United States GP Paddock Notebook – Saturday

AP
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AUSTIN, Texas – Let’s face it, today was bad. You can’t really sugarcoat it or attempt to make sense of the situation. It’s just one of those days you’d like to forget very quickly.

A free practice session happened with only a smattering of fans who’d made it in before news came down that Circuit of The Americas spectator gates would be closed until noon local time.

Then a three-hour delay occurred for what was supposed to be qualifying before a decision was announced to push qualifying through to 9:00 a.m. CT and local time (10:00 a.m. ET) on Sunday morning, LIVE on CNBC and NBC Sports Live Extra.

As you’d expect, there’s not too much to recap:

SESSION REPORTS

PADDOCK NEWS AND FEATURES 

THOUGHTS FROM THE TRACK*

Weathering the storm

The asterisk in the lead-in to this section denotes the fact that I opted not to go to the track today. Reasoning? With persistent and continuously extending flash flood warnings, late information close to the start of sessions as to when the sessions would run, the ability to work and follow sessions remotely via both NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra and a not-too-far-but-still-somewhat-far potential drive from my hotel to the track, I decided against going. This marks the first day in 10 years since I started my career in 2006 that I’ve been on site for a weekend, yet stayed back at a hotel. Simply put, the risk wasn’t worth it to drive.

U.S. fans rock

A handful of fans made it in before Circuit of The Americas revealed before 9 a.m. CT and local time that the gates would be closed for safety reasons. Those already present could seek shelter in the main grandstand.

If you were stuck either on a bus or in a parking lot before getting in, the agony would have to be palpable.

If you’re a fan… you have every reason to be a bit, or more than a bit aggrieved at how things transpired.

The surreal experience was that at 10 a.m., seemingly against all common sense or logic, FP3 was running and there were not that many fans there to see it. By the time fans were let in by noon, they were treated to a several-hour delay, and no cars on track. It was at best disappointing, at worst, farcical – something U.S. fans have been through before.

The bright side – if any – came from the teams doing their best to entertain in the absence of running. The blog site WTF1.co.uk has a pretty good synopsis of the hilarity that took place up and down the pit lane in the rain delay.

And then both F1 and COTA came good with this bit of news that has come down in the last hour:

Hopefully it’s not a case of too little, too late, but it’s a fantastic – and deserved – gesture to witness.

F1 fans in the U.S. do care, and the ones that have journeyed to Austin this time around are a dedicated lot. It’s easy to forget at times, but they are the reason this whole thing exists – in my opinion, even more than the sponsors and the manufacturers.

F1’s human side becomes present

For the talk that F1 drivers and teams are corporate automatons, devoid of personality, that notion can be squashed as the emotional and human side of F1 shone through brightly today on a day when there was almost no light.

From Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat’s dancing exhibition, to Lewis Hamilton’s pit lane wave to the crowd, to the surprise emergence of Carlos Sainz and Jos Verstappen matching their sons in Toro Rosso firesuits, to the various races up and down to the pit lane, and all the cheekiness and brilliance coming from all the team and driver Twitter accounts, it was plain to see everyone give their best performance. There wasn’t the standard sponsor plugs, cliches and non-answers. There was proper humanity on display.

A busy day now set for Sunday

Qualifying, a race, and a potential World Championship to be decided all in one day. And yet more rain, although mercifully, not as much as we’ve seen the last day or too. Sunday promises to be a long, crazy and potentially historic day.

***

Qualifying coverage is at 10 a.m. ET (9 a.m. CT) on CNBC, with race coverage starting at 2:30 p.m. ET (1:30 p.m. CT) on NBC and lights out at 3 p.m. ET, 2 p.m. CT, on Sunday.

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