Renault confident it has taken right direction for 2015

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After a miserable 2014 F1 season, Renault engine chief Remi Taffin believes that the French marque has made significant progress by setting and meeting aggressive targets ahead of the new year of racing.

The Renault engine was noticeably down on power compared to the dominant Mercedes power unit in 2014, meaning that defending world champions Red Bull stood little chance of securing a fifth title in a row.

The issues also prompted Lotus to switch to Mercedes power for 2015, which combined with Caterham’s collapse means that Renault is only powering Red Bull and Toro Rosso (Red Bull’s B team) for the new season.

However, Taffin was satisfied with the first running of the new engines in Jerez, and says that more progress will be made at the next test in Barcelona.

“We’ve wiped the slate clean this year and have new, aggressive targets,” Taffin said. “This week was the first step and we have hit nearly all the objectives we set ourselves.

“The primary goals were to fully integrate the power unit into our partners’ chassis, eliminate the gremlins and then run as much as possible. We covered more than 2,400km over the two teams, which we can be relatively satisfied with at this stage. The Toro Rosso has been running particularly well and is representative of the mileage we need to achieve this season.

“There have been some teething troubles, which have arisen largely because we have been so uncompromising with our aims over the winter. The energy store in particular was being run as aggressively as we could, but we need to explore the limits of the parts in Barcelona to know how far we can push them.”

One of the major problems with the 2014-spec Renault engine was its reliability, but this is a fact that has not been lost on Taffin, who is keeping a close eye on the workings of the engine as well as its performance.

“We want to move more to the performance aspect of the power unit in this test and run in a specification closer to that we will run in Melbourne, of course still keeping a very close eye on reliability,” he said.

Taffin’s thoughts were backed up by Renault Sport managing director Cyril Abiteboul (pictured with Christian Horner) who is confident that his team has taken the right direction for 2015.

“The test this week has been productive and has confirmed that we have taken the right direction with our development choices,” Abiteboul said. “This is reassuring considering the magnitude of the late clarification in regulations with tokens and so on, and how many times we have had to reconsider the various strategic options.

“Yes, we have had a couple of problems, but there have not been any nasty surprises. They were largely due to the fact that, taking our inspiration from the F1 teams, we have tried to push every design decision to the last possible moment to gain as much information as we could.

“Necessarily this means we experienced some issues on track. However all the issues are understood – and some were even anticipated – so we haven’t suffered any setbacks.”

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