The weekend roundup: In other news beyond F1, Indy, NASCAR

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This weekend may have been the busiest for series not called Formula One, IndyCar and NASCAR. F1 and the two domestic North American sports car championships, GRAND-AM and the American Le Mans Series, were all off. But here’s what else was going on around the motorsports world this weekend:

  • The Australian V8 Supercars made their North American race debut at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas (pictured). Defending series champion Jamie Whincup, of the Red Bull Australia Holden team, won three of the four races on offer, with Fabian Coulthard taking the other Sunday race. Nearly 69,000 fans attended the three-day weekend, an impressive debut number.
  • Also in Austin, it was a busy weekend for the Pirelli World Challenge. GT and GTS each had two races, with the TC and TCB classes opening their 2013 seasons with a tripleheader round. In GT, Johnny O’Connell (Cadillac, Saturday) and James Sofronas (GMG Audi, Sunday) were winners, with GTS wins going to Lawson Aschenbach (Blackdog Camaro, Saturday) and Andy Lee (Best IT Camaro, Sunday). Compass360 Racing swept the three TC races with Ryan Winchester’s Civic Si taking both Saturday wins, and teammate Brett Sandberg winning on Sunday. Meanwhile in TCB, 15-year-old phenom Ernie Francis Jr. swept the entire weekend in his MAZDA2.
  • Audi’s Mike Rockenfeller took the DTM win in Brands Hatch ahead of Bruno Spengler and Robert Wickens. McLaren F1 tester Gary Paffett was issued a post-race penalty for failing to yield to yellow flags, which promoted ex-Marussia test driver Wickens to his first DTM podium. American Joey Hand also recorded his best DTM finish, fifth in his BMW.
  • At Le Mans’ short Bugatti circuit, Dani Pedrosa took the MotoGP win ahead of Cal Crutchlow and Marc Marquez. Pedrosa now leads Marquez in that championship.
  • Black Falcon Racing’s Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 and drivers Bernd Schneider, Jeroen Bleekemolen, Sean Edwards and Nicki Thiim won the 24 Hours of the Nurburgring on the legendary “Green Hell,” a race interrupted by heavy rain overnight.

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.

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)

Combined speeds