Italian GP Paddock Notebook – Saturday

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Lewis Hamilton will be leaving the Monza paddock with his tail up after securing his first pole position in almost four months in today’s qualifying session.

The Briton edged out teammate and championship rival Nico Rosberg for top spot in the final part of qualifying, finishing two-tenths of a second clear at the checkered flag after producing a scintillating lap in his first run.

For Rosberg, the result ended his four-race streak of starting on pole position, but we must look at the bigger picture here: our two title protagonists are starting the race from the front row of the grid just two weeks after they came together at Spa-Francorchamps.

What more could we want for a race? There will be fireworks. It may not end in contact, but whoever wins – if they win fair and square – will take a huge psychological advantage into the final six-race stint of the season.

Here is the penultimate paddock notebook from the Italian Grand Prix weekend, rounding up all of today’s action and news.

NEWS FROM THE PADDOCK

THOUGHTS FROM THE TRACK

At the end of a rather tenuous two-week period, wasn’t it inevitable that Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg would start the Italian Grand Prix side-by-side on the front row of the grid?

Both drivers put in mighty efforts during the qualifying session today, bouncing back from problems earlier on in the weekend. However, when it mattered, Hamilton was able to eke out those extra few tenths in style. In fact, his pole time was set during his first (and theoretically slower) run, and was four-tenths quicker than the rest of the field at first. Eventually, Rosberg managed to halve that gap, but he still just couldn’t find enough time.

So where does this leave us for tomorrow’s race? Both drivers have said that they are free to race as per the meeting held with the team last week, and both know that a repeat of Spa would have dire consequences. You can expect the Mercedes pit wall to hold its breath for the first stint of the race before splitting its drivers’ strategies, just as we saw in Bahrain and Spain. Come the final race to the flag? Who knows. By virtue of his championship lead, Nico is the man who is more likely to settle for second place tomorrow. That said, can Lewis really afford another non-score?

Just behind the Silver Arrows lie Williams, who finally lived up to its billing as the ‘best of the rest’ at Monza. Valtteri Bottas’ long-run pace is reportedly better than that of the Mercedes drivers, but it would come as a great surprise if he is a genuine threat to them. Nevertheless, both he and Felipe Massa will know that a solid points score will take the team above Ferrari in the constructors’ championship.

The prancing horse endured a difficult session, qualifying seventh (Fernando Alonso) and 12th (Kimi Raikkonen), but both drivers felt that they could have done little more. For Alonso, this was particularly true, given that all of the six cars ahead of him are powered by Mercedes engines. Time and time again, Fernando drags his car through the mire.

Ferrari’s motorhome was a hive of activity just before qualifying today. According to reports in the Italian press, Luca di Montezemolo could be set to resign as the president of the Italian marque. When he graced a huge media scrum on the steps of the Ferrari team unit today, he made clear that he would not be stepping down. Most left disappointed.

The stage is set for a quite thrilling Italian Grand Prix, so make sure you don’t miss a second of it. Sparks – and perhaps even bodywork – will fly.

You can watch the race live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 7.30am ET 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