NASCAR drivers test new tire at Indy, hit 214 mph

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A group of NASCAR drivers visited the Indianapolis Motor Speedway yesterday to test out a new environmentally-friendly tire, and while the speeds they achieved couldn’t quite match up to the ones posted by their IndyCar brethren every May, they were still able to go well over the 200 mph mark as they zoomed along the backstretch.

“[My team] said 214 [mph] and I said, ‘My gosh, it really is fast,'” said Jeff Gordon (pictured), a four-time winner of the Speedway’s Brickyard 400, to the Associated Press. However, despite good grip levels on the Gen-6 machines, the top speeds were short-lived as the temperatures began to climb; according to the AP’s Michael Marot, Trevor Bayne’s car lost about one second per lap on the new tire as the day got hotter.

“You want balance so the car enters the turn comfortably and that’s what we had,” Gordon continued. “But it was definitely wearing a little more than we wanted it to.”

Gordon also expressed his support for the addition of lights to the Speedway, presumably hoping for a night-time edition of the Brickyard 400 to combat the notorious summer heat in Indiana (this year’s race is slated for July 28, in the afternoon). The state’s General Assembly recently approved legislation that will help fund future improvements to the legendary race course, and a lighting system is amongst the projects being considered. The bill must still be signed by Indiana governor Mike Pence.

“I remember the very first announcement of lights at a track,” Gordon told The Indianapolis Star’s Curt Cavin about Cup events at Daytona and Charlotte. “I thought there was no way that we could do that. Now we’re at Darlington at night, Charlotte at night, Bristol at night, Daytona at night, and the lighting is so amazing that I actually think you can see better [driving] at night, the racing is more exciting, the track conditions are certainly really, really good.”

Two-time Brickyard winner Tony Stewart, Mark Martin, Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski also took part in the testing, which continues this afternoon until 5 p.m. ET.

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