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GarciaScorching hot temperatures and a recent repave led to a frantic afternoon practice session for IMSA's WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Le Mans and GT Daytona classes at VIRginia International Raceway.

Antonio Garcia drove the No. 3 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R to the fastest lap in GTLM, turning a lap at 1m,42.623s in temperatures that soared over 130 degrees Fahrenheit, with ambient temperatures over 95 degrees. He came 0.091s with the track record set last year in qualifying by Nick Tandy (1m,42.532s). Garcia's lap The Ford GT entries of Joey Hand (-.0.077s) and Ryan Briscoe (-0.156s) were next in line.

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In GTD, the No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 led for the second straight session, this time piloted by Bryan Sellers (1m, 44.944s). Ben Keating (-0.165s) and Corey Lewis (-0.235s) rounded out the top three as all 12 GTD entries were within 1.079 seconds on the charts.

The combination of new surface and hot conditions led to several off-track excursions, including the No. 62 Ferrari 488 GTE of Toni Vilander, which had run up front earlier in the session with Giancarlo Fisichella behind the wheel. Fischicella had an off 23 minutes in as he was leading the session but continued, but Vilander was not as lucky, losing control partway through Turn 5 and careening into the barriers in a shunt that brought out the red flag. There was visible damage to the left rear and left front suspension.

In the closing few minutes Dan Knox also spun his No. 80 Dodge Viper GT3-R in Turn 5.

Andy Lally, whose Magnus Racing Audi was fourth quickest in class, thinks the stage is set for a free-for-all.

"I'm watching these Lambos throw down some pretty big laps here, so I think they've finally got the handling aspect of everything together here and at least two or three of them look like they are going to be strong contenders here," he said. "I think obviously the Viper always is. I think we're going to have a pretty awesome battle here. VIR is one of the best tracks for head-to-head racing and good dicing and I think we're going to see a whole lot of that on Sunday."

The No. 6 Audi of Andrew Davis and Robin Liddell missed the first half of the session after sustaining damage in the first practice.

UP NEXT: Free practice 3 at 8 a.m. ET.

16MIS1jh 03814For the second time this season, NASCAR Sprint Cup teams unloaded at Michigan International Speedway and were greeted by the proposed 2017 rules package.

The sanctioning body first ordered a reduction of downforce last season after a decade spent increasing it and reducing overall horsepower. These regulations have built upon the success of the 2016 campaign and have reduced the rear spoiler from 3.5 inches high to 2.5 inches.

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The width of the spoiler has also been reduced in width from 61 inches to 53 with the inclusion of a deck lid fin. NASCAR has also decreased the length of the underside of the front splitter by about three inches and eliminated rear skew – the angle of the rear-end housing that aids rotation in the center of a corner while generating side force.

League officials had actually considered returning to Michigan with the standard 2016 package but ultimately chose to use the same rules used back in June.

For this weekend, the changes mean drivers will enter the corners with increased speed from last season (nearly 220mph) while also having to lift off the throttle to make it through to the other side. This makes the cars unstable – and that's good for the long-term improvement of the racing product, according to Brad Keselowski.

"The cars are very loose," Keselowski said. "They are very difficult to drive and they should be. That causes a lot of wiggles and bobbles, all those things on the racetrack that tend to lead to a lot of excitement. Hopefully, more than anything, it gets the cars to where we can run closer and tighter as a pack and have even more passing."

mis 2016But not only are drivers lifting in the corners this weekend, they're having to use the brakes more than they have in years,  according to Austin Dillon.

"With this package, you carry a lot more into the corner and have to back it up with the brake pedals," Dillon explained. "The bigger brake packages you see out there, that's going to be a part of the race and keeping your brakes good.

"At Michigan, you can roll the corner and lift early, so that's not a big deal, but the shorter tracks could make it become a huge deal."

It's important for NASCAR and the teams to test this package one more time because it won't be used during the Chase for the Championship – the most important stretch of the season. Additionally, Goodyear would like one more race day environment to help the tire maker prepare for 2017 as well.

This combined with the pre-existing data from the June race, made the Pure Michigan 400 the obvious choice for one final package experiment.

Nico Rosberg said the Formula 1 halo did not disturb him at all as he set the Belgian Grand Prix opening practice pace while carrying the device on his Mercedes.

Rosberg became the first driver to do more than an installation lap with the halo when he used it for two runs at Spa on Friday morning and set the session's benchmark lap in the process.

"It was good to try it and they've done a great job with it because it doesn't disturb me at all when I'm driving, it just increases the safety a lot," said Rosberg. "I know it's not nice visually, looking from outside it doesn't make the cars prettier of course. But it's such a big step in safety and I think it's a good thing."

He said if anything the structure could be brought closer to the driver's head.

"You don't even notice the top part," Rosberg said. "They could even come down with that."

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Four drivers tried the halo for the first time at Spa, with Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo, Force India's Nico Hulkenberg and Toro Rosso's Carlos Sainz Jr. completing installation laps with it. Teams are currently making their own halo molds to the required shape to conduct visibility tests, but the prototypes being run are evidently not full-strength versions.

Sainz echoed Rosberg's view that it had no negative implications.

"My biggest concern was visibility. Visibility is not a problem," he said. "Through Eau Rouge, you don't have to go like this [ducking his head] to see where the corner goes.

"Obviously, when you leave the box you have this thing in the middle which disturbs you a bit but at the end of the lap you don't even notice it's there anymore.

"The eyes get used to it, they get used to looking across it. That's why we have two eyes!"

Still, he did feel the current iteration of the device creates access difficulties.

"Probably the biggest concern and margin for improvement is that getting in and out of the car is quite tricky at the moment," Sainz added. "I defend the halo a lot and I am a big supporter of it because it can save lives, but if there is something to be improved we need to say it. At the moment extraction is not easy."

Hulkenberg was one of the leading skeptics when the halo was first unveiled, and he remained equivocal about its merits after trying it (below).

"It felt weird," he said. "To have something there which limits you, it was a new experience.

"The visibility was not too bad. But also I only did an installation lap."

 

Originally on Autosport.com

Lewis Hamilton Belgian GP F1 2016 Mercedes

Mercedes has used five development tokens on upgrading its Formula 1 engine ahead of this weekend's Belgian Grand Prix.

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Only works drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg ran with the new specification from the start of first practice at Spa, although Mercedes has not specified which areas of the power unit have been upgraded.

Mercedes' customer teams – Williams, Force India and Manor – all received an updated specification of engine for the German GP at Hockenheim, and when each team decides to take its next fresh unit they will then be able to take the latest upgrade.

Mercedes now has six tokens remaining of the initial 32 available for the year, although there is no obligation on the team to use them.

At present, the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka remains the scheduled point for the works team to receive its final upgrade of the season, although this is subject to change.

Championship leader Hamilton has taken two fresh systems at Spa – the first ahead of FP1, and the second prior to FP2.

That has led to two separate 15-place grid penalties, for a 30-place drop overall, and a back-of-the-field start for Sunday's race alongside McLaren's Fernando Alonso and Sauber's Marcus Ericsson.

TOKEN USE SO FAR

Ferrari 29 (3 remaining)
Honda 29 (3 remaining)
Mercedes 26 (6 remaining)
Renault 11 (21 remaining)

Originally on Autosport.com

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Max Verstappen spearheaded a Red Bull one-two at the end of second practice for the Belgian Grand Prix as Formula 1 returned from its summer break.

It appeared to be a case of normal service in the Mercedes-led first practice at Spa-Francorchamps. But come the second session, and following an early blast on the super-soft tires, Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton embarked on differing run plans, leaving the Red Bull teammates to take over at the top of the times.

For only the second time in the last 17 practice sessions, a Mercedes driver was not out in front as Verstappen posted a lap of 1m48.085s to finish a quarter of a second up on Daniel Ricciardo, and 0.263s ahead of Rosberg's best from the morning. Verstappen later complained on a couple of occasions about a loss of power, with the team unable to find a fix.

Rosberg, who trails Hamilton in the championship standings by 19 points, predominantly used the soft tire in second practice and finished down in sixth place, just over a second behind Verstappen.

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Hamilton began the session with a second fresh power unit for this weekend and so far faces a 30-place grid penalty as he builds up a pool of systems to see him through the season. The three-time champion, who will start the race at the back of the field, embarked on a long run on the medium tires after an early super-soft stint that had netted him 13th place, 1.697s off the pace.

Behind the front-running Red Bulls, Force India's Nico Hulkenberg was third best, almost six tenths of a second down, followed by Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel, with the four-time champion 0.938s adrift.

Vettel endured a rough session early on, encountering backmarkers to whom he either gesticulated or made comment over the radio, even when they did not appear to be at fault.

Force India continued to fare well, with Sergio Perez fifth fastest, narrowly ahead of Rosberg, and Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari in close attendance in seventh.

The Haas pair of Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez enjoyed a strong run, finishing eighth and 10th, sandwiching McLaren's Jenson Button. Grosjean and Button ended with identical times of 1m49.419s, but with the Frenchman ahead in the standings as his lap was posted first.

Fernando Alonso was at least in the action after managing just three installation laps in practice one due to a water leak from his new Honda engine. Fitting a new system in the break meant taking the sixth element of each of the six power unit components, so Alonso will join Hamilton on the back row as he faces a 35-place grid penalty.

Alonso totalled 30 laps in the second session, and was 12th quickest behind the Manor of Pascal Wehrlein, whose new teammate in Esteban Ocon was nine tenths of a second down in 21st.

One place ahead of Ocon was Renault's Jolyon Palmer. His session appeared to be over early on when he ground to a halt, but he was able to restart the car via the MGU-K.

PRACTICE 2 TIMES:

PosDriverCarTimeGapLaps
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull/Renault 1m48.085ss 1m48.085s 27
2 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull/Renault 1m48.341ss 0.256s 27
3 Nico Hulkenberg Force India/Mercedes 1m48.657ss 0.572s 30
4 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1m49.023ss 0.938s 27
5 Sergio Perez Force India/Mercedes 1m49.100ss 1.015s 27
6 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m49.161ss 1.076s 33
7 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m49.244ss 1.159s 30
8 Romain Grosjean Haas/Ferrari 1m49.419ss 1.334s 20
9 Jenson Button McLaren/Honda 1m49.419ss 1.334s 23
10 Esteban Gutierrez Haas/Ferrari 1m49.648ss 1.563s 23
11 Pascal Wehrlein Manor/Mercedes 1m49.716ss 1.631s 31
12 Fernando Alonso McLaren/Honda 1m49.772ss 1.687s 30
13 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m49.782ss 1.697s 33
14 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso/Ferrari 1m49.916ss 1.831s 25
15 Marcus Ericsson Sauber/Ferrari 1m50.083ss 1.998s 27
16 Valtteri Bottas Williams/Mercedes 1m50.151ss 2.066s 19
17 Felipe Massa Williams/Mercedes 1m50.157ss 2.072s 29
18 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso/Ferrari 1m50.194ss 2.109s 25
19 Kevin Magnussen Renault 1m50.375ss 2.290s 34
20 Jolyon Palmer Renault 1m50.562ss 2.477s 32
21 Esteban Ocon Manor/Mercedes 1m50.659ss 2.574s 25
22 Felipe Nasr Sauber/Ferrari 1m50.719ss 2.634s 24

 

Originally on Autosport.com

2016LM24 MarshallPruett 618 2102France's Larbre Competition has inked IMSA star Ricky Taylor to replace Paulo Ruberti for the next three rounds of the FIA World Endurance Championship. The former Grand-Am Rolex Series champion, who drove for Larbre in 2013-'14 and joined the factory Corvette Racing team at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June, will drive the No. 50 Corvette C7.R alongside Pierre Ragues and Yutaka Yamagishi in Mexico, at the IMSA/WEC double-header in Texas, and close his stint with the team in Japan.

"I am very excited to join Larbre for these three rounds of the WEC championship," Taylor said. "The team has proven its great pace this season by clinching good results. I am looking forward to supporting the squad to more success and to do my part to contribute to some points for the championship for Pierre, Yutaka and the team. I have enjoyed my other experiences with the outfit so it will be a nice experience to be back."

Team principal Jack Leconte has high expectations for Taylor as part of the No. 50 Corvette driver rotation in GTE-Am.

"As the FIA WEC is heading for overseas rounds, Larbre Competition is delighted to welcome back Ricky Taylor," he said. "If we made him discover the Le Mans 24 Hours in 2013 and 2014, roles will be reversed on the other side of the Atlantic thanks to his experience and knowledge of American racing.

"I am convinced that Ricky will fit very quickly with this teammates, especially as he and Pierre got on extremely well when they raced together in La Sarthe two years ago. Yutaka will help us with his experience of the Fuji circuit during the Japanese round. With three podiums out of four races, and a solid display at the Le Mans 24 Hours, we want to continue on the same trend to confirm our top three position in the championship."

Locked in a battle for the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship title in the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP, Taylor will race both cars at Circuit of The Americas and will have an easier time at the conflict-free Mexico and Japan WEC rounds.

Lewis Hamilton will start from the back of the Formula 1 field in Sunday's Belgian Grand Prix after Mercedes fitted a fresh engine for the second time at Spa.

Mercedes installed a new internal combustion engine, MGU-K, MGU-H and turbo ahead of first practice and then replaced the same components again ready for the second session on Friday.

Drivers are allowed to use five of each of the six engine elements over the course of the season. When they take a sixth, a 10-place penalty is awarded while a sixth of any of the remaining elements warrants an additional five-place drop.

By running his sixth MGU-H and turbo in FP1 and seventh of those two components in FP2, Hamilton has accrued grid penalties of 30 places. For FP2, it was also his fifth ICE and MGU-K, which means if he is required to change those components in the future, he will face further grid penalties.

Mercedes said there remains a possibility that it will make further changes before third practice on Saturday morning.

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With Hamilton currently facing a drop of 30 places on a grid of 22 drivers, any additional penalties will have very little impact but will allow him to build up a bigger pool of engine components. That would help him get through to the end of the season without more grid penalties, unless Mercedes introduces an upgrade that would require component changes.

Hamilton's teammate Nico Rosberg is only on the fourth of the four elements the Briton has changed in Belgium.

McLaren's Fernando Alonso, with 35 places, and Sauber's Marcus Ericsson with 10 places will also serve grid penalties for engine changes on Sunday.

 

Originally on Autosport.com

MilesIndyCar boss Mark Miles says that the continuity that is built into the newly released 2017 schedule needs to be a cornerstone of the series' future plans.

In contrast to recent years, where venue and date changes have been commonplace from one season to the next, the 2017 calendar is very similar to this year's, with the only significant change being the return of Gateway after a 14-year-absence. Watkins Glen, which was only shoehorned into the 2016 schedule after the planned Boston street race fell over, has had its deal extended and will remain part of the IndyCar landscape for the immediate future. The only significant change is Phoenix's move from early April to the end of the month, which is aimed at avoiding a clash with the NCAA Final Four in the same city.

"[Continuity] is fundamental," Miles said. "It's really important to growing the sport because the foundation of the sport is the quality and the growth of our races, our events in the cities where we compete.

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"The foundation, and the priority for us is to the greatest extent possible, [is to] have continuity from year over year with our races and date equity to the greatest extent possible, and to just grow that base carefully."

The new calendar was also released substantially earlier than in recent years, which Miles hopes will give promoters more time to prepare for their events. IndyCar had also intended to announce its 2018 schedule at the same time, but while Miles says that release will now be delayed, he expects the 2018 calendar to continue in a similar vein to its 2017 counterpart.

"I loved the idea of putting out the '17 and '18 calendars at the same time, and we were really close to doing it," he said. "I expect everybody that's on the calendar for '17 to be on the calendar for '18. But there are still a couple of details like Phoenix as to which week would make the most sense for them.

"And we do think there are still some prospects that need a little more time to be fully developed for both international and other domestic opportunities for '18. So we decided not to go [with an announcement].

"The other thing is the further out we get, the harder it is to really fine-tune the television broadcast schedule, and that matters to us. As you know, we've made real progress with our broadcast partners in finding optimal broadcast times, which help us attract more viewers. We want to continue that focus. The further out you get, the harder it is to pick the exact date when you know a little less about [the network's] other programming. So we'll take a little more time."

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