Claman De Melo confirmed for IndyCar debut with RLL at Sonoma

Photo: Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
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Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires veteran Zachary Claman De Melo will make his Verizon IndyCar Series debut with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing next weekend at Sonoma, in the team’s No. 16 Paysafe Honda.

The confirmation Wednesday morning follows reports at this weekend’s race in Watkins Glen that the teenager out of Montreal was close to finalizing a deal. Claman De Melo spent some time in the RLL pits during the weekend.

Claman De Melo was perhaps the most improved driver in this year’s Indy Lights season, jumping from ninth to fifth in points and banking his first win at Road America with the Carlin team.

He also tested there with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in an IndyCar earlier this year, and despite limited running owing to an afternoon engine failure, his speed wasn’t in doubt.

This will mark the third weekend RLL Racing will run its second car this year, as Oriol Servia was in the car for the Indianapolis 500 and Detroit the following week.

Claman De Melo is one of several drivers from Indy Lights who is making noise about stepping up to IndyCar sooner rather than later, and he’ll have a leg up on several of his competitors with one race now under his belt.

“I’m thrilled to be driving for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing for my IndyCar Series debut at the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma,” he said. “This opportunity marks an incredible moment for my career and for Canadian motorsport fans, as I’m getting that much closer to securing a full-time position with RLLR for next season.

“I want to extend a big thank you to my primary partner, Paysafe, for making a dream come true today and to Bobby Rahal for the incredible level of support he has provided towards getting me in the #16 Honda this season. It is an honor to drive for RLLR and I look forward to big things ahead.”

Bobby Rahal, team co-owner, added: “We’re pleased that Zach has chosen Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing to make his series debut. Zach had a very good year in the Indy Lights Series and we think that he has the ability to perform well in the IndyCar Series.

“We closely watched his performance at the recent Indy car test at Road America where he was the quickest of the rookies testing and we are confident that he can do a good, solid job for both himself and the team at Sonoma.  Our goals for Zach are that he has a good, consistent race and gains experience, which is so important, and hopefully takes that experience to use as a stepping stone for 2018.”

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