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With Rosberg watching, Bottas sets fastest time in testing

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) With retired champion Nico Rosberg watching from the pits on Wednesday, Valtteri Bottas set the fastest time since layout changes were made at the Circuit Barcelona-Catalunya a decade ago.

The display in preseason testing made another clear statement about Mercedes’ potential in Formula One this season.

Bottas, who replaced Rosberg after his surprise departure last year, had a time of 1:19.705 seconds in the morning session on Day 3 of testing, nearly one-and-a-half seconds faster than Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo.

Bottas’ time came on the supersoft tires, while Ricciardo had his lap on the slower softs. The Mercedes driver also had the most laps in the morning session with 75.

After the track changes in 2007, when a chicane was added, the fastest lap in Barcelona had been set by Mark Webber’s Red Bull in 2010, with a time of 1:19.995 in qualifying. Bottas’ time was considered unofficial because it came in testing.

New tire and aerodynamic rules introduced in 2017 to bring more excitement to the series gave cars more grip and downforce, making them significantly faster than in previous years.

Rosberg, who retired in December five days after clinching the title with Mercedes, was at the track and spent time in the paddock talking to several drivers and teams.

Lewis Hamilton will take over the Mercedes for the afternoon session on Wednesday.

McLaren driver Fernando Alonso had a problem-free session after a series of issues on the first two days.

The teams return to the track on Thursday for the last time this week. Another four-day session will take place from March 7-10.

The season-opening race is in Australia on March 26.

Porsche pulls GTLM cars from Mid-Ohio because of COVID-19 positives

Porsche Mid-Ohio COVID-19
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Porsche will skip Saturday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race with its two GTLM cars at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course after three positive COVID-19 tests were confirmed during the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

That resulted in Porsche choosing to pull out of the Nurburgring 24 Hour endurance race in Germany, electing to avoid sending any team members as a precautionary measure.

Porsche Motorsport announced Tuesday that its COVID-19 decision also would apply at Mid-Ohio to its No. 911 and No. 12 teams.

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Three of Porsche’s four IMSA GTLM drivers — Laurens Vanthoor, Frederic Makowiecki and Nick Tandy — also were racing in Le Mans. The trio has remained isolated in Europe and won’t be allowed to travel.

“Based on yesterday’s decision that no employee or racing driver of our Le Mans team will participate in the Nürburgring 24 Hours, we have today decided that this ruling will also apply to the upcoming IWSC race in Mid-Ohio,” Fritz Enzinger, vice president for Porsche Motorsport, said in a release. “This means that Laurens, Nick and Fred will not be traveling to the USA.

“This is very regrettable, but we would like to emphasize that in this case as well the health of all those concerned is the prime focus of the decisions we have taken.”

The decision also affects Earl Bamber, who teamed with Vanthoor to win the GTLM championship last year in the No. 912.

Porsche said its GTLM Porsche 911 RSR-19 entries will return for the Oct. 10 race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.

That will reduce the GTLM class to four cars — two Corvettes and two BMWs — this weekend at Mid-Ohio, in what could be somewhat of a 2021 preview. Porsche Motorsport announced earlier this year that it will leave IMSA after the 2020 season because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.