First blood to Hamilton in Malaysian GP practice (VIDEO)

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Lewis Hamilton has finished fastest in the first free practice session for this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix, underlining the strong pace of the Mercedes car at the beginning of the new season.

The British driver posted a fastest time of 1:40.691 to finish ahead of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and teammate Nico Rosberg as Mercedes excelled once again, whilst Lotus endured another disastrous session at Sepang on Friday.

As we saw in Australia, the opening 30 minutes of the first practice session saw lots of drivers come out early thanks to the allocation of an extra set of tires for 2014, with the installation laps giving them the first chance to see how their cars are running. Esteban Gutierrez was the first driver to post a time after 15 minutes, and he was soon followed by Williams’ Valtteri Bottas among others.

After 30 minutes of running, Fernando Alonso sat at the top of the timesheets ahead of Kevin Magnussen, but the session was interrupted after Romain Grosjean’s Lotus stopped out on track. Thanks to some swift work from the marshals, the car was wheeled away safely under waved yellow flags, meaning that the session did not have to be red flagged.

Adrian Sutil also had a slight moment at pit entry as he spun his car through the gravel, but the German driver managed to keep his Sauber going and make it back to his garage. Having set an initial lap time and completed some set-up work, most of the drivers returned to the pits to talk to their engineers, leaving the track quiet at around the half-way point in the session.

With 40 minutes to go, a number of drivers got back out on track as Magnussen and Jean-Eric Vergne moved ahead of Alonso at the top of the standings whilst Kimi Raikkonen and Marcus Ericsson spun their cars, proving just how difficult the new cars area to handle. Having remained in the pits for much of the session, Sebastian Vettel finally posted his first lap time, albeit a slow one to leave him down in 16th place. He did improve a few laps later to move up into seventh place.

After setting the pace during the session, Magnussen’s day took a turn for the worse as his car came to a halt at pit entry, but he was able to get pushed by the marshals back to his garage.

Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen took advantage of Magnussen’s setback to go fastest whilst teammate Fernando Alonso tested the limits of his car by spinning his car. Raikkonen’s sojourn in P1 lasted a matter of seconds as Lewis Hamilton went fastest of all, proving Mercedes’ pace with half an hour to go.

Pastor Maldonado finally made his way out onto the track with 20 minutes to go, but it lasted barely a lap as the car began to spew plumes of smoke from its engine. The E22 car eventually came to a halt at pit entry as Lotus once again struggled during practice with both cars.

In the final few minutes of the session, all of the drivers opted to focus on longer runs, meaning that the times remained relatively unchanged. However, with one minute to go, Hamilton took a trip through the gravel after making a mistake, proving that the Briton – despite being fastest – is by no means infallible.

Australia SuperCar Champion gets IndyCar Test at Team Penske

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Scott McLaughlin’s latest reward for winning the 2019 Virgin Australia SuperCar championship is an INDYCAR test at Team Penske.

“Scott has been incredibly successful for DJR Team Penske over the last three seasons and he has become a true champion of our sport,” said team owner Roger Penske, who will become the owner of INDYCAR, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis 500 in early January. “He certainly embraces new challenges and we think this is a great opportunity to utilize the IndyCar Series rookie testing program so Scott can experience what it is like to get behind the wheel of one of our Indy cars.”

McLaughlin, who has scored back-to-back Virgin Australia Supercars Champion for DJR Team Penske (DJRTP), will participate in an INDYCAR Rookie Evaluation test at Sebring International Raceway in Sebring, Fla. on Monday, January 13.

“I am always open to new challenges and I’m thankful to Team Penske for providing this opportunity to test an Indy car,” said McLaughlin, who established a new Supercars single season record with 18 victories this past season. “We had an amazing year in 2019 and I’m looking forward to defending our Supercars championship next season. I’m also excited to grow as a driver and being with Team Penske creates cool opportunities to try something new. Although I have spent a few hours in a simulator earlier this year, it’s going to be a blast to see what one really feels like at a place like Sebring.”

McLaughlin joined DJR Team Penske in 2017 as one of the brightest stars in Supercars. He has produced 35 victories and 44 pole positions over the last three seasons while helping DJRTP claim team championships in 2017 and 2019, the driver’s title each of the last two seasons and the legendary Bathurst 1000 race in October, along with co-driver Alex Premat.

McLaughlin will defend his Supercars title for DJRTP in 2020 in the No. 17 Shell V-Power Ford Mustang.  He will build on his already successful racing career by driving a full-sized open-wheel car for the first time.

Team Penske enjoyed another successful IndyCar Series season in 2019. The team earned its record 18th Indianapolis 500 victory as Simon Pagenaud captured the checkered flag in May, while Josef Newgarden won his second series title in three years and the team’s 16th INDYCAR Championship. Team Penske will once again compete with three full-season entries in 2020, featuring series champion drivers Newgarden, Pagenaud and Will Power.

Team Penske is one of the most successful teams in the history of professional sports. Cars owned and prepared by Team Penske have produced more than 540 major race wins, over 620 pole positions and 37 Championships across open-wheel, stock car and sports car racing competition. Over the course of its 53-year history, the team has also earned 18 Indianapolis 500 victories, two Daytona 500 Championships, a Formula 1 win, overall victories in the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring along with a win in Australia’s legendary Bathurst 1000 race. Team Penske currently competes in the IndyCar Series, the NASCAR Cup Series, the NASCAR Xfinity Series and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. The team also races in the Virgin Australia SuperCars Championship, in a partnership with Dick Johnson Racing, as DJR Team Penske.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500