Vettel storms to pole in wet Canada qualifying

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Sebastian Vettel has claimed his third consecutive pole in Canada for this weekend’s race, excelling in the wet conditions which saw the entire session completed on intermediate tires.

However, the big surprise from the session was Valtteri Bottas’ excellent performance to qualify 3rd, marking Williams’ first foray into Q3 this season as the team looks to score for the first time in 2013. He will start between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, with neither driver able to continue Mercedes’ pole position streak. For Vettel, his championship lead looks set to be extended after championship rivals Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen qualifying 6th and 9th respectively, although, as Felipe Massa proved with a crash, mistakes can be costly in Canada.

A short rain shower before Q1 left the teams with a dilemma over which tire to send their drivers out on, and despite the first runners using the dry compounds, they struggled to stay on-track and all returned for intermediate tires. Hamilton and Rosberg were the early pace setters alongside both Red Bull drivers, but many struggled in the damp conditions: Sutil, Massa and even Canada-specialist Hamilton all made mistakes. Massa did manage to improve and went quickest with three minutes to go, only for Webber to top his time. Vettel eventually finished quickest, whilst Alonso and Bottas also ran strongly at the top, but at the bottom it was a battle between Romain Grosjean, Esteban Gutierrez and Paul di Resta to get into Q2. Gutierrez pulled out a great lap to finish P12, yet Grosjean and di Resta could not improve and joined Charles Pic, Jules Bianchi, Max Chilton and Giedo van der Garde in the Q1 dropzone.

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Conditions failed to improve ahead of Q2, and once again it became a battle between Mercedes and Red Bull at the top of the timesheets, joined by Jean-Eric Vergne for Toro Rosso. The trio of Hamilton, Sutil and Massa all made very similar mistakes into turn three, and Massa complained of a lack of grip on the intermediate tire. Perez was informed that the times were not improving, yet Vettel managed to open up a big gap at the top, only joined late on by Webber and Bottas. The session was red flagged after Massa crashed at turn three under braking, with the Brazilian driver being very frustrated to leave him in the dropzone. On the restart, the drivers queued two-by-time at the end of the pit lane, all gunning for one final lap time. Button failed to cross the line in time and was eliminated, and the Briton was joined in the dropzone by Hulkenberg, Perez, Maldonado and Gutierrez. However, Valtteri Bottas made it through to Q3 for the first time in his career, finishing an excellent 4th.

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Bottas was the only driver not to go out immediately in Q3 as the wet weather persisted, meaning that intermediates would be used until the end of qualifying. The first set of runs saw Vettel edge out Hamilton and Rosberg at the top, with Toro Rosso impressing to stand P7 and P8, but Bottas once again stood out to sit P3 when the drivers pitted for fresh tires. However, as the rain intensified in sector three, the times failed to improve, allowing Vettel to remain on pole after Hamilton made an error on his final timed lap. The big story from the session was Bottas’ excellent run to P3, finishing ahead of Rosberg, Webber and Alonso. Vergne was once again impressive to qualify 7th, with Sutil, Raikkonen and Ricciardo completing the top ten.

This result sees Vettel claim his third pole of the season, and his third in a row at the Canadian Grand Prix, but all eyes will surely be on Bottas off the start tomorrow after such an excellent performance. As qualifying was completed on intermediate tires, the teams will have all of their dry compounds available for the start tomorrow.

NHRA: Looking at where things stand at midpoint of Countdown

Top Fuel's Antron Brown has been the most dominant driver in the current NHRA Countdown to the Championship.
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The NHRA is now halfway through its six-race Countdown to the Championship and there have been a number of surprises – both good and bad – thus far.

When the series gets back to racing next weekend at Texas Motorplex in Ennis, Texas, those drivers who have dominated their respective categories in the Countdown so far stand a good chance of pulling away.

Not to mention potentially see several drivers start falling by the wayside and be eliminated.

Let’s take a look at each of the four pro classes and analyze the haves and have not’s thus far:


Biggest surprise: Antron Brown. It’s not so much a surprise that Brown is leading the standings, but it’s more so the way he’s doing it. The 2012 Top Fuel champ has been on fire, having won all of the first three Countdown races and a personal-best seven races overall this season. Brown set a NHRA record of 12-0 in final elimination rounds this past Sunday at Reading, Pa. You can’t get much more perfect than that. Brown has been so dominating that only teammate and defending eight-time champ Tony Schumacher is within reach points-wise. The other eight drivers still in contention are between 194 and 274 points behind. At the rate he’s going, Brown could potentially clinch the championship in the second-to-last race at Las Vegas.

You Go Girl: Brittany Force, daughter of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force, has been a surprising upstart in the Countdown. While she’s 194 points behind Brown, Force is ranked third heading to Texas. She’s shown significant confidence and moxie in the first three races and if she keeps it up, she could potentially overtake Schumacher at some point for second place.

Different Team, Same Drive: Shawn Langdon lost his ride at the worst possible time, just before the Countdown began, when team owner Alan Johnson suspended operations. But give credit to fellow team owner Don Schumacher, who “borrowed” Langdon from Johnson for the Chase to replace Spencer Massey, who was released just before the Chase. Langdon has done well, but time is running out if he hopes to make one last shot to win yet another championship.


Biggest surprise: Del Worsham won the first two races of the Countdown and appears headed towards becoming only the third driver in NHRA history to win both a Top Fuel and Funny Car championship in his career. Worsham has been absolutely solid this season.

That’s The Fact, Jack: Jack Beckman has enjoyed arguably the best season of his career, a complete turnaround from last year’s draining struggle. Having left John Force at the end of last season, co-crew chiefs Jimmy Prock and John Medlen have reinvigorated both Beckman and his car. Worsham has been strong, but Beckman is only a mere 16 points back in second place. And with his win this past Sunday at Reading, momentum could potentially turn in Beckman’s direction heading to Texas.

The Numbers Game: Kudos to third-ranked Matt Hagan (90 points behind Worsham) and fourth-ranked Tommy Johnson Jr. (-98) for their strong efforts in the Countdown. Ditto for Ron Capps (105 points behind Worsham) and John Force (-150), who are both still within striking distance. However, two drivers have uncharacteristically struggled thus far in the Countdown: Alexis De Joria (ranked ninth, 207 points back) and Robert Hight (10th, 221 points back). Unless they right their respective ships, they run the risk of being eliminated at Las Vegas.


Biggest Surprise: Chris McGaha (third, 104 points behind series leader Erica Enders) and rookie Drew Skillman (sixth, -173) have definitely opened eyes this season, with each earning wins thus far in the Countdown. Also enjoying a strong run in the Countdown and a welcome resurgence overall this season is veteran racer Larry Morgan (fourth, 145 points back). Enders could potentially have her hands full in the final three races to keep these three hungry drivers at bay.

You Go Girl: Defending champ Enders has looked cool, calm and collected – just like she did en route to becoming the first female Pro Stock champ last season. With a 72-point lead over former champ Greg Anderson, Enders has become one of the best drivers when it comes to reaction times at the starting line, having won close to a dozen or more rounds just because she got the jump on her opponent at the so-called “Christmas tree.”


Biggest surprise: It would be hard to find two riders who have not been more surprising than Hector Arana Jr. (ranked third, 101 points back) and Louisiana alligator farmer Jerry Savoie (fourth, 119 points back). Arana is one of the most promising young riders on the circuit, while Savoie – after a 30-year layoff from racing – is proving that 53 (years old) is the new 23.

Back in the saddle again: Andrew Hines is gunning for his fifth bike championship, and second straight, and has done what he’s needed to do thus far in the Countdown. While Arana and second-ranked Eddie Krawiec (-89) are proving to be formidable foes, Hines appears to be ready to start pulling further away for the title.

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NHRA: New book a celebration of life, love and drag racing

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The overpowering smell from nitromethane that powers Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars in the National Hot Rod Association oftentimes brings fans to tears after getting a whiff of the stuff.

Now there’s a new inspirational book that will also bring tears to the eyes of die-hard drag racing fans.

Veteran crew chief Jim Oberhofer has released “Top Fuel For Life, Life Lessons From A Crew Chief,” a touching homage to both his late wife and persevering and overcoming adversity in the highly competitive world of NHRA drag racing.

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Oberhofer wears a number of hats as vice president of one of the sport’s most veteran and successful teams, Kalitta Motorsports, including serving as crew chief for Top Fuel driver Doug Kalitta’s dragster.

Oberhofer relates a number of stories about overcoming adversity in the book, but none more touching than how he watched his beloved wife “Tammy O” lose a long and painful battle to stage 4 metastatic lung cancer.

While Oberhofer has spent his life using wrenches and tools working on 10,000-horsepower engines, his new book shows that he is also a very gifted writer.

Known in the sport as “Jim O,” Oberhofer describes the fight his wife went through in gritty and descriptive prose, but with a foundation built upon what the love of his life meant to him – and continues to mean to him more than two years since she passed away.

“When you take a long hard look at your life, I guarantee you that being a winner has little to do with crossing the finish line,” Oberhofer said. “After many mistakes and a whole lot of heartache, I learned that happiness comes from a deeper, simpler place. That’s the big win.”

“Top Fuel For Life” is available on Amazon for $19.95.

Follow @JerryBonkowski