Nico Rosberg tops Day 1 of Bahrain in-season test

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Three days after his near-miss in the Bahrain Grand Prix, Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg led the way Tuesday as the first of four Formula One in-season tests got underway at the Bahrain International Circuit.

Rosberg, who won the season opener last month in Australia, not only set the pace with a time of 1 minute, 35.697 seconds, but also turned the most laps on the 3.36-mile course with 121 circuits.

“Our main aim today was to try different directions with set-up and to get to know the tyres a bit better,” Rosberg said in a release.

“You never stop learning how to get the best out of the tires, so it has been a productive day from that perspective. We also did a bit of work on the brakes as this is an area I’m not one hundred percent happy with at the moment.”

“We’ve had a good few weeks on track but you are never at the maximum level of performance. There is always more to be found and we are constantly pushing to improve the car and ourselves as drivers.

“Having said that, the team is doing a fantastic job with this car from every perspective. Reliability, car performance, power unit performance: It’s all there and it’s a pleasure to be a part of a team with such positive momentum.”

Considering that Force India was ‘best of the rest’ in last weekend’s Grand Prix with Sergio Perez hitting the podium, it was fitting that the Silverstone squad tailed Merc again today with Nico Hulkenberg setting a P2 time of 1 minute, 36.064 seconds.

Hulkenberg logged 69 laps as the team’s focus progressed from short runs in the morning to longer stints in the afternoon. Perez will take over the VJM07 tomorrow in the desert.

Third on the time sheets belonged to Fernando Alonso of Ferrari (1 minute, 36.626 seconds), which struggled mightily last weekend with Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen coming home ninth and 10th.

The Spaniard also logged his own set of 69 laps as the Scuderia worked through various electronic and aero-measuring projects on their F14 T, whose reliability has been undone so far by a markedly slower pace compared to its rivals.

McLaren rookie Kevin Magnussen was the only other driver to break the 100-lap mark Tuesday, turning 102 laps and posting the fourth-fastest time of the day at 1 minute, 36.634 seconds.

Behind K-Mags was Williams pilot Valtteri Bottas, who was P5 on the day (1 minute, 37.305 seconds) despite running just 28 laps.

“Overall it was a good day as we managed to complete the program as planned,” Bottas said. “We then worked on set-up and we were quite experimental, so hopefully that will help in the next few races.”

Several other young guns also got in a good share of laps today in Bahrain. Russia’s Sergey Sirotkin logged 76 laps for Sauber, while Caterham’s Robin Frijns netted 63 before a hydraulic system leak ended his day early.

The toughest outing of the day belonged to Lotus and Pastor Maldonado, who could only grab 16 laps on the track before a pair of power unit-related issues stopped his progress.

“This is what testing is for, even though we would have preferred to have been able to complete more laps today,” said Maldonado. “I hope that Romain [Grosjean] can continue to work on our testing program tomorrow and hopefully have a more positive day.”

FORMULA ONE IN-SEASON TESTING – BAHRAIN, DAY 1
Unofficial Times
1. Nico Rosberg, Mercedes – 1 minute, 35.697 seconds, 121 laps
2. Nico Hulkenberg, Force India – 1 minute, 36.064 seconds, 69 laps
3. Fernando Alonso, Ferrari – 1 minute, 36.626s, 69 laps
4. Kevin Magnussen, McLaren – 1 minute, 36.634 seconds, 102 laps
5. Valtteri Bottas, Williams – 1 minute, 37.305 seconds, 28 laps
6. Max Chilton, Marussia – 1 minute, 37.678 seconds, 60 laps
7. Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull – 1 minute, 38.326 seconds, 91 laps
8. Sergey Sirotkin, Sauber – 1 minute, 39.023 seconds, 76 laps
9. Robin Frijns, Caterham – 1 minute, 40.027 seconds, 63 laps
10. Pastor Maldonado, Lotus – 1 minute, 40.183 seconds, 16 laps
11. Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso – 1 minute, 40.452 seconds, 67 laps

With throaty roar, NASCAR Next Gen Camaro is taking Le Mans by storm on global stage

Le Mans 24 Hour Race - Car Parade
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
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LE MANS, France — The V8 engine of the NASCAR Chevrolet Camaro has a distinct growl that cannot go unnoticed even among the most elite sports cars in the world at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

When the Hendrick Motorsports crew fired up the car inside Garage 56, NASCAR chairman Jim France broke into a huge grin and gave a thumbs up.

“The only guy who didn’t cover his ears,” laughed seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.

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France has been waiting since 1962 – the year his father, NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., brought him to his first 24 Hours of Le Mans – to hear the roar of a stock car at the most prestigious endurance race in the world.

A path finally opened when NASCAR developed its Next Gen car, which debuted last year. France worked out a deal to enter a car in a specialized “Innovative Car” class designed to showcase technology and development. The effort would be part of NASCAR’s 75th celebration and it comes as Le Mans marks its 100th.

Once he had the approval, France persuaded Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear – NASCAR’s winningest team, manufacturer and tire supplier – to build a car capable of running the twice-around-the-clock race.

The race doesn’t start until Saturday, but NASCAR’s arrival has already been wildly embraced and France could not be more thrilled.

“Dad’s vision, to be able to follow it, it took awhile to follow it up, and my goal was to outdo what he accomplished,” France told The Associated Press. “I just hope we don’t fall on our ass.”

The car is in a class of its own and not racing anyone else in the 62-car field. But the lineup of 2010 Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller, 2009 Formula One champion Jenson Button and Johnson has been fast enough; Rockenfeller put down a qualifying lap that was faster than every car in the GTE AM class by a full three seconds.

The Hendrick Motorsports crew won its class in the pit stop competition and finished fifth overall as the only team using a manual jack against teams exclusively using air jacks. Rick Hendrick said he could not be prouder of the showing his organization has made even before race day.

“When we said we’re gonna do it, I said, ‘Look, we can’t do this half-assed. I want to be as sharp as anybody out there,” Hendrick told AP. “I don’t want to be any less than any other team here. And just to see the reaction from the crowd, people are so excited about this car. My granddaughter has been sending me all these TikTok things that fans are making about NASCAR being at Le Mans.”

This isn’t NASCAR’s first attempt to run Le Mans. The late France Sr. brokered a deal in 1976, as America celebrated its bicentennial, to bring two cars to compete in the Grand International class and NASCAR selected the teams. Herschel McGriff and his son, Doug, drove a Wedge-powered, Olympia Beer-sponsored Dodge Charger, and Junie Donlavey piloted a Ford Torino shared by Richard Brooks and Dick Hutcherson.

Neither car came close to finishing the race. McGriff, now 95 and inducted into NASCAR’s Hall of Fame in January, is in Le Mans as France’s guest, clad head-to-toe in the noticeable Garage 56 uniforms.

“I threw a lot of hints that I would like to come. And I’ve been treated as royalty,” McGriff said. “This is unbelievable to me. I recognize nothing but I’m anxious to see everything. I’ve been watching and seeing pictures and I can certainly see the fans love their NASCAR.”

The goal is to finish the full race Sunday and, just maybe, beat cars from other classes. Should they pull off the feat, the driver trio wants its own podium celebration.

“I think people will talk about this car for a long, long time,” said Rockenfeller, who along with sports car driver Jordan Taylor did much of the development alongside crew chief Chad Knaus and Greg Ives, a former crew chief who stepped into a projects role at Hendrick this year.

“When we started with the Cup car, we felt already there was so much potential,” Rockenfeller said. “And then we tweaked it. And we go faster, and faster, at Le Mans on the SIM. But you never know until you hit the real track, and to be actually faster than the SIM. Everybody in the paddock, all the drivers, they come up and they are, ‘Wow, this is so cool,’ and they were impressed by the pit stops. We’ve overachieved, almost, and now of course the goal is to run for 24 hours.”

The car completed a full 24-hour test at Sebring, Florida, earlier this year, Knaus said, and is capable of finishing the race. Button believes NASCAR will leave a lasting impression no matter what happens.

“If you haven’t seen this car live yet, it’s an absolute beast,” Button said. “When you see and hear it go by, it just puts a massive smile on your face.”

For Hendrick, the effort is the first in his newfound embrace of racing outside NASCAR, the stock car series founded long ago in the American South. Aside from the Le Mans project, he will own the Indy car that Kyle Larson drives for Arrow McLaren in next year’s Indianapolis 500 and it will be sponsored by his automotive company.

“If you’d have told me I’d be racing at Le Mans and Indianapolis within the same year, I’d never have believed you,” Hendrick told AP. “But we’re doing both and we’re going to do it right.”

Le Mans 24 Hour Race - Car Parade
Fans gather around the NASCAR Next Gen Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 that is the Garage 56 entry for the 100th 24 Hours of Le Mans at the Circuit de la Sarthe (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).

General Motors is celebrating the achievement with a 2024 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Garage 56 Edition and only 56 will be available to collectors later this year.

“Even though Chevrolet has been racing since its inception in 1911, we’ve never done anything quite like Garage 56,” said GM President Mark Reuss. “A NASCAR stock car running at Le Mans is something fans doubted they would see again.”

The race hasn’t even started yet, but Hendrick has enjoyed it so much that he doesn’t want the project to end.

“It’s like a shame to go through all this and do all this, and then Sunday it’s done,” Hendrick said. “It’s just really special to be here.”