Raikkonen now all but set to replace Massa at Ferrari in 2014

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Felipe Massa has told the world he will not return to Ferrari in 2014. That leaves one very likely replacement at the Scuderia, in the form of Kimi Raikkonen.

According to a BBC report, Raikkonen’s deal with Ferrari was “said to be completed on Monday.” That would see Raikkonen back at the team where he won the 2007 Formula One World Championship, but was dismissed after the 2009 season for Fernando Alonso.

Raikkonen reportedly was paid handsomely by the team to leave following that troubled 2009 campaign, a year in which the Ferrari F60 was arguably one of the worst cars the team has produced in the last 20 years. Even still, Raikkonen was able to take it to victory at Spa-Francorchamps after a race-long battle with Force India’s Giancarlo Fisichella – a result that helped slot Fisichella into Ferrari as Massa’s injury replacement.

The Finn took a two-year sabbatical in 2010 and 2011 before returning to F1 with Lotus. Raikkonen has won twice on his return, Abu Dhabi a year ago and the season-opener at Melbourne this year. Notably, he completed a record run of 27 consecutive points-scoring finishes from Bahrain 2012 through Hungary 2013 before retiring at Spa due to a visor tear-off issue.

The Lotus has not been the fastest car on the grid this year but has done well on its tires. While Raikkonen staying there would better keep the team in contention, he’s weighing his options as a free agent because technical director James Allison has left for Ferrari and the team itself is rumored to be having financial difficulties.

Assuming Raikkonen now goes to Ferrari, the Scuderia would have two World Champions in its stable with Fernando Alonso in the second seat. The BBC suggests Nico Hulkenberg would move into Lotus, then, to replace Raikkonen.

Kimi may well know what he’s doing; he’s been linked to the team already and three-time World Champion Niki Lauda has encouraged Ferrari to pull the trigger. Alonso said he’d be satisfied with anyone.

If he rejoins the Scuderia as is rumored, then the pressure will be on them to build a car worthy of its two talents in the driver’s seat.

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