Perez makes it 2-for-2 after leading Friday Bahrain test

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Again, in the grand scheme of things, testing times mean little. But Sergio Perez couldn’t have done much better for himself or his new team of Force India after two days of Formula One’s last preseason test in Bahrain.

The Mexican led the timesheets for the second successive day, albeit at a slower best lap than his Thursday flier of 1:35.290. His Friday best was nearly three full tenths off at 1:35.570.

But more important than lap times, again, was lap count. And for a second straight day Perez topped the century mark, at 108 completed in the VJM07-Mercedes. Others cracking that barrier included Fernando Alonso (122), Felipe Massa (103) and Esteban Gutierrez (106).

Alonso, who was second in the Ferrari F14 T at 1:35.634, set a new single-lap high for this F1 testing season with the 122 complete. The 116 set by Valtteri Bottas on Thursday, Feb. 20 (Day 2 of Bahrain test 1) had been the previous high-water mark.

In third, with something to celebrate for once, was Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, with 66 laps completed in the RB10-Renault at a best time of 1:35.743. Both the lap and time marks are by far Red Bull’s best of this troubled preseason, and Ricciardo was a full 2.2 seconds quicker Friday than he had been Thursday. Four-time defending World Champion Sebastian Vettel takes the reins of the car this weekend.

The Toro Rosso team also cracked the 60-lap barrier with Jean-Eric Vergne completing 61 laps. Caterham’s Marcus Ericsson got 55 in before a small fire.

Rounding out the Renault quartet in laps was Pastor Maldonado’s Lotus, who had an unlucky day in the No. 13. The Venezuelan suffered what the team deemed on Twitter: “Sufficient char-grilling to render us out for the rest of today. Causation investigations continue.” Maldonado completed a day-low 31 laps.

Marussia got another good day of running in, which was very much needed after last week’s difficulties. Max Chilton ran 44 laps on Thursday, which was already 15 laps more than they did all last week. Then on Friday, Jules Bianchi took over the car and ran 75 laps, actually ending sixth on the day ahead of Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes. It marked a huge stride forward for the Anglo-Russian team, with its Ferrari-powered MR03.

FRIDAY TIMES FROM BAHRAIN:
1. Sergio Perez, Force India-Mercedes, 1m 35.570s, 108 Laps
2. Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, 1m 35.634s, 122
3. Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull-Renault, 1m 35.743s, 66
4. Felipe Massa, Williams-Mercedes, 1m 36.507s, 103
5. Jenson Button, McLaren-Mercedes, 1m 36.901s, 52
6. Jules Bianchi, Marussia-Ferrari, 1m 38.092s, 75
7. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 1m39.041s, 89
8. Jean-Eric Vergne, Toro Rosso-Renault, 1m 39.636s, 61
9. Esteban Gutierrez, Sauber-Ferrari, 1m 39.976s, 106
10. Pastor Maldonado, Lotus-Renault, 1m 41.613s, 31
11. Marcus Ericsson, Caterham-Renault, 1m 42.516s, 55

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