Friday analysis: Red Bull dominant, Ferrari fifth-fastest?

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Ferrari may find themselves embroiled in a fight for second place in the constructors’ championship, but the Italian marque appear to be as far back as the fifth-fastest team in Abu Dhabi after the second practice session on Friday.

In terms of qualifying pace, this appears to be a fair estimate. The second session saw the teams complete their qualifying simulations using low fuel and option tires with Red Bull romping to a one-two finish. Fernando Alonso was the leading Ferrari down in eighth place whilst Felipe Massa could only finish P10. These may seem to be poor results, but it was in fact a marked improvement on eleventh (Alonso) and seventeenth (Massa) in the first session on Friday afternoon.

The second half of FP2 saw the teams complete their race simulations, which is where Ferrari usually improve and show signs of pace that can typically secure them at least one podium finish. However, in Abu Dhabi, it appears to be a very different story when we crunch the numbers.

Let’s start with Sebastian Vettel, the fastest man. He completed two substantial runs on the option tire of six and eight laps respectively, with his fastest time in these runs being 1:46.103. During both runs, his laps only left the 1:46.XXX region on one occasion, and both drops in time signalled that it was time to pit as the tires had been pushed far enough. Mark Webber was also impressive, but his times largely dotted around in the 1:47s.

Mercedes also stayed in the 1:47s for their runs, with Lewis Hamilton’s mammoth sixteen run stint producing a best time of 1:47.090 whilst Nico Rosberg dotted into the high-1:46s during the final part of his run on fourteen-lap-old tires. Similarly, Lotus’ times were largely in the 1:47s for Kimi Raikkonen, but Romain Grosjean suffered a broken brake disc and was limited to just eighteen laps.

The surprise package of practice was McLaren, though – or, more specifically, the under-fire Sergio Perez. The Mexican driver also stayed within the 1:47s for the bulk of his run, with his fastest time being 1:47.299, suggesting that McLaren have made a step forward in Abu Dhabi. Similarly, Jenson Button was consistent with his pace, although he could dip into the 1:47 region just once during his longest run of ten laps.

For Ferrari though, it was a difficult session. Fernando Alonso’s longest run with sixteen laps, but he failed to sustain a pace anything like that of Mercedes or Red Bull, averaging in the mid-to-low 1:48s. Felipe Massa’s runs were shorter and slightly quicker, but again, not a scratch on that of McLaren.

However, practice is exactly that: practice. An awful lot can change between Friday night and Saturday’s qualifying session, meaning that it would be foolish to rule Ferrari out just yet. Nevertheless, the early signs are that this is a race Red Bull will run away with and McLaren will return to form at.

Meyer Shank Racing wins Petit Le Mans to take final DPi championship in dramatic finale

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Meyer Shank Racing outdueled Wayne Taylor Racing to win the Petit Le Mans and clinch the championship in a thrilling final race for the DPi division.

Tom Blomqvist, who started from the pole position, drove the No. 60 Acura ARX-05 to a 4.369-second victory over Pipo Derani in the No. 31 Action Express Cadillac.

“That was incredible,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports’ Matt Yocum. “I’ve never dug so deep in my life. The adrenaline. I did that for the guys. I was so motivated to win this thing this weekend. But I’ve got to thank everyone on the whole team.”

With co-drivers Oliver Jarvis and Helio Castroneves, Blomqvist helped MSR bookend its season-opening victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona by winning Saturday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale at Michelin Road Atlanta.

In between those two victories, the No. 60 earned five runner-up finishes to stay in the thick of the championship hunt and trail WTR’s No. 10 Acura by 14 points entering Saturday’s race.

WTR’s Filipe Albuquerque had a lead of more than 10 seconds over Blomqvist with less than 50 minutes remaining in the 10-hour race.

But a Turn 1 crash between the Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillacs brought out a yellow that sent both Acuras into the pits from the top two positions.

Though he entered in second, Blomqvist barely beat Albuquerque out of the pits, and he held the lead for the final 45 minutes.

Blomqvist said he gained the lead because of a shorter fuel fill after he had worked on being efficient in the second-to-last stint.

“The team asked a big job of me with the fuel; I had a big fuel number to hit,” Blomqvist said. “We knew that was probably our only chance. The yellow came at the right time and obviously we had a bit less fuel to fill up, so I was able to jump him and then it was just a matter of going gung-ho and not leaving anything on the line. And obviously, the opposition had to try too hard to make it work. I’m so thankful.”

Albuquerque closed within a few car lengths of Blomqvist with 14 minutes remaining, but he damaged his suspension because of contact with a GT car in Turn 1.

It’s the first prototype championship for Meyer Shank Racing, which also won the 2021 Indy 500 with Castroneves.

“We’ve had in the last four years, three championships for Acura, the Indy 500 win and the Rolex 24, it doesn’t get any better,” team co-owner Mike Shank told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee.

It’s the third consecutive runner-up finish in the points standings for Wayne Taylor Racing, which won the first Daytona Prototype international championship in 2017. The premier category will be rebranded as the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class with the LMDh cars that will establish a bridge to racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Kamui Kobayashi finished third in the No. 48 Cadillac of Action Express that also includes Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller.

The podium showing marked Johnson’s last scheduled race in IMSA’s top prototype division. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion has raced in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac lineup as the Action Express entry has run the Endurance Cup races.

Johnson said a lack of inventory will preclude him having a 2023 ride in the top category. But he still is hopeful of racing the Garage 56 Next Gen Camaro in next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and possibly running in a lower class for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“I’d love to be at Le Mans next year,” Johnson told NBC Sports’ Dillon Welch after his final stint Saturday. “I’d love to be at the Rolex 24. The series is going through a shake-up with the reconfiguration of the rules and classes, so I don’t have anything locked down yet, but I’m so thankful for this experience with Action. The support Ally has given us, Mr. Hendrick, Chad Knaus, all of Hendrick Motorsports. It’s been a fun two years, and I certainly hope I’m on the grid again next year.”