Hamilton seeks pole record in front of Ferrari fans at Monza

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Lewis Hamilton could break Michael Schumacher’s record for pole positions in Formula One.

Championship leader Sebastian Vettel could strengthen his bid to become the first Ferrari driver to win the F1 title in a decade.

And all this while Ferrari is celebrating its 70th anniversary.

There is no lack of story lines entering this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix in Monza, where the Ferrari fans – “tifosi” – may unleash a wave of pent-up enthusiasm after years of disappointment.

That’s if things go to plan for them. It will be interesting to see how the crowd reacts if Mercedes driver Hamilton leads qualifying and breaks his tie with Schumacher to claim his 69th pole position.

Schumacher won five of his record seven drivers’ championships with Ferrari from 2000-04 and remains revered among the team’s supporters – and in F1 in general.

The current condition of the 48-year-old Schumacher’s health remains closely guarded among family and close associates.

It was while skiing with his teenage son, Mick, on a family holiday that Schumacher sustained severe head injuries in France on Dec. 29, 2013. He has been cared for at his home in Switzerland since September 2014.

Vettel leads Hamilton by seven points but could be hard-pressed to match Mercedes’ outright power on a circuit featuring long straightaways and high-speed curves.

Mercedes has won the Italian GP the last three years – Hamilton in 2014 and 2015 and the now retired Nico Rosberg in 2016.

“Monza is a circuit that has been good to us in recent years,” said Toto Wolff, Mercedes head of motorsport. “It rewards low drag and peak power, both of which are among the strengths of our package.

“But braking stability and low-speed grip are also crucial through the chicanes, and these are areas where Ferrari has held an advantage,” Wolff added. “The team that finds the best overall compromise will come out on top.”

With parts of the Monza circuit still featuring long straight sections from an old oval track, it features the fastest speeds in F1 – up to 370 kph (230 mph) on the approach to Turn 1 at the end of the start/finish straightaway.

Teams prepare low-drag configurations that are generally only seen in Italy and, with the new wider and faster cars this year, speeds could be even higher.

“It’s an incredible feeling racing down those iconic straights punctuated by the tight chicanes and big, fast corners that require a huge amount of commitment,” McLaren-Honda driver Fernando Alonso said.

On Sunday, a parade of historic cars will celebrate the anniversary of the first Ferrari-badged car in 1947.

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