Vettel goes unchallenged en route to Italian GP victory


Sebastian Vettel has won the Italian Grand Prix at Monza today in emphatic style, extending his championship lead and putting himself in the box seat to win a fourth consecutive drivers’ title ahead of the Asian leg of the 2013 calendar.

The German driver started from pole position after dominating qualifying on Saturday, and he was rarely challenged en route to his fourth win in the last six races as his championship rivals failed to pose a serious threat during the race. In his final race in Europe, Mark Webber secured his first podium at Monza, capping off a good weekend for Red Bull despite failing to pass second-placed Fernando Alonso during his second stint.

Home favorites Alonso and Felipe Massa both made good starts from fourth and fifth, with the Brazilian driver gaining two positions on the first lap to move up to second behind Sebastian Vettel. Alonso quickly disposed of Nico Hulkenberg (who had started third on the grid), and then pulled off a remarkable move around the outside of Mark Webber at the second chicane to move up to third behind his teammate. Further back, Paul di Resta’s race came to an early end after the Force India driver locked up and made contact with Romain Grosjean heading into turn four, whilst Kimi Raikkonen was forced to pit at the end of the first lap for a new front wing, taking on a fresh set of medium tires.

Predictably, Massa put up very little resistance when Alonso made his move for P2 on lap nine, and the Spanish driver quickly set about catching Vettel. Jenson Button took advantage of the DRS zone on the run-up to the Ascari chicane to pass former teammate Lewis Hamilton as the Mercedes driver struggled with his tires as well as a broken radio. He was eventually forced to pit on lap thirteen due to a slow puncture, moving onto a two-stop strategy. Less fortunate was Jean-Eric Vergne, who had to pull over and retire from the race due to a suspected engine failure when running in the points for Toro Rosso. His teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, continued to run strongly up in P7, proving to Red Bull why they have chosen him to replace Mark Webber for 2014.

At the first round of pit stops, Button managed to pass teammate Sergio Perez by getting the undercut by one lap, setting his sights on Hamilton once again. Vettel and Webber were able to stop on the same lap thanks to some great work by the Red Bull pit crew, allowing the Australian driver to leapfrog Felipe Massa for P3. New leader Alonso opted to stay out far longer than Vettel, eventually pitting on lap twenty-seven and re-emerging in second place only just ahead of Webber.

Early stoppers Hamilton and Raikkonen both moved up the order well with the Briton easily passing his teammate for P6 before setting his sights on the Sauber of Hulkenberg, eventually making a pass on the inside of Curva Grande. Raikkonen’s second stop allowed him to take on fresh tires and post some very fast lap times, albeit out of the points. At the front, Vettel continued to keep a steady gap to Alonso as the home favorite soaked up the pressure from Webber in P3. Grosjean hoped to salvage some points for Lotus, moving up to P10 with a good move on Sergio Perez into the first chicane.

Webber’s charge in pursuit of Alonso was stunted when he was told to short-shift on the exit of turn two due to a gearbox problem, allowing the Ferrari to pull away. At the back, Caterham continued to enjoy a healthy lead over Marussia, but Giedo van der Garde’s progress was hindered when his team was not ready for his second stop. Both on the soft tire, Raikkonen and Hamilton began to scythe through the field in pursuit of points following their earlier setbacks. However, the Finn was told to stop using DRS as it was flattening the battery, allowing Hamilton to close for P11 before eventually making the move around the outside of Curva Grande with five laps to go. After passing both McLarens, he then tried an ambitious move on Grosjean for P8, but it wasn’t enough come the checkered flag.

Vettel’s dominant performance at Monza today has caused his championship lead to pass the fifty point mark, equivalent to two race wins, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to see any of his rivals stopping him from taking a fourth world championship in a row. Ferrari will be pleased to have performed so well on home turf with Massa recording his best result since the Spanish GP in May. Nico Hulkenberg came home in fifth to bring more joy to the troubled Sauber team, finishing ahead of Rosberg, Ricciardo, Grosjean, Hamilton and Button.

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