Grosjean: Sonoma best chance to make NASCAR debut

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Romain Grosjean believes that his best chance of making his NASCAR debut will come at the Sonoma road course race at the end of June.

Grosjean expressed an interest in trying out NASCAR after joining Stewart-Haas Racing co-owner Gene Haas’ new Formula 1 operation for its debut season in 2016.

The Frenchman confirmed to NBC Sports back in February that he had discussed the possibility with Haas, but joked in Spain on Thursday that he was yet to speak to his wife about it.

“So far I haven’t spoken with my wife!” Grosjean said.

“Definitely I want to do it. I think it’s something we’ve discussed since day one. It would be great experience.

“When it’s going to happen, I don’t know. It’s 21 races, it’s quite a tight schedule already in Formula 1. Of course you don’t want to start on an oval, I wouldn’t feel very comfortable.”

“We’ll find what’s possible to do.”

Grosjean’s best opportunities for a road course appearance come with the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma on June 26 and the Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen on August 7. However, the race at The Glen would cut into F1’s summer break.

“That’s a problem,” Grosjean said. “Sonoma is better I think.”

Sonoma may be better for Grosjean, but it will add up to a brutal five-weekend run of racing that involves a great deal of travel.

After the Canadian Grand Prix on June 12, Grosjean will venture to Azerbaijan for the nation’s first F1 race on June 19 before potentially heading back west to California.

Following Sonoma, Grosjean would then need to go straight to Austria for the next F1 race on July 3, which is then followed by the British Grand Prix one week later.

Grosjean ruled out racing on ovals in the future both in NASCAR and the Indy 500, saying that he had never been attracted to it.

“I love watching the race but I’ve never been attracted by it, so Le Mans 24 Hours yes, Rally Monte Carlo yes, but ovals… I’d probably miss turning right,” Grosjean said.

Having previously raced in GTs, Grosjean is no stranger to closed cockpit racing. Although he conceded there would be much to learn in NASCAR, it is a challenge he relishes.

“It’s probably a bit heavier and more powerful,” Grosjean said.

“The brakes don’t look to be the best brakes in the world. There’s a lot of contact as well.

“A few things to learn, but why not? It would be fun.”

Should Grosjean be able to make his debut though, it would not come with Stewart-Haas Racing. NASCAR rules only allow four cars per team and no exceptions for rookie drivers as used to be the case. A possible scenario for Grosjean would be racing with the SHR-supported HScott Motorsports team.

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