Audi quickest in opening WEC practice at the Nürburgring

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NÜRBURGRING – Audi kicked off its home weekend in style by topping the opening practice session for the 6 Hours of Nürburgring on Friday afternoon.

For the first time since its formation, the FIA World Endurance Championship has graced the historic German circuit, which is the site of the series’ resumption following the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June.

Just as it was at the Circuit de la Sarthe, this weekend’s race is shaping up to be a fight between Audi and Porsche once again as the two German marques locked out the top four positions in a damp first free practice session.

The no. 7 car of Benoit Treluyer, Marcel Fassler and Andre Lotterer topped the timesheets with a best lap of 1:39.201, edging out the no. 18 Porsche of Romain Dumas, Marc Lieb and Neel Jani by just 0.079 seconds.

Audi’s no. 8 piloted by Oliver Jarvis, Lucas di Grassi and Loic Duval followed home in third place, seven-tenths of a second adrift of its sister car. Once again, Porsche finished narrowly behind as the no. 17 of Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard finish five-thousands of a second down.

Toyota once again struggled to match the pace of its German rivals as its cars limped home to fifth and sixth overall, over 2.5 seconds behind the pace set by the front-runners.

In LMP2, G-Drive continued its strong 2015 form as the no. 28 and no. 26 cars went one-two. The all-British line-up of Nick Levants, Danny Watts and Jonny Kane in Strakka Racing’s no. 42 car.

In GTE Pro, AF Corse also managed to go one-two with its pair of Ferraris. Defending GT champions Gianmaria Bruni and Toni Vilander set the pace in the no. 51 car despite having a brief off at the first corner early in the session, and were followed by the no. 71 of Davide Rigon and James Calado, four-tenths of a second behind.

AF Corse also led the way in GTE Am with the no. 83 car of François Period, Emmanuel Collard and Rui Aguas finishing two-tenths of a second clear of Aston Martin Racing’s no. 98. The no. 88 Abu Dhabi Proton Racing car, which has Le Mans winner Earl Bamber in its crew for this weekend, rounded out the top three.

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