Hamilton tames wet conditions to seal Spa pole

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Lewis Hamilton has secured his fourth consecutive pole position after a fine performance in changeable conditions at Spa-Francorchamps during a qualifying session that turned into a day for the underdog.

Force India’s Paul di Resta had gambled on strategy in Q3 and looked poised to claim his first ever pole position as the rain grew heavier and heavier, only for the weather to change once again and allow Hamilton, Vettel, Webber and Rosberg all to trump the Scottish driver on the intermediate tire.

Having been forecast all weekend, rain eventually began to fall around twenty minutes before qualifying got underway, forcing some last-minute changes to the setup of the cars and of course the use of appropriate tires. Q1 began with a rush to put in an early lap just in case conditions worsened with Pastor Maldonado leading the train of cars out of the pits on intermediate tires. All twenty-two cars were quick to put in a time and Nico Rosberg was the early pace-setter ahead of Lewis Hamilton and Romain Grosjean. However, with conditions improving, it was largely a case of staying out and slowly speeding up. Max Chilton was the first driver to brave slicks along with Giedo van der Garde, but the Caterham’s first attempt was over three seconds slower than his previous best on inters. The times began to tumble as the track continued to dry with Hamilton going quickest as the checkered flag fell. He was eventually beaten by Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, but the biggest shock was van der Garde’s stunning lap on slicks to finish P3 for Caterham.  Equally impressive were Marussia who got both of their drivers through to Q2 whilst Maldonado, Vergne, Ricciardo, Bottas, Gutierrez and Pic fell foul of the weather and were eliminated at the end of Q1.

Taking inspiration from Caterham and Marussia, the rest of the field went out on slicks at the beginning of Q2 with Mark Webber setting the first benchmark time. Once the majority of the drivers had set their first time, Raikkonen headed up a Lotus one-two ahead of Romain Grosjean but track conditions were still improving. Rosberg, Hamilton and Vettel – the only three drivers to have started on pole so far this season – waited and were the last drivers to get out on track. When Hamilton did post a time, he split the Lotuses before Vettel went quickest of all with just three minutes remaining. His teammate, Webber, eventually deposed him and Alonso also followed suit. As the checkered flag fell, di Resta, Perez and Raikkonen all improved with the Finn going fastest of all as Rosberg squeezed through to Q3 with a final flying lap after a mistake earlier on. The fairytale ended for Caterham and Marussia, but making Q2 was still a fine achievement. The same cannot be said for Hulkenberg, Sutil and Perez who will be disappointed not to have made Q3.

With rain expected, all ten drivers opted to get out early in Q3. However, with rain already falling it quickly became a question of keeping it on track. Vettel immediately made the call to pit and take on intermediate tires, with the rest of the field following his lead bar Paul di Resta. The Force India driver opted to see out the shower on dry tires, putting in the first time of the session. The rest of the field began their laps on intermediates, but could not come near di Resta’s time as the rain began to intensify. Rosberg was the only driver who could come close on his first attempt, and it was the German driver who eventually topped di Resta by just 0.081 seconds with his final time as the checkered flag fell. However, with conditions improving, Webber, Vettel and Hamilton were all able to go even quicker with the British driver eventually taking pole position ahead of the two Red Bull drivers. di Resta eventually finished fifth ahead of Button, Grosjean, Raikkonen, Alonso and Massa.

It was another spectacular performance from the Briton who has been in a class of his own so far this season in qualifying, and he will be hoping to convert this result into his second win at Spa-Francorchamps in the race tomorrow.

NHRA: Schumacher, C. Force, Kramer No. 1 qualifiers at Phoenix

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NHRA press release

The 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season continued Saturday as Courtney Force set both ends of the Funny Car track record at the 34th annual NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park.

Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel) and Deric Kramer (Pro Stock) are also No. 1 qualifiers in their respective categories at the second of 24 events on the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.

Force took over the top spot in the category with a record run of 3.826 seconds at 335.98 mph in her Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro during her second pass of the day. After recording seven No. 1 qualifiers in 2017, she is aiming for her first event victory since Houston 2016.

“That last pass today was pretty incredible, we have run well here in the past and I’m excited to be back in that top spot,” Force said. “We are hoping to turn this consistency into a win, we just have to keep being consistent on race day.”

Force is set to face off against Del Worsham in round one of eliminations on Sunday. Ron Capps sits second after a 3.844 at 330.80 in his Napa Auto Parts Dodge Charger R/T during the final pass of qualifying on Saturday. The defending Funny Car champion Robert Hight qualified 11th after a 3.927 at 329.26.

Schumacher led the category with a run of 3.649 at 334.65 in his U.S. Army dragster posted during the first qualifying session on Friday. Schumacher also set the Top Fuel national speed record at 336.57 with a time of 3.667 seconds during his second pass on Friday. After securing four No. 1 qualifiers in the 2017 season, Schumacher locked in his first of the year in day two of qualifying.

“We earned our three points and kept the top spot so it’s been a great weekend for us so far,” Schumacher said. “The car continues to be great and [crew chief] Mike Neff is comfortable and knows what the car is doing, so I think tomorrow is going to be great day.”

He will go head-to-head against Greg Carrillo in round one of eliminations on Sunday. Steve Torrence qualified second after a 3.665 at 331.45 in his Capco Contractors dragster, while the defending world champion Brittany Force qualified in the 14th spot.

In Pro Stock, Kramer took over the top spot after driving to a 6.522 at 210.80 run in his American Ethanol Dodge Dart during the fourth qualifying session of the weekend. He secured the first No. 1 qualifying position of his career as Kramer also chases his first-ever victory in the class.

“It feels great to get that first No. 1 qualifier, and we had a great package put together this weekend and that was able to move us to the top,” Kramer said. “There were definitely some tuning adjustments from Pomona, but we went back to our old game plan with that KB power and it was a great combination.”

Kramer matches up against Alan Prusiensky in the first round of eliminations. Erica Enders is second in the qualifying order after a 6.527 at 209.98, while Alex Laughlin sits in the third spot.

Eliminations begin at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday.

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Sunday’s first-round pairings for eliminations.

TOP FUEL: 1. Tony Schumacher, 3.649 seconds, 336.57 mph vs. 16. Greg Carrillo, 4.227, 220.91; 2. Steve Torrence, 3.655, 331.85 vs. 15. Steven Chrisman, 4.089, 281.30; 3. Clay Millican, 3.664, 335.23 vs. 14. Brittany Force, 3.828, 253.52; 4. Leah Pritchett, 3.679, 334.15 vs. 13. Troy Buff, 3.809, 318.77; 5. Richie Crampton, 3.683, 325.30 vs. 12. Scott Palmer, 3.788, 326.63; 6. Billy Torrence, 3.697, 331.45  vs. 11. Doug Kalitta, 3.742, 328.78; 7. Blake Alexander, 3.705, 332.59 vs. 10. Terry McMillen, 3.740, 325.85; 8. Antron Brown, 3.712, 333.66 vs. 9. Mike Salinas, 3.737, 326.32.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Kebin Kinsley, 5.118, 136.79; 18. Terry Totten, 8.158, 69.73; 19. Terry Haddock, 10.095, 91.23.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.826, 335.98 vs. 16. Del Worsham, Toyota Camry, 5.089, 173.99; 2. Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 3.844, 330.80 vs. 15. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 4.551, 182.82; 3. Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.845, 332.43 vs. 14. Richard Townsend, Camry, 4.244, 235.27; 4. John Force, Camaro, 3.864, 332.51 vs. 13. Jeff Diehl, Camry, 4.120, 307.79; 5. Jonnie Lindberg, Camry, 3.866, 317.27 vs. 12. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.971, 316.75; 6. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.879, 329.91 vs. 11. Robert Hight, Camaro, 3.927, 329.26; 7. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 3.888, 333.25 vs. 10. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 3.927, 329.42; 8. J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.919, 324.20 vs. 9. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.926, 330.88.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Jim Campbell, 7.402, 91.58.

PRO STOCK: 1. Deric Kramer, Chevy Camaro, 6.522, 211.00 vs. 16. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.663, 207.94; 2. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.527, 209.98 vs. 15. Steve Graham, Camaro, 6.659, 208.55; 3. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.529, 209.59 vs. 14. Val Smeland, Camaro, 6.640, 209.69; 4. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.530, 211.66 vs. 13. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.581, 209.82; 5. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.531, 211.03 vs. 12. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.567, 210.08; 6. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.532, 210.60 vs. 11. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.553, 210.14; 7. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.534, 211.63 vs. 10. Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.550, 210.41; 8. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.542, 210.05 vs. 9. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.550, 211.39.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Joey Grose, 6.720, 206.64.