Renault: “Cocktail of problems” in 2015 taught us plenty

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Renault Sport director of operations Remi Taffin believes that three main factors created a “cocktail of problems” for the French manufacturer in Formula 1 this year.

Renault spent much of the season battling criticism from customer teams Red Bull and Toro Rosso due to a number of issues with its power unit that prompted the energy drinks giant to threaten to quit the sport.

Ultimately, Red Bull was forced into sticking with Renault power units for 2016 – albeit rebranded as TAG Heuer – but the issues did cause the manufacturer to also consider its place in F1.

In an interview on the Renault Sport website, Taffin explored the problems that blighted Red Bull’s efforts throughout the season, but is certain that such issues will not occur again in the future.

“We arrived at the first winter test believing that we had made a big step forward between seasons,” Taffin said. “We genuinely thought that we had done a good job.

“It was the case in certain areas, but we were caught out in three principal ways. The first was a significant reliability problem with the pistons. We had not seen the particular issue in any of the testing conducted and all the parts were signed off in the usual way.

“The other issue was that we had another part inside the PU electronics that we could not put our finger on and it continued to be a source of problems.

“The final element is that we braked so late for 2015, taking decisions until the last possible moment. The specification of PU for the first race was determined very late in the day and quite simply we braked too late, and we weren’t ready.

“We wanted to make up the gap so badly that we pulled the rug out from under our own feet. But this particular cocktail of problems did allow us to learn a lot and make sure that the same issues will not reoccur in the future.”

Renault will return to F1 in 2016 with its own works team after agreeing to buy Lotus, but it will no longer supply Toro Rosso after the team elected to switch to 2015-spec Ferrari engines for the new season.

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