Formula One Team Haas hopes to return to America fourth in constructors’ standings

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With one race remaining before Formula One Team Haas returns to home soil, they have a mathematical opportunity to move up to fourth in the constructors’ standings if they can do something they have done only once this season: score 12 or more points in this week’s Japanese Grand Prix at the 3.608-mile Suzuka Circuit.

“Hopefully on the flight back, I can think about a lot of points,” team principal Guenther Steiner said earlier this week in a press release. “That always puts your spirits high – when you fly home and you bring something back. We’ve never had a strong United States Grand Prix. I know everyone wants this to happen – to have the American team having a strong home race. Everybody’s working hard for that. Hopefully, this year we can pull it off.”

The laudable, albeit slightly unrealistic, goal has been made possible by the team scoring more points this year than in their two previous seasons combined. Haas earned 29 points in its inaugural 2016 season. Last year, they stretched that to 47 points. Through 16 of 21 races in 2018, Haas has amassed 80 points, which puts them behind fourth-place Renault by 11.

Haas’ best points performance came in Round 9 in Austria when Romain Grosjean placed fourth and Kevin Magnussen was fifth for a combined 22 points.

So far this season, Haas has placed their two drivers Magnussen and Grosjean in the points in the same race three times. The most recent of these came four weeks ago in the Belgian Grand Prix.

Grosjean finished seventh; Magnussen was eighth for a combined 10 points – narrowly missing the mark they need to achieve at Suzuka.

Last week, Haas F1 announced Magnussen and Grosjean would return to the organization for 2019, giving both drivers the security needed to place in the points.

“It’s always good to know what your future’s like,” Grosjean said. “For us, it’s great that it’s been confirmed. It’s a positive thing. We’re looking forward to the future.”

“It’s just nice to know I have a few more years here with Haas F1 Team,” Magnussen said. “I’m looking forward to that challenge and continuing the relationship that we’ve built over the last two years.”

After last week’s announcement, Haas F1 missed placing both drivers in the points by one position.

Magnussen finished eighth while Grosjean was 11th.

But Grosjean is confident entering the Japanese GP.

“Suzuka is definitely my favorite,” Grosjean said. “I always look forward to going there. We want to do well everywhere. We’re going to fight as hard as we can everywhere to get those points and try to beat Renault.

“It’s always difficult to say exactly why. I think it’s the flow, the corners, the high-speed nature of the track. There’s a risk, as well, with all the gravel and the narrow parts of the circuit. Overall though, it’s not one thing, and sometimes you don’t know why you like something, you just do.”

In their brief two-year history, F1 Team Haas has placed both of their drivers in the points one time in Japan.

This will be Grosjean’s eighth Japanese GP. He has three previous top-10s to his credit with a best of third in 2013 a race in which he led a career-best 26 laps. Last year, he finished ninth.

Magnussen will make his fourth start in Japan. He also placed in the top 10 with an eighth-place finish after starting 12th.

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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