If Nico wins in Monaco tomorrow, the scales may tip back in his favor

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It’s been quite a week in Formula 1. Not only have we been in Monaco, which – in case you missed it – is quite a big race weekend for us, but the most explosive driver rivalry in years has sparked into life.

And one man has been at the heart of it: Lewis Hamilton.

Over the past few weeks, the mind games at Mercedes have certainly been brewing. Hamilton might have won the last four races, but he continually said: “Nico was quicker.” Essentially, it was a back-handed way of saying “I was slower, and yet I still won!”

All the while, Rosberg remained tight-lipped and said very little on the matter. He was quoted in one interview as saying that there would always be something in his fridge for Lewis. These two have been friends since their karting days, but now the cracks are appearing.

In qualifying, Nico went off when on provisional pole and brought out the yellow flags, denying his rivals of a better lap time. Frankly, it appeared to be an innocent error, and the stewards thought so too after investigating the matter.

Hamilton was less than convinced, though. He didn’t smile at all after qualifying despite securing a front-row start, and he said very little on the matter. Rosberg apologized, but in the press conference Lewis just muttered: “Yeah… I was up a couple of tenths… yeah.”

Then, in the FIA media pen after the race, Hamilton spoke to the media and made his true feelings clear. He was asked whether he thought the move was deliberate, à la Michael Schumacher at La Rascasse in 2006.

“Who knows?” Lewis replied. “I’m not saying anything.”

Mercedes soon began to dissect the matter, cancelling its usual press briefing in order to deal with the FIA. When the stewards decided that Rosberg had done nothing wrong, it was confirmed that he would start from pole position tomorrow.

Hamilton might have had the momentum coming into the race weekend, but if Nico can indeed win tomorrow, the scales will tip back in his favor. Not only will he regain the lead of the drivers’ championship, but he would also have beaten Hamilton in spite of his mind games. In the wake of everything, the questions about his hunger to win, the questions about his morality, he will have beaten him.

And of all the races, Monaco is the one that Lewis so dearly wants. He won here in 2008, but has not appeared on the podium since. Never before has a driver won five straight races and not won the title; Lewis currently stands on four. If Nico can spoil his party, it would be a sweet victory for the German.

Let’s just hope they keep it clean. Whoever has the lead heading up the hill from Sainte Devote tomorrow should take a huge step towards winning the race, and – who knows – maybe the championship.

Make sure you’re watching the Monaco Grand Prix live on NBC from 7:30am ET tomorrow. It has the makings of a classic.

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