Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas fastest on final day of F1 preseason testing

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MONTMELO, Spain — Valtteri Bottas set the fastest lap time on the final day of Formula One testing on Friday, as Mercedes maintained its status of title favorite heading toward the new season.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo were right behind the Finnish driver within one tenth of a second on the Barcelona-Catalunya Circuit.

Last week, Bottas recorded the fastest time of any driver in the six-day preseason.

Charles Leclerc of Ferrari and defending champion Lewis Hamilton put in the fourth -and fifth-best times, respectively, on Friday.

Leclerc was the busiest driver, completing 177 laps while teammate Sebastian Vettel rested.

Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto had to acknowledge that Mercedes looked to be way ahead.

“I said I was not optimistic as I was last year, and I think I can confirm it,” Binotto said. “We are certainly not the fastest car in testing.”

Last year at this time, Ferrari had high hopes after setting faster lap times than Mercedes in testing, only for the pair of Hamilton and Bottas to blow them away once the racing began.

The final day of the tests went smoothly for most drivers with no major incidents or red flags.

Alex Albon of Red Bull and Kimi Raikkonen of Alfa Romeo spun off the track in the morning half of the session, but both were able to get back going.

Mercedes fixed the oil pressure problem that brought Hamilton’s car to a stop on Thursday, limiting the six-time champion to just 14 laps. On Friday, he put in 90 error-free laps before handing it over to Bottas.

The absence of major changes to the rules for this season appears to give an even bigger advantage to Mercedes, which can just improve on its dominant car from 2019.

Still, Hamilton said that reliability may be their weak spot.

“We’re on our third engine already, so it’s definitely not an easy or relaxed scenario for us,” Hamilton said. “The engine is actually very good, and an improvement from last year. It’s just not quite where we want it to be reliability-wise.

The season-opening Australian GP is on March 15.

Final 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona results, stats

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona overall results were all streaks: two consecutive victories in the endurance classic for Meyer Shank Racing and three in a row for Acura.

And Helio Castroneves became the second driver to win three consecutive Rolex 24s and the first to win in three straight years (Peter Gregg won in 1973, ’75 and ’76; the race wasn’t held in ’74 because of a global oil crisis).

Starting from the pole position, Tom Blomqvist took the checkered flag in the No. 60 ARX-06 that led a race-high 365 of 783 laps with co-drivers Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud and Colin Braun.

RESULTS: Click here for the finishing order in the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona l By class

Meyer Shank Racing now has two Rolex 24 victories and the 2022 championship since entering the premier prototype category of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in 2021.

“I think what’s so special about this team is we are a small team compared to some of our opponents, but the atmosphere, the way we work, enables people to get the best out of themselves, and I think that’s why we’re such high achievers,” Blomqvist said. “I think there’s no egos. It’s a very open book, and that just enables each and every one of us to reach our potential. I think that’s why we’ve achieved so much success in really a short time at this level of competition.”

It’s the 16th IMSA victory for MSR.

The 61st running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona marked the debut of the Grand Touring Prototype category that brought hybrid engine technology to IMSA’s top level.

In other categories:

LMP2: James Allen passed Ben Hanley on the final lap and delivered a victory in the No. 55 ORECA by 0.016 seconds. It’s the second IMSA victory for Proton Competition, which last won at Sebring in 2012. It was the first Rolex 24 victory for Allen and co-drivers Gianmaria Bruni, Fred Poordad and Francesco Pizzi.

GTD Pro: Cooper MacNeil won in the last start of his IMSA career as the No. 79 Mercedes-AMG GT3 scored the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for WeatherTech Racing and the team’s fourth career victory.

MacNeil, who co-drove with Maro Engel, Jules Gounon and Daniel Juncadella, earned his 12th career victory and first at the Rolex 24.

“Winning by last IMSA race is tremendous,” MacNeil said.

GTD: The No. 27 Heart of Racing Team delivered the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for Aston Martin, which has been competing in endurance races at Daytona International Speedway since 1964. Drivers Marco Sorensen, Roman De Angelis, Darren Turner and Ian James (also the team principal) earned the victory in the English brand’s 13th attempt.

It’s also the first Rolex 24 at Daytona win for Heart of Racing, which has seven IMSA wins.

LMP3: Anthony Mantella, Wayne Boyd, Nico Varrone and Thomas Merrill drove the No. 17 AWA Duqueine D08 to victory by 12 laps for the team’s first class win in IMSA.


STATS PACKAGE FOR ROLEX 24 HOURS OF DAYTONA:

Fastest laps by driver

Fastest laps by driver after race (over the weekend)

Fastest laps by driver and class after race

Fastest lap sequence

Lap chart

Leader sequence

Race analysis by lap

Stint analysis

Time cards

Pit stop time cards

Best sector times

Race distance and speed average

Flag analysis

Weather report

NEXT: The 2023 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season will resume with the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring March 18 with coverage across NBC, USA and Peacock.