Verstappen set to make F1 history in Japanese GP practice just three days after turning 17

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Think back to what you were doing on your 17th birthday. Got it? Now prepare to be made to feel very average and, simply, a bit old.

Just three days after turning 17 – the age at which you can legally drive a road car in the USA or UK – Max Verstappen is set to get behind the wheel of a 2014 Formula 1 car for the first time during practice for the Japanese Grand Prix.

17 years and three days. In his native Netherlands, Verstappen is not legally able to drive without an adult to supervise him – yet he’s getting behind the wheel of a multi-million pound racing machine at the legendary Suzuka Circuit.

The debate about his age has raged on since Toro Rosso confirmed in August that he would be stepping up to a full-time seat with the team in 2015, replacing Jean-Eric Vergne. Despite his relative inexperience, Verstappen is known to be greatly talented, with Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko comparing him to the great Ayrton Senna in a recent interview.

Verstappen was due to run in practice for the final three grands prix of the year, but this was brought forwards after some successful initial running in an old Toro Rosso car (even if he did crash during a show-run).

The Dutch youngster is looking to gain as much experience from his run-out at Suzuka, and is not promising the world with his public debut.

“It’s a truly beautiful track,” Verstappen said on Suzuka. “It looks interesting and it’s certainly not the easiest track to begin at. However, I didn’t travel to Suzuka to break lap records but to gain as much experience as I can, so I’m looking forward to Friday.”

Verstappen will become the youngest ever driver to take part in a grand prix race weekend session, breaking Sebastian Vettel’s record set at the 2006 Turkish Grand Prix by over two years. He will also become the youngest driver to start a grand prix when he makes his debut in Australia next March.

Although he may not be chasing first place on the timesheets, if Verstappen can beat the established backmarkers and get close to the time of regular driver Daniil Kvyat, it will go a long way to silencing many of his critics.

You can watch Verstappen in action during FP1 for the Japanese Grand Prix, which will be available on Live Extra from 9pm ET tonight.

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