MRTI: Griffis test moves to COTA; 2016 preseason testing dates, locations set

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It’s going to be a busy testing schedule for the Mazda Road to Indy after the 2015 season concludes and in preparation for 2016. Here’s the full breakdown, below:


Even though all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy are currently engaged in championship battles which are unlikely to be settled until the final rounds at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, near Monterey, Calif., in September, Andersen Promotions already is planning toward the 2016 season. Confirmed today are a series of off-season testing dates, starting with the Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test at the renowned Circuit of The Americas near Austin, Texas, on November 21-22.

The fifth annual test, held in honor of accomplished Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian team manager Chris Griffis, who passed away unexpectedly in September 2011, will feature all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy – the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires.

In addition to serving as a jumpstart on 2016 for established campaigns, the outing provides an “audition” opportunity for teams and drivers working on new programs and will see many drivers turning their first laps in their respective next steps on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder. The challenging 20-turn, 3.427-mile road course has drawn rave reviews since hosting its first United States Formula 1 Grand Prix in 2012.

Series officials also confirmed a two-day test for Indy Lights at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida on January 25 and January 27, 2016, as well as a four-day Cooper Tires Spring Training test at Barber Motorsports Park, featuring all three series, on March 5-8, 2016.

The first day of testing for the Indy Lights teams at Homestead will take place on the 2.3-mile, 11-turn road course. After a day to change over the cars’ specifications, the teams will take to the venue’s 1.5-mile oval for an additional day on January 27.

A tradition will be renewed on March 5-8 with the reintroduction of the popular Spring Training test, supported by Cooper Tires. All three series will be in action on the undulating 2.3-mile Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham., Ala., providing teams and drivers a low-pressure opportunity to gauge themselves in relation to their competition in advance of the racing season.

“We are excited to announce that our fifth annual Chris Griffis test will take place at COTA and will give our current drivers and newcomers to our series the opportunity to drive this state-of-the-art circuit,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “Numerous teams and drivers have used this as a ‘try-out’ and we are pleased to continue to offer this now traditional test.

“Based on the input from our team owners, we have decided to replace our pre-season Winterfest event with Spring Training at Barber, and will once again return to Homestead-Miami Speedway for a two-day Indy Lights test. Our 2016 schedule is coming together nicely, and we look forward to unveiling this in the coming months.”

Following this weekend’s race at Iowa Speedway for Indy Lights and Pro Mazda, two events remain on the current calendar with all three series heading to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on July 31-August 2 prior to the season finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on September 11-13.

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