Hamilton inches away from Rosberg to top FP2 at COTA

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Lewis Hamilton has continued his good form during practice for this weekend’s United States Grand Prix by finishing fastest once again in FP2 on Friday afternoon in Austin.

The British driver edged out teammate and championship rival Nico Rosberg by just 0.003 seconds at the top of the timesheets to double up after finishing quickest in FP1 in the morning session.

The gap at the top equates to just 6.7 inches across the course of a lap at the Circuit of The Americas, proving just how tight the margins are between both of our championship protagonists.

However, Hamilton’s session ultimately came to an early end due to a fuel leak, with Rosberg also complaining of a gearbox issue.

FP2 saw the drivers divide their time between shorter low-fuel runs and race simulations, and it was Rosberg who enjoyed the upper hand in the first runs on the prime tire.

However, Hamilton soon redressed the balance at the top of the timesheets by pulling out a quickest lap of 1:39.085 to finish marginally ahead of Rosberg come the checkered flag as both opted to focus on heavy fuel runs in the second half of the session.

Both Mercedes drivers reported problems with their gearboxes, but this should not impact the rest of their race weekend as the units can be replaced for tomorrow’s running at COTA without earning a sanction from the stewards. Hamilton was given the call to pit with 20 minutes remaining due to an issue on the car, and did not head back out on track.

Fernando Alonso continued to plug away in the troublesome Ferrari F14 T, finishing third ahead of Daniel Ricciardo and Felipe Massa in the final standings.

After his teammate was forced to sit out most of the first session on Friday, Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel came unstuck during FP2, finishing at the bottom of the timesheets after completing just 18 laps due to a gearbox issue. This setback came just hours after the FIA confirmed he will be forced to start the race in Austin from the pit lane due to an engine penalty.

Yet again, it was Hamilton who enjoyed the bragging rights in Austin on Friday, but with Rosberg for very close company, the Briton cannot rest on his laurels if he is to claim a fifth straight win this weekend and extend his world championship lead.

NBC/NBCSN SCHEDULE FROM UNITED STATES GRAND PRIX

Attention NASCAR teams: IMSA drivers available for Daytona!

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NASCAR will be making its debut on the Daytona International Speedway road course next month, and there’s a big fan who’d like to join the historic weekend.

This fan actually has impressive credentials, too — a few thousand laps around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile layout that annually plays host to the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January.

In 2014, the winning GTLM team in the sports car endurance classic included IMSA Porsche driver Nick Tandy, who rabidly has followed NASCAR for more than 30 years since growing up in England.

So why not try racing NASCAR? Especially because Tandy has the weekend of Aug. 14-16 free.

He’s not picky, either — offering up his services on Twitter (as well as those of Porsche teammate Earl Bamber) for an ARCA, Xfinity, trucks or Cup ride.

Tandy’s affinity for American stock-car racing runs deep.

His first trip to the World Center of Racing was as a fan attending the 50th running of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 17, 2008. During Rolex testing in January, Tandy, 35, said he hadn’t missed a Cup race on TV in 15 years.

Among his favorite NASCAR drivers: the Earnhardts, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch. When IMSA ran the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in 2014, Tandy stayed a few extra days at the Brickyard and bought Kyle Busch gear for himself and his children.

He briefly took the stage during a NASCAR weekend last October. After IMSA’s season finale at Road Atlanta, Tandy made a few demonstration laps and a burnout in his No. 911 Porsche before the Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway.

He also has some experience in stock cars, having raced Modified-type grass-roots series on England’s quarter-mile short tracks.

Couple that with a Daytona road course record that includes two consecutive podium class finishes (including last Saturday) and a sports car resume with 13 IMSA victories and an overall win in the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans … and maybe a NASCAR team should take a look.

And Tandy isn’t the only IMSA driver who likely would be available.

Corvette driver Jordan Taylor, who won the 2017 Rolex 24 overall title with Jeff Gordon as a teammate (and the inspiration for his Rodney Sandstrom persona), also tweeted his availability for the weekend on the high banks.

Sports car veteran Andy Lally, a GTD driver with multiple class wins in the Rolex 24 as well as 38 Cup starts (he was the 2011 rookie of the season in NASCAR’s premier series), also hung out his shingle.

There also is AIM Vasser Sullivan’s Jack Hawksworth (who just won at Daytona last Saturday), the Englishman who teamed with Kyle Busch at the Rolex 24 in January and made an Xfinity start at Mid-Ohio last year with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Many sports car drivers (such as Taylor) already live in Florida, and many are hunkering down in the Sunshine State with IMSA returning to action at Daytona last week and Sebring International Raceway next week. Because of COVID-19-related travel concerns and restrictions, several IMSA stars who live outside the country are riding out the pandemic within a few hours of Daytona with nothing to do.

Why not a weekend at the World Center of Racing?

Over the years, scads of “road-course ringers” (including some Formula One veterans) have tried their hands in stock cars at Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International.

How about considering the many sports car drivers who already have reached victory lane at Daytona by making a few right-hand turns, too?