Hamilton doubles up to lead Rosberg once again in FP2

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Just as he did in the first practice session on Friday, Lewis Hamilton has finished fastest in FP2 in Bahrain to lead a Mercedes one-two as Nico Rosberg closely followed his teammate in second place.

The British driver posted a fastest lap of 1:34.325 to beat his teammate, and finish over one second clear of the quickest non-Mercedes driver, Fernando Alonso, in third place.

As darkness descended and the lights came on, Formula 1 entered new territory with the first night-time running for the sport at the Bahrain International Circuit. With conditions being far more representative of the race now than they had been during FP1, most of the teams quickly sent out their drivers to get in some lap times.

Predictably, Mercedes laid down the initial benchmark once again on the medium compound tire as Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg carried their good form from FP1 into the second session. Hamilton edged out his teammate by 0.095 seconds after their first runs on the medium tire, proving just how evenly matched the two drivers are. Daniel Ricciardo posed the strongest challenge to Mercedes’ dominance on the medium tire, but he was over half a second down on Hamilton.

However, the team did not have it all its own way as Rosberg unintentionally blocked Sergio Perez at the final corner, and both drivers have been called before the stewards to explain the incident.

After half an hour of the session, most of the drivers opted to switch to the soft tire in pursuit of a quicker lap time. In the battle at the top, Rosberg reclaimed first place with a lap that was almost two seconds quicker than Hamilton’s best effort, albeit on the faster tire. Perez moved up into second place with his first effort before Hamilton finally emerged from the pits, and restored the Mercedes one-two by going three-tenths faster than his teammate. Fernando Alonso sat in third place after the soft tire qualifying runs, over one second down on Hamilton’s time.

One team that impressed on the soft tire was Marussia, who got Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton up into P9 and P10 at one point. Although they soon dropped down the order, it was a good showing from the backmarker team that still chases its first point in Formula 1. Chilton’s session came to an early end after a brake problem at the final corner left him stranded in the run-off area, and Adrian Sutil’s car also came to a halt just a few minutes later, ending the Sauber driver’s session. Marcus Ericsson was the third and final driver to come to a halt out on track with just six minutes remaining in the session.

Most of the teams soon turned attention to their race simulations, meaning that the Mercedes drivers remained unchallenged at the top of the timesheets. After spending most of the session in the pits, Williams finally sent its drivers out, but neither Valtteri Bottas nor Felipe Massa could bother the front-runners.

Come the checkered flag, it was Mercedes who once again enjoyed a one-two finish, and after laying down an impressive race pace during the long runs on Friday evening, it appears that it will take something out of the norm to stop either Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg from claiming pole position in qualifying tomorrow.

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