Vettel revels in Bahrain win, makes best start for Ferrari driver since Schumacher

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Sebastian Vettel reveled in his fifth Formula 1 victory for Scuderia Ferrari in Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix, saying the SF70H was “a pleasure” to drive under the lights at Sakhir.

Vettel charged from third place on the grid to beat the Mercedes pair of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, with Ferrari’s superior race pace lifting the German to his second win of the year.

“Really great day. Don’t know what to say,” Vettel said on the podium. “It was, the last half of the in-lap when all the fireworks were there and the track was lit up, I just love what I do. I didn’t find any words. It was really great.

“Team effort today, right off the start I could feel that we’re quick, we can have a word. Really tried to put Valtteri under pressure. He didn’t do any mistakes, it was difficult down the straights to get near him, but then we obviously went for the undercut and did the early pit stop, worked fantastic, very good job.”

Vettel feared that the advantage of pitting early and attempting the undercut was lost when the safety car was deployed just three laps later following a crash between Carlos Sainz Jr. and Lance Stroll, handing the Mercedes drivers a chance to take a free stop.

However, an error on one of Bottas’ tires allowed Vettel to emerge ahead of the Finn on-track, moving into a net lead that he would retain through the race on cycle.

“When the safety car came initially I was like ‘not again!’,” Vettel said, having lost the chance to win in China due to a mistimed caution.

“I think I was lucky because the others were just close to the pit lane so they couldn’t really benefit, let’s say. I don’t know. I was a bit surprised when I came out ahead of all of them because with the safety car I thought I might have lost the advantage.

“But after that it was good, the car was really amazing to drive. I had a good feeling yesterday so for many laps I felt it worked well. It was just a pleasure. I could control the pace at the end.”

With two wins and one second-place finish in the opening three races of the year, Vettel has made the strongest start to a season by a Ferrari driver since Michael Schumacher in 2004. Schumacher won each of the first three races en route to a record-breaking title success.

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