Ganassi’s young guns shined at 53rd Rolex 24 at Daytona

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One of the question marks in this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona was how Chip Ganassi’s three lesser-experienced drivers in the endurance race would handle having a greater responsibility.

But it’s fair to say that each of Kyle Larson, Sage Karam and Charlie Kimball passed that test with flying colors, all of whom were making their second Rolex 24 starts.

Karam and Larson in particular stood out in the pair of Chip Ganassi Racing Riley-Fords, with Karam in the full-season No. 01 and Larson part of the eventual race-winning No. 02 car. Each drove about seven to eight hours, far more than in their debut year a year ago.

Karam, the 19-year-old IndyCar full-season hopeful for CGR, felt this was a great audition to build on what he showed last year – particularly at Sebring.

“Each time I’ve been in the car has been good for improvements in my career,” Karam told MotorSportsTalk. “I think the first stint was huge with that restart, going for the lead and then pulling a pretty big margin… good thing was it was on TV, so that helps out.

“When you’re in the middle of the night, you just bring it home in one piece. This time, we took it to the champions of this race last year in Action Express. We had a great battle with the Wayne Taylor car. But it’s a shame how it ended for us with the slipping clutch.”

Meanwhile Larson, the 22-year-old wheelman who’s seemingly won in everything he’s touched, was skeptical of returning for a second year at the Rolex 24 and thought of making excuses to get out of it.

“I felt and knew I did a really bad job last year… well, I thought I did a really bad job,” Larson said. “All year I was trying to figure out an excuse to not run this race. It’s pretty amazing that I felt pressured into running this race and now I’m a winner of this event.”

CGR managing director Mike Hull spoke highly of both drivers in the post-race press conference, particularly Larson given his pre-race trepidation.

“After he raced last year, he was actually very intimidated by the process of driving road racing in a big hybrid sports car, and I had heard that he didn’t want to do the race this year,” Hull said. “I thought, well, that was odd. He’s a racing guy.

“So I called him on the phone, and I said, you’re going to drive with us. He said, well, I don’t know if I want to. Those other guys are so good.

“The time investment that we made together last year at the Daytona 24-hour race is going to pay big dividends for all of us, including you, this year, and I’m glad it did for him because he represents all of us.”

Karam and Ganassi have a natural tie-in – both are Pennsylvania natives – while Larson speaks to the North Carolina front of the CGR organization beyond its Pennsylvania roots and also its Indianapolis base.

And both are also a major part of CGR’s future, beyond team veterans Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Jamie McMurray on the IndyCar/NASCAR sides and Scott Pruett and Joey Hand on the sports car side.

“We had eight drivers drive for us today, not four… if anybody digs into our culture at all they’ll find out that’s who we are. We’re all about the people that work for us.”

F1 tests: Mercedes innovates with wheel adjustment system

Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images
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MONTMELÓ, Spain — Veteran Kimi Raikkonen set the fastest time on the second day of Formula One preseason testing on Thursday, but Mercedes still garnered more attention by introducing an innovative wheel adjustment system.

On-board footage showed defending champion Lewis Hamilton pulling the steering wheel back and forth on the front straight to apparently change the angle of the front wheels on his Mercedes car.

The team stayed tight-lipped about the car’s new feature but guaranteed it was “safe” and “legal.”

“I probably won’t shed a great deal more light than what you saw on the TV but yeah we have a system in the car, it’s a novel idea,” team technical director James Allison told F1 TV. ”We’ve got a name for it, it’s called DAS, if you’re interested, and it just introduces an extra dimension for the steering, for the driver, which we hope will be useful during the year. But precisely how we use it and why we use it, that’s something we will keep to ourselves.”

Allison said governing body FIA knew in advance that the team was introducing the new system.

“It’s something we’ve been talking to them (about) for some time,” he said. “The rules are pretty clear about what’s permitted on steering systems and we’re pretty confident that it matches those requirements. I’m pleased we got it on the car, it seems to be useful, and we’ll see over the coming days how it benefits us.”

Hamilton said he was still trying to get used to the system, but praised the team for coming up with the innovation.

“I’ve only had one morning on (it, so) I don’t really have a lot to talk about with it. We’re trying to get on top of it, understand it, but safety-wise no problem today and the FIA are OK with the project.

“For me it’s really encouraging to see that my team is continuing to innovate and stay ahead of the game, and I think that’s down to the great minds in the team and so hopefully that’ll work to our benefit.”

Hamilton led the time charts on Wednesday but was only ninth-fastest on Thursday.

MORE: Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas fastest in Day 1 of F1 practice
MORE: Sergio Perez fastest early on Day 2 of F1 Practice

The 40-year-old Raikkonen, who has a chance this season to break the record for most race starts in F1, was fastest with a time of 1 minute, 17.091 seconds in his Alfa Romea. He was 0.2 seconds quicker than Sergio Pérez with Racing Point. Daniel Ricciardo of Renault was third.

Raikkonen caused a red flag near the end of the afternoon session when his car stopped on the track with an apparent mechanical issue. The Finnish driver had spun earlier in the session, as did Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes, Romain Grosjean of Haas and Pierre Gasly of Alpha Tauri, formerly known as Toro Rosso.

Grosjean had the most laps among the 13 drivers who went to the track on Thursday, with 158.

Bottas was the slowest driver of the day, while Sebastian Vettel was sixth-fastest with Ferrari.

Pérez had set the quickest time in the morning session. The Mexican driver had been third fastest on Wednesday, behind Hamilton and Bottas.

Drivers will be back on the track on Friday to close out the first week of testing. Teams will have another three days to test next week.

Preseason testing has been reduced from eight to six days to help compensate for the record 22 races on the calendar, including a new Vietnam Grand Prix and the return of the Dutch GP. Midseason testing also has been eliminated.

The season opens on March 15 at the Australian GP.

The Barcelona-Catalunya track will host the Spanish GP on May 10.