Pascal Wehrlein’s timetable to return ‘still unclear’

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Sauber F1 Team’s new recruit for the year, Pascal Wehrlein, is yet to make his driving debut with the new team and is unclear at the moment when he will.

The German suffered a back injury in an accident at January’s Race of Champions in Miami and was ruled out of action for this week’s first test of the new Formula 1 season at the Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona, with Ferrari reserve driver Antonio Giovinazzi filling in for him this week.

Wehrlein is still on site in Barcelona this week and updated reporters of his progress, although still doesn’t have a timetable yet for his return.

“I’m feeling okay, no pain, nothing, just something as a precaution, to avoid any more difficult injury than I have at the moment so it’s just something to be safe for the future and that’s it,” Wehrlein told reporters at the test.

“I hope, at the moment it’s still unclear as I will have a check again at the end of this week, I will see some doctors and then let’s see, I hope for sure that they will give me green light and they say everything is fine and you can get back to racing but you never know.”

Wehrlein joined Sebastian Vettel for the RoC Team Germany at the event, and while he didn’t feel the injury was that bad at the time, he said the lingering effects have continued to persist longer than he expected.

“After the crash everything felt fine, I checked that everything was fine with the passenger,” Wehrlein explained. “I said tomorrow I will drive again, (and) was already speaking with Sebastian about the next day and felt completely fine, but after a crash you always go to a doctor and check yourself and they said it’s better you don’t drive tomorrow, then I went to the doctors again in Europe and said I should skip this test.

“Just in the first few days I had a bit of pain, sore everywhere which is normal after a crash, but at the moment I have no pain, feeling fine, doing my training as normal, and I can’t wait to go back into the car.”

It stands to reason Wehrlein would need at least next week’s test at Barcelona, from March 7-10, to get enough running in before the season starts. If he isn’t cleared by doctors, it could open the door for Giovinazzi to make his Grand Prix debut in Melbourne.

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