Photo: Porsche

FIA WEC: Porsche opens Nurburgring weekend with practice sweep

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Porsche Team premieres its new high downforce aero package this weekend at the resumption of the FIA World Endurance Championship season, with the 6 Hours of Nürburgring Round 4 of the 2017 season. And it’s also premiered at the top of the timesheets in the pair of practice sessions.

The No. 2 Porsche 919 Hybrid led both the morning and afternoon sessions, improving from a best time of 1:41.612 in the first session down to 1:38.663 in the second, for the car driven by the 24 Hours of Le Mans-winning trio of Timo Bernhard, Earl Bamber and Brendon Hartley.

All three have been bullish heading into the weekend, the Kiwi pair of Bamber and Hartley thankful to have Bernhard’s lifetime of success at the Nürburgring alongside them.

“I am very excited about racing the new high downforce package for the first time,” Bamber said heading into the weekend. “We come off Le Mans with good momentum and our priority is to push for the manufacturers’ championship. If we can secure that, we want the drivers’ title as well. I have some experience on the Nordschleife but not so much on the Grand Prix circuit. But I like it and can’t wait to take the 919 Hybrid round there for the first time.”

Hartley added, “It’s been a crazy but good couple of weeks after Le Mans and the result has just about sunk in. We have since tested our high downforce kit and the focus now moves on to the remaining World Championship races. We have won the Nürburgring race for the last two years and Earl and I are lucky to have ‘Mr. Nürburgring’ himself as a teammate. Everyone at Porsche has been working hard to get the new aero kit ready for the Nürburgring race. A victory on home soil would be the icing on the cake after Le Mans. I’m looking forward to another big fight!”

Bernhard won here in 2015 and 2016 with Hartley and Mark Webber, and in both years the Nürburgring win launched them into a several-race win streak. It was four consecutive races in 2015 and three last year.

The No. 8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid, featuring Sebastien Buemi on WEC duty instead of Formula E at New York City with Anthony Davidson and Kazuki Nakajima, could only get within 1.11 seconds in second practice.

The TDS-run No. 26 G-Drive Racing Oreca 07 Gibson (practice one) ended fastest of the day in LMP2 with another of the New York City Formula E substitutes, Ben Hanley in for Alex Lynn, joining Roman Rusinov and Pierre Thiriet to top the charts in this class. The best time here was a 1:47.188. Vaillante Rebellion’s No. 31 Oreca, Filipe Albuquerque deputizing for Nico Prost alongside Bruno Senna and Julien Canal, led the second session at a slower 1:47.717.

Portuguese driver Albuquerque adds the Oreca to the Ligier JS P217 he races with United Autosports in ELMS and the Dallara P217 baseline chassis to the Cadillac DPi-V.R as now having driven three of the four 2017 homologated LMP2 spec chassis this season.

Porsche topped GTE-Pro for the day with the No. 91 Porsche 911 RSR of Richard Lietz and Fred Makowiecki at a 1:56.244 in second practice. But with the fastest of all four manufacturers within 0.721 of a second, the debut of the new automated Balance of Performance system has at its first day delivered a decently close result.

In GTE-Am it was Spirit of Race on top with its No. 54 Ferrari 488 GTE, Miguel Molina back here after a one-off AF Corse run at Le Mans. The best time here was a 1:57.592.

Qualifying runs tomorrow with the race Sunday.

RESULTS: FP1, FP2

Reviewing Danica Patrick’s highs and lows at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

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So much of Danica Patrick’s fame can be traced to Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

It’s where she became a household name 13 years ago when she became the first woman to lead the Indianapolis 500 and emerged as a transcendent athlete.

It’s where everything started. This Sunday, it’s where everything will end, too.

In her last warmup before starting the final race of her career, Patrick had a bumpy final practice Friday on Carb Day. She was eighth fastest, but her Dallara-Chevrolet was in the garage most of the session because of an electrical problem in the engine. After returning during the final 10 minutes of the session, Patrick’s No. 13 seemed to be OK.

“At the end of the day, these are things you’re actually glad for, because if this had happened Sunday, we would have been done,” she said. “I’m glad to get the issues out of the way early on. Overall, today felt good. We made some changes when I went out the second time, and I’m feeling good about starting seventh on Sunday.”
Though she has had her share of success – along with a fourth in her debut, there was a third in 2009 and six top 10s in seven starts — Patrick has learned well how to handle frustration at the 2.5-mile track, too.

Fuel mileage might have kept her from winning her debut, a pit collision ruined 2008, and an unstable setup made 2010 a wild ride.

For a review of her up-and-down history at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and her legacy in racing, watch the video essay above that ran during Friday’s NASCAR America Motorsports Special on NBCSN.