Ricciardo cautiously confident for 2013

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They have been one of the surprise packages during the final Formula One test in Barcelona. Following a disappointing 2012 season, Scuderia Toro Rosso appear to be on the verge of something special, and Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo is optimistic of delivering in 2013.

“Where we are is in the mix somewhere. Probably not at the very point end at the moment but to be honest we don’t necessarily expect to be there. Obviously it’s our target but the realistic target is to be amongst the midfield pack that we sort of fell behind last year.

“I think we’re in there – at which end I’m still not sure.”

During the interview with reporters in Barcelona, Ricciardo identified his rivals for the season ahead as being Williams, Force India and Sauber: the three teams who finished directly ahead of Toro Rosso in 2012.

“In the group we’re fighting it’s the Williams, the Sauber and the Force India. I’m really not sure who is the strongest out of those at the moment. It’s so hard with testing. I think we just have to wait until racing and then all the nonsense will stop and we will really know.”

Despite the good start, Ricciardo was quick to make clear that work still needed to be done for the team to be ready for the Australian Grand Prix in two weeks time.

“There have been some positives, some things I like on the new car, but also finding it in its window and working ideally where we want it to work, I still think this is taking a bit of time and we still need to understand it a little bit more.

“We haven’t done any race simulations yet so we’re not sure how we are on long runs, with fuel tanks in the car.”

Although it is hard to deduce much from testing, Toro Rosso have certainly made a big step forward from 2012, and they will be keen on meeting their target of sixth in the 2013 constructors’ championship.

NHRA: John Force-like motor explosions get contagious during Sunday’s Gatornationals

Photo and video courtesy NHRA
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John Force is rubbing off on others – but probably not the way they or he would like.

The 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion has had spectacular motor explosions in each of the first three races of the new NHRA season, including during Friday’s qualifying for this weekend’s Gatornationals.

During Sunday’s quarterfinals of eliminations, Force’s teammate (and son-in-law and president of John Force Racing) Robert Hight squared off with fellow Funny Car driver Matt Hagan.

As the duo closed in on the finish line, both cars experienced spectacular motor explosions of their own – virtually side-by-side and nearly at the same time.

Hight’s car was the first to explode, tossing its body high in the air. A split-second later, Hagan’s car exploded, also sending the body flying.

Check out the NHRA video:

Hight wound up losing the race.

Hagan, meanwhile, and his crack pit crew rolled their backup car off the hauler, put in a new motor and went on to race through the semifinals and into the finals, losing to race winner “Fast Jack” Beckman.

“We had a pretty great race day, to be honest,” Hagan said. “I’ve never been to the finals in Gainesville.

“We obviously had a huge blow up in the second round, then to watch these guys pull the other car back out and put it together in the amount of time they had, then turn a win light on against Capps (Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps in the semifinals), then to be able to go to a final, it was huge and it speaks for itself.”

As for Hight, here’s his take on what happened with the motor explosion:

“I couldn’t see (Hagan) over there and it wasn’t like it was hazing the tires or anything else. As it turns out it wasn’t spinning at all. It kicked two rods out when it blacked the bearings in the crank then it hit the valves and blew up.

“The thing gave me no indication at all before that. What really scared me was once I got it under control and I look over and see his body is off his car. I am thinking ‘Oh man, he got gathered up in me.’ Then I stood up and looked and his injector was sideways so I realized he had an explosion as well. We are just lucky we didn’t get into each other.”

As for the guy who has had so much trouble in the motor department, John Force, he lost in the first round of Sunday’s eliminations to daughter Courtney Force.

John Force planned on shutting the motor off on his car at around the 700-foot mark of the 1,000-foot dragstrip, not wanting to risk another motor explosion – even though it meant a likely loss to his daughter.

Now John Force and his entire four-car team, including Courtney Force, Robert Hight and daughter and Top Fuel driver Brittany Force, will be off for extensive testing to try and determine what’s been causing the motor explosions.

“We have to evaluate it and go test,” Force said. “We’ll figure it out.”

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