Hinchcliffe ready to race childhood hero Villeneuve at Indy 500

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During his time in the IndyCar Series, James Hinchcliffe has shown that he respects those that have raced before him.

We all know about his deep respect in particular for late Canadian driver Greg Moore, which we see every weekend in the cockpit as he wears a pair of red driving gloves like Moore did.

Then there’s Hinchcliffe’s paint job on his No. 27 United Fiber and Data Honda, which appears to somewhat echo Moore’s classic Player’s No. 99 Champ Car.

But as a proud Canadian, Hinchcliffe was also a big fan of Jacques Villeneuve, who himself took a Player’s-backed machine to the 1995 Indianapolis 500 and CART titles before he went on to the F1 World Championship in 1997.

Now, almost 20 years after his “500” win, Villeneuve is heading back to the Brickyard this May as the third driver for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

Since the news first broke Monday, fans have debated over why Villeneuve is returning and whether it’s a good thing (he’s certainly a marquee name) or a bad thing (he hasn’t raced an open-wheel car since 2006).

But Hinchcliffe, for one, is happy for the apparent time warp.

“Selfishly, I am kind of happy he is going to try it,” Hinchcliffe said to the Toronto Sun’s Dean McNulty on Wednesday while making the media rounds in his hometown.

“He was one of my heroes growing up. I was part of the Jacques Villeneuve fan club – I got my letter every month through his IndyCar years and his F-1 years.”

That said, he’s not exactly sure why one of his childhood idols has chosen to go for it one more time in the “500” after such a long layoff from IndyCar racing.

“As a Canadian, it is going to be fun to race against one of my heroes,” he added to the Sun. “But as far as why he is doing it, it is beyond me, man.”

Villeneuve appeared to give an insight into that matter yesterday, when he mentioned the desire to race for his children in a teleconference.

“I don’t want to be for my kids just the guy that used to race, that they can see in books,” he said. “I want them to see and live what I’ve already lived, to see it through my doing it actively. It’s actually a positive effect to have kids.”

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