Double finish the target for Haas on debut in Australia

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Günther Steiner is targeting a double finish for the new Haas Formula 1 Team when it makes its grand prix debut next weekend.

NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas will see his eponymous team hit the grid for the first time on March 20 when drivers Esteban Gutierrez and Romain Grosjean line up to start the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.

After an impressive start to testing in Barcelona, expectations for Haas are quite high heading to Melbourne, with debut points even thought to be within its reach.

However, team principal Steiner is remaining realistic, instead focusing on getting both of the team’s cars to the finish line in its first F1 race.

“Our goal is to have both cars finish,” Steiner said. “To show that we can compete and be proud of what we are doing.”

Haas had a more difficult second week of testing as a number of issues limited the mileage of the VF-16 car, but Steiner was comfortable that these problems were resolved and will not reoccur in Australia.

“That’s what testing is for. The good thing is, we had a front wing failure on the very first day and we fixed it within hours and were out on the track again,” Steiner said.

“We had a problem with the brake-by-wire system, but our guys fixed it overnight. We had an electronics issue and had to work through the night to fix it.

“You’re never happy when you don’t go on the track, but we always found fixes to our problems, and Barcelona was the place to do it. We don’t want that in Australia.

“[The team] put in so much effort. It was more than just the two weeks of testing. These guys put in two weeks working day and night before testing to finish the car.

“We’ve had day and night shifts the last four weeks, and they’ve worked well together. They didn’t get stressed out and they never panicked.

“I can’t thank them enough for the work that they did over the past few months.”

The Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN on March 20.

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