Will Stevens sees his long-term future in WEC

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SILVERSTONE – Ahead of his debut in the FIA World Endurance Championship with the new Manor team at Silverstone this weekend, Will Stevens says that he can see his long-term racing future in sportscars.

Stevens made his Formula 1 debut at the end of 2014 with Caterham before spending the full 2015 season with Manor Marussia, recording a best finish of 13th at Silverstone.

Stevens was dropped to make way for Pascal Wehrlein and Rio Haryanto at Manor for 2016, leaving him to explore options outside of F1.

Former Manor bosses Graeme Lowdon and John Booth announced in February that they would be setting up an LMP2 team in the WEC for 2016 after falling out with the owner of the F1 operation.

Stevens is one of a number of ex-Manor drivers to join the ‘real’ Manor (as the bosses call it) in the WEC this year, and he is confident that it can hit the ground running in the series at Silverstone this weekend.

“WEC’s a great championship to be part of, but we’re both new to it. We need to learn together,” Steven said.

“I think we’ve got enough experience in the team to hit the ground running. For sure this weekend is going to be tough, but I didn’t come here to not try and win races and finish on the podium.

“I have trust in the team, and they have that in me as well, so I’m hoping for a good result straightaway.”

Stevens said that he sees his long-term future in the WEC, and believes that a number of other drivers are coming to the same realization.

“WEC for me is a great championship. In terms of a career, it’s really where I see the future,” Stevens said.

“I know a lot more guys are seeing that where it needs to be. For me, it’s a great chance to come into it straight into P2 and be with a team I know well.

“Everyone wants to aspire to be with a factory team in LMP1. I think you can see how long people’s careers are in it.

“Longevity wise, it’s where I want to be.”

Stevens is dovetailing his WEC commitments with a drive in the Blancpain GT series, where he shares an Audi with Rene Rast.

Last weekend, he made his debut in the series at Misano in what was actually his first ever race in a car with a roof, having spent his entire career in single seaters.

“It’s a different discipline to what I’ve been used to so far,” Stevens said.

“My first race last weekend was actually really exciting. The first time for a while I’ve had a proper race which was nice. In all honesty I’m really enjoying it.

“We’ve not had too many days under our belt in the P2 car, so we’re learning with every lap we do, that’s for sure. Obviously this year is going to be busy for me, but that’s exactly what I wanted to do coming off of last year.

“I’m really excited about both campaigns. This weekend is going to be cool. P2 looks like a great championship this year. As everyone said, the competition is really strong. We clearly know in the Oreca car, it’s good.

“Myself and Manor are new to the championship. I’ve been with them for a while now, I know they can do a good job. We’ll take it one step at a time.”

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