s premier class. Only 0.9 seconds separated the nine LMDh cars in GTP in qualifying, and though the spread slightly widened to 1.378 seconds in Thursday’s practices with teams on varying strategies and preparation, Westbrook still pooh-poohed the importance of speeds.

“It’s always nice to be at the top, but I don’t think it means too much or read too much into it” Westbrook said. “Big fuel tanks in the GTP class this year, so you have no idea what fuel levels people are running. We had a good run, and the car is really enjoyable to drive now. I definitely wasn’t saying that a month ago.

“It really does feel good now. We are working on performance and definitely unlocking some potential, and it just gives us more confidence going into the race. It’s going to be super tight. Everyone’s got the same power, everyone has the same downforce, everyone has the same drag levels and let’s just go race.”

Because teams have put such a premium on reliability, handling mostly has suffered in the GTPs, but Westbrook said the tide had turned Thursday.

“These cars are so competitive, and you were just running it for the sake of running it in the beginning, and there’s so much going on, you don’t really have time to work on performance,” he said. “A lot of emphasis was on durability in the beginning, and rightly so, but now finally we can work on performance, and that’s the same for other manufacturers as well. But we’re worrying about ourselves and improving every run, and I think everybody’s pretty happy with their Cadillac right now.”

Mike Shank, co-owner of Blomqvist’s No. 60 on the pole, said his team still was facing reliability problems despite its speed.

“We address them literally every hour,” Shank said. “We’re addressing some little thing we’re doing better to try to make it last. And also we’re talking about how we race the race, which will be different from years past.

“Just think about every system in the car, I’m not going to say which ones we’re working on, but there are systems in the car that ORECA and HPD are continually trying to improve. By the way, sometimes we put them on the car and take them off before it even goes out on the track because something didn’t work with electronics. There’s so much programming. So many departments have to talk to each other. That bridge gets broken from a code not being totally correct, and the car won’t run. Or the power steering turns off.”

Former Rolex 24 winner Renger van der Zande of Ganassi said it still is a waiting game until the 24-hour race begins Saturday shortly after 1:30 p.m.

“I think the performance of the car is good,” van der Zande said. “No drama. We’re chipping away on setup step by step and the team is in control. It’s crazy out there what people do on the track at the moment. It’s about staying cool and peak at the right moment, and it’s not the right moment yet for that. We’ll keep digging.”


PRACTICE RESULTS:

Click here for Session I (by class)

Click here for Session II (by class)

Click here for Session III (by class)

Combined speeds