Will Power’s runner-up at Long Beach not without controversy

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Eventually, Will Power will probably feel pretty good about opening the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series championship with a win and a runner-up.

But immediately following today’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, the Australian wasn’t entirely happy after his second-place finish behind winner Mike Conway – not so much because he couldn’t reel in the Englishman in the final laps, but because of his contact with Simon Pagenaud off a restart at Lap 32.

Going into Turn 6, Power maneuvered to the inside of Pagenaud while battling for fourth and wound up hitting him. The contact sent Pagenaud’s No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda into the tire barriers.

Upon backing out, Pagenaud’s left-front tire and suspension was partially enclosed by a piece of a Tecate banner that had covered the tires.

Pagenaud ultimately recovered to finish fifth but the Frenchman was spotted wagging his finger at Power on the cool-down lap; he later noted to NBCSN that he was careful to use “the right finger” and not the one that can make for lighter wallets.

Power, for his part, was apologetic afterwards.

“Man, I’m really sorry for what happened,” Power told NBCSN. “I honestly thought he had a problem because he went back really slowly, so I went up his inside and then realized he was just going to turn and try to back out and I got him.

“My bad. I feel bad. That’s – I don’t like to be raced like that and I’m surprised I didn’t get a penalty…He should be angry. I’d be the same.”

Power’s victory two weeks ago in the season-opener at St. Petersburg also came with controversy, as he appeared to lead the field to a mid-race restart slower than expected. The subsequent accordion effect caused rookie Jack Hawksworth to spin out and collect Marco Andretti in a crash.

But his issues with Pagenaud aside, Power did have a good day after failing to advance out of the first round of yesterday’s knockout qualifying in a surprising setback.

A key part of his drive to second was being able to evade the multi-car pileup that ensued on Lap 54 after Ryan Hunter-Reay got into race leader Josef Newgarden in Turn 4.

“I could see that happening – when Hunter-Reay went to go up [Newgarden’s] inside, he wasn’t quite there and I just kind of hung back,” Power said. “I was ready for something to happen because they were all on cold tires.”

Power ultimately takes away a 27-point championship lead over Mike Conway going into the next race in two weeks’ time from Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama.

However, the Australian’s mindset appears solely set on checkered flags – at least, for now.

“[I’ll] definitely take second from 14th,” he said in the post-race press conference. “Good for the championship – not that I want to think about that crap anymore.

“I just want to race. I’m just going to race to win every time.”

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