Vettel takes pole in wet-dry qualifying for Malaysian GP

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Sebastian Vettel has claimed pole position for tomorrow’s Malaysian Grand Prix after mastering the tricky conditions in qualifying to finish quickest.

A short rain shower during Q2 meant that the drivers were forced to use intermediate tires during the final qualifying session, and it was a question of who could post the last lap time to take advantage of the drying track.

Vettel got to grips with his intermediate tires, finishing almost one second ahead of closest challenger Felipe Massa. The Brazilian driver outqualified Ferrari teammate Fernando Alonso, who finished in third place.

Mercedes finished a solid fourth and sixth, with Lewis Hamilton edging out Nico Rosberg, whilst Mark Webber could not match his teammate’s front row start, qualifying down in fifth. Kimi Raikkonen finished P7 ahead of Jenson Button, and McLaren will be thankful for the rain after getting both of their cars into Q3, although Sergio Perez could only finish P10. Adrian Sutil failed to repeat his form from practice, qualifying ninth.

Q1 saw the Sepang International Circuit basking in bright sunshine, and Red Bull were very nearly caught out as Vettel and Webber left it late to set a time, only just avoiding the drop. Less fortunate was Jean-Eric Vergne, who joined Valtteri Bottas in the drop zone alongside Marussia and Caterham. Jules Bianchi outqualified Pic, Chilton and van der Garde once again, finishing just 0.5s off a place in Q2.

Paul di Resta was the biggest loser in Q2, opting to abort an early lap to take on fresh tires. Once the rain fell, it was too late, and the Force India driver ended up in P15. Romain Grosjean was also caught out by the weather, and he will not have the advantage of fresh tires due to the wet Q3 session, meaning that the top ten can also start on new Pirelli tires.

Red Bull will be pleased with their pace in the wet conditions, and with the forecast suggesting that rain could fall during the race, they will be hoping for Mark Webber to make a better start in order to support Vettel during the race. With Ferrari, Lotus and Mercedes also in the running, the race tomorrow is set to be a close affair.

1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:49.674

2 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:50.587

3 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:50.727

4 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:51.699

5 Mark Webber Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:52.244

6 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:52.519

7 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus-Renault 1:52.970

8 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:53.175

9 Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1:53.439

10 Sergio Perez McLaren-Mercedes 1:54.136

11 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1:37.636

12 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber-Ferrari 1:38.125

13 Daniel Ricciardo STR-Ferrari 1:38.822 12

14 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari 1:39.221

15 Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1:44.509

16 Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault No time

17 Jean-Eric Vergne STR-Ferrari 1:38.157

18 Valtteri Bottas Williams-Renault 1:38.207

19 Jules Bianchi Marussia-Cosworth 1:38.434

20 Charles Pic Caterham-Renault 1:39.314

21 Max Chilton Marussia-Cosworth 1:39.672

22 Giedo van der Garde Caterham-Renault 1:39.932

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