Honda releases first image of F1 2015 engine, no driver announcement due at Suzuka

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Honda has released the first image of its 2015 Formula 1 power unit ahead of its home grand prix at Suzuka this weekend.

The Japanese manufacturer confirmed last year that it would be returning to the sport after six years away as an engine supplier with McLaren, rekindling the famed McLaren-Honda partnership of the late 1980s and early ’90s.

Although details since then have been drip-fed through, Honda has today released the first image of the power unit it has produced to race next season, and confirmed that more will be revealed across the course of this weekend’s race at Suzuka.

The firm’s head of motorsport, Yasuhisa Arai, confirmed that operations are now up and running at the engine powerplant in England, which works in tandem with the base in Japan.

“Working toward Honda’s F1 participation starting in the 2015 season, development of the power unit is entering its prime phase at our research and development facility in Sakura where we transferred our automobile motorsports development earlier this year,” he said.

“In addition to conducting simulations, we have moved onto the next stage where we conduct full-fledged bench tests of the engine while connecting the turbocharger and energy recovery systems. In the meantime, our racing operation base in Milton Keynes, United Kingdom, has become fully operational.

“At this time, we are unveiling an image of our power unit that is under development. The whole team is concentrating on this development, getting ready for the forthcoming start of F1 participation in six months. Please stay tuned for further updates.”

Arai confirmed to British broadcaster Sky that, contrary to speculation, Honda is not looking to make any announcement regarding McLaren’s driver line-up at Suzuka this weekend.

“We are constantly talking about which drivers we would like to see and whilst McLaren is here in Japan it is only natural that we organize some meetings with McLaren, but I don’t think we will be discussing the topic of drivers given that nothing is decided,” he said.

Honda’s return and promise of exclusivity at McLaren for 2015 is proving to be a big point of interest for many in Formula 1 as the driver market begins to fall into place. Both of McLaren’s current drivers – Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen – are out of contract at the end of this season, sparking rumors that Fernando Alonso could be set to walk away from Ferrari one year early and return to the British team.

McLaren is yet to confirm when it will first test a car using the Honda power unit, but it could be as early as the final 2014 test in Abu Dhabi following the final grand prix of the season.

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