Sebastien Ogier continues perfect start to WRC season in Sweden

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Three-time FIA World Rally Championship winner Sebastien Ogier continued his perfect start to the 2016 season by claiming maximum points at this weekend’s Rally Sweden.

The event in Karlstad looked poised to be cancelled earlier in the week after a lack of snowfall in the area reduced many parts of the rally into a gravel course.

A revised 12-stage rally was brokered to ensure that the event still went ahead, with Ogier leading from start to finish across the three days of running.

The Frenchman came under pressure from Hayden Paddon on Saturday, who cut the deficit at the front down to just 8.8 seconds in his first run in the Hyundai i20.

However, Ogier managed to keep his cool and open up the gap once again before eventually completing the rally with an advantage of almost half a minute.

The result continued Ogier’s perfect start to the season following his victory in Monaco last month, giving him 56/56 possible points at the top of the championship standings.

“Two wins from the first two rallies – it can’t get any better,” Ogier said. “Yesterday was a little bit too crazy and I took risks like I had never done in my life. Conditions were terrible at the beginning of the week but the organisers did an impressive job so that we had a good rally.”

Paddon retained second place until the finish to match his best ever WRC result and become the first non-European to stand on the podium in Sweden. Mads Østberg finished the rally in third place for M-Sport Ford ahead of Andreas Mikkelsen and Ott Tanak.

Following the conclusion of the rally, event organizers in Karlstad announced that they had agreed a new three-year hosting deal for Rally Sweden, safeguarding its future until the end of 2019.

“The negotiations have been going on for almost six months and today Rally Sweden can confirm that a new three year contract with WRC Promoter has been signed,” a statement read.

“One week ago we were more dead than alive and couldn’t see any future for the event. Now, once again, we have managed to put on an amazing event and it is an amazing feeling to be able to confirm that we have agreed on a new three year contract.

“We have an absolutely amazing organization that proves that we can pull through the hardest of times.”

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