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Robert Kubica confident he can make full F1 return if given chance

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Robert Kubica was second-to-last, 19th out of 20. And smiling.

He drove in the first practice for the Spanish Grand Prix on Friday, his first official Formula One session since he almost lost his right hand in a rally crash in 2011.

The reserve and development driver for Williams showed, at least to himself, he has what it takes to make a full return to the series.

Now he just wants another chance.

“I know my value. I don’t have to look at lap times,” Kubica said. “I know that if I would have a chance to drive the car every week like permanent race drivers, there is even more room to improve. I have seen it now that, in the end, whatever is missing is only because I’m doing it every two months, if something is missing.”

Williams struggled with its car at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. Kubica was 19th and teammate Lance Stroll 20th and last. Sergei Sirotkin returned to the car in the afternoon session, but also couldn’t match Kubica’s time.

“In the end it’s difficult to say that it was enjoyable because our car balance was very bad and it was very difficult to drive,” Kubica said. “But I’m satisfied with the session and with how I reacted to difficult conditions. It sounds strange that you can be happy with P19, but actually I’m happy.”

The 33-year-old Kubica said driving was not as emotional as he expected, which “means that it’s becoming more natural” after a long time out of the series. His 76th and last grand prix was the 2010 season finale.

“I was more emotional last year when I was jumping for the first time in the car,” the Polish driver said. “Once you crack on the engine and you leave the garage … my job is always the same. It’s to deliver good feedback and try to get all the pace as soon as possible.”

Kubica participated in preseason testing with Williams this year. He will be back in the car on Wednesday for another test session in Barcelona, and again in practice in Austria and Abu Dhabi.

“I miss competition. But for me competition is not (a practice session) or testing, competition is being on the grid on Sunday. I miss it, but when you are away for a long time you get used to it also. I’m more concentrated on my work, on the opportunity I have. I don’t look at it like, `I should be there.’ I am happy with what I’m achieving.”

The ultimate goal remains the same, though, which is to find a full-time ride.

“If I wouldn’t try to do it, I wouldn’t be here. I appreciate the opportunity (with Williams), it gives me the opportunity to live my passion. It’s not only about driving, but working with the team, trying to understand Formula One from a different perspective.”

Kubica earned 12 podium finishes from 2006-10 and was considered among F1’s brightest talents.

He returned to rallying in 2013 and competed in endurance championships. Despite limited motion in his right hand, he’s adapted, and tested with Renault then Williams last year.

“I have been in (a) school where they give you a bird and you have to hold it (in a way) that it doesn’t fly away, but you cannot hold it too much that it will get scared. And this is the way you have to hold a steering wheel,” Kubica said. “You just have to use what is enough. And probably the way I drive it, it’s enough (the way) I’m doing it. Otherwise I would not be here and otherwise I would not have this opportunity.”

 

Don’t know the Rolex 24? You should. Here’s why.

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Hello, America. It’s time to go racing again.

Yes, Supercross is now three weeks into its season, and the Chili Bowl Nationals is now effectively the Christopher Bell Invitational after the young NASCAR star won his 3rd consecutive Golden Driller last weekend.

But the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway is the first marquee event on the American racing calendar – an event that just happens to have international prestige.

It’s also the start of Daytona Speedweeks, which culminates with NASCAR’s Daytona 500 on Feb. 17. But this is no mere opening act just warming up the crowd for the headliner.

In case you’re new to this event, here are a few reasons why it stands out:

Twice around the clock: Are you the kind of person that appreciates a challenge? Well, challenges don’t get much bigger in motorsports than a 24-hour endurance race where drivers, crews, machines, and strategies must work together flawlessly. For those behind the wheel in the Rolex 24, the obstacles are numerous: Punishing G-forces, extreme mental focus, lack of sleep, and staying on top of hydration and nutrition.

Star power: Speaking of those behind the wheel, the Rolex 24 traditionally draws top drivers from other disciplines such as IndyCar, Formula 1 and NASCAR to join sports car regulars from North America and around the world. As a result, the winners’ list is a Who’s Who of Motorsports.

This year’s field includes a clutch of NTT IndyCar Series drivers, highlighted by 5-time series champion and past Rolex 24 winner Scott Dixon. But pre-race buzz has centered on two particular interlopers: Alex Zanardi, the former CART champion making his first North American start since losing his legs in a 2001 crash, and Fernando Alonso, the two-time F1 champion looking to add another endurance triumph alongside his win with Toyota in last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Cool cars: If you’re a gearhead, the Rolex 24 is a 200-mile-per-hour candy store. Across the four separate classes of competition, 13 of the world’s premier car manufacturers are represented.

The majority of those manufacturers are found in the Grand Touring classes that feature vehicles based on road-going production models. Chevy and Ford’s eternal rivalry rages on in the factory-backed GT Le Mans, but the class also boasts efforts from BMW, Porsche, and Ferrari. It’s even more diverse in the pro-am GT Daytona, where Porsche is joined by Audi, Lamborghini, Lexus and Mercedes.

As for the exotic, purpose-built Daytona Prototypes, they are powered by engines from Cadillac, Acura, Mazda and Nissan.

Nifty fifty: This year’s Rolex 24 begins the 50th anniversary season for IMSA, the sanctioning body for North American sports car racing. A select group of teams will mark the occasion at the Rolex 24 by running historic IMSA paint schemes on their machines. You may not be familiar with these looks, but it’s worth discovering the history behind them.

Here’s an example. The Starworks Motorsports team (GT Daytona) will carry a scheme based on Audi of America’s 90 Quattro from the 1989 IMSA GTO season. Boasting sports car legends Hurley Haywood and Hans-Joachim Stuck in the driver lineup, the 90 Quattro captured 7 GTO wins that season.

Audi’s performance led one competitor to create a “no passing” sticker with Stuck’s face on it. Stuck’s response: A doll fixed to his car’s rear window that dropped its pants to moon anyone Stuck put behind him.

Status symbol: Last but not least, the Rolex 24 has a unique prize – a trophy you can wear.

Winners get a standard cup, but what they’re really after are the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona watches, which include a special engraving to commemorate their victory. A standard version of this watch retails for tens of thousands of dollars, but you can’t put a price on the ones awarded at the Rolex 24.

This year’s grand marshal, 5-time Rolex 24 winner Scott Pruett, sums it up as “the ultimate reward.”

“To be presented a watch engraved with the word ‘Winner’ after 24 hours of intense racing is a moment that lives with you forever,” he added. “Your Rolex is a constant reminder of the perseverance and hard work that goes into succeeding at the highest level.”