Sir Frank Williams: Our chance to capitalize in 2014

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Count 2013 as a bit of a lost year for Williams, which scored a total of 5 points from only two Grands Prix (Pastor Maldonado in Hungary, and Valtteri Bottas in Austin).

So for 2014, with a host of new commercial partners including Martini, Genworth and Petrobras, Felipe Massa replacing Maldonado alongside Bottas, a host of technical staff additions, and Mercedes set to power the FW36, hopes are high for a big bounce back season.

Sir Frank Williams said Thursday after the team’s Martini reveal that regular points finishes must be the goal, and the team must take advantage of the relative clean slate provided by the change in regulations for 2014.

“A team like Williams Martini Racing, with our history, facilities, and personnel, should be mixing it up at the sharp end of the grid. 2014’s regulation changes have reset the field to some extent and we need to capitalize on this opportunity,” he said.

“I’m under no illusion that it will take time for our new technical team to make their mark, but I will be looking for us to make a strong improvement from last year and regularly finish in the points at a wide range of circuits.”

Williams can take comfort in the fact they had a very solid preseason testing program, both in terms of mileage completed and reliability. Their ultimate pace relative to the rest of the field remains unknown, but Sir Frank said they did what they could at Bahrain and even Jerez to an extent.

“What I do know is that despite a few inevitable teething problems, the FW36 has performed reliably and clocked up a good number of laps,” he said. “The regulation changes have forced the teams to take a step in to the unknown this year. Reliability will be paramount in the first few races of the season and we are looking strong in that regard.”

There’s been a lot of talk about “throwbacks” in IndyCar this year, with several familiar faces returning to the scene there who raced in the 1990s.

Williams seems F1’s best “throwback” candidate at the moment. The legendary independent team last won a Grand Prix in 2012 with Pastor Maldonado at the Spanish Grand Prix. Prior to that, it was in 2004, with Juan Pablo Montoya in the season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix. It last won a World Championship in 1997, with Jacques Villeneuve in the FW19-Renault.

Based on the preseason testing and some of the other comments made – notably from Jenson Button – this could be Williams’ chance to shine once again.

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