Dakar, Stage 11: Mini issues team orders in bid for 1-2-3 car finish

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Stephane Peterhansel may have to wait another year to claim his 12th Dakar Rally championship.

Going into today’s Stage 11 from Antofagasta to El Salvador, Chile, Peterhansel (pictured, No. 300) had charged to within two minutes and 15 seconds of fellow Mini driver and overall car class leader Nani Roma.

But today, it was revealed that Mini officials had chosen to have their drivers hold position in a bid to secure a overall podium sweep between Roma, Peterhansel and third-place Nasser Al-Attiyah.

“Yesterday, the boss asked us to take no risk at all to keep the three Minis on the final podium,” said Peterhansel. “So I reduced the speed and we started this morning not with the same spirit. It was a safer spirit for the car. For sure, in these conditions first of all, we don’t take any pleasure in driving and it’s a big frustration.”

Roma, who now leads Peterhansel by five minutes, 32 seconds after finishing second today to stage winner Orlando Terranova (another Mini driver), was reported to have said that there were no team orders in place according to the Dakar website’s daily list of driver quotes.

However, in comments to Agence France-Presse, Roma appeared to be just as stunned as Peterhansel.

“It’s disappointing for Stephane, it’s disrespectful,” he said according to AFP. “It’s a bad decision that has been taken.”

Naturally, the race’s organizers were appalled as well, with director Etienne Lavigne telling AFP that he hadn’t been informed of the decision by Mini.

“But we are disappointed, clearly, because it is not in the spirit of the competition,” Lavigne continued. “It’s a little shocking. It’s not fair. If I was being mean, I would say to Mini that they can collect the trophy immediately.

“Fighting without risk is triumph without glory.”

Al-Attiyah was fifth in today’s stage and remains P3 overall at 56 minutes, one second behind Roma, who now appears set to be crowned champion. But with two stages to go, anything can happen – especially in an event like the Dakar.

As for the bikes, Marc Coma remains on course to earn the overall title. Coma won today’s run to El Salvador, coming out ahead of the surging Cyril Despres by two minutes, 51 seconds.

Coma now holds a 52 minute, 36 second overall advantage on Joan Barreda, who battled to a fifth place finish today after falling halfway through the stage and damaging his navigation system in the process. That forced him to wait for other riders and rely on them in order to make it to the end.

Sergio Lafuente lost his engine at the 272 kilometer mark and was forced to retire from the Dakar, seemingly handing the quad class title to Ignacio Casale. The Chilean won today’s stage, beating countryman Victor Gallegos Lozic by five minutes, 12 seconds; with Lafuente out, Rafal Sonik is now the new overall runner-up at more than one hour behind.

And in the trucks, Andrey Karginov finally overtook Gerard de Rooy for the overall lead after earning the win by 14 minutes, 18 seconds over Kamaz teammate Eduard Nikolaev. de Rooy was third but almost 16 minutes back of Karginov, who now sits atop the standings by seven minutes, 56 seconds over the Dutchman.

Next up tomorrow is the penultimate Stage 12, a southern route from El Salvador to La Serena. From there, the final dash to the finish in Valparaiso awaits.

Hungarian Grand Prix on NBCSN concludes busy July for F1

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The third Grand Prix for the month of July and fourth in the last six weeks for Formula 1 after races in Baku, Spielberg and Silverstone takes place this week with the Hungarian Grand Prix from Budapest.

After a couple races on CNBC, the channel is simple this weekend: it’s NBCSN for all sessions on TV with free practice two (Friday) and qualifying (Saturday) both live at 8 a.m. ET, with a full one-hour countdown for the race from 7 a.m. ET on Sunday before lights out at 8.

As per usual the NBC Sports App will live stream free practices one and three, with all sessions streamed during the weekend.

The British Grand Prix two weeks ago brings this year’s F1 season to an interesting point. With Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton’s win, it brings him to within just one point of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel for the championship lead. Vettel is at 177 with Hamilton now at 176.

And Hungary’s been a place where both drivers have succeeded. Hamilton won here last year while Vettel won in 2015. Overall Hamilton has a record five Hungarian Grand Prix victories (2007, 2009, 2012, 2013, 2016) and will look to match his Canada total with a sixth this weekend. Vettel’s 2015 win is his only triumph at the circuit.

Other Hungarian Grand Prix winners in the field are Daniel Ricciardo (2014), Kimi Raikkonen (2005) and Fernando Alonso (2003).

Beyond the top two, Valtteri Bottas will look to upend proceedings and continue his own title battle for Mercedes. He sits third in points with 154, in a spot of his own well clear of fourth on back and just under a full race distance behind the leaders.

Here’s the schedule, with stream links and TV network if applicable:

  • Practice 1: Friday, July 28, 4 a.m.-5:30 a.m. ET (Streaming)
  • Practice 2: Friday, July 28, 8 a.m.-9:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Practice 2 (Replay): Saturday, July 29, 6:30 a.m.-8 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Practice 3: Saturday, July 29, 5 a.m.-6 a.m. ET (Streaming)
  • Qualifying: Saturday, July 29, 8 a.m.-9:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Pre-Race: Sunday, July 30, 7 a.m.-8 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Race: Sunday, July 30, 8 a.m.-10 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Post-Race: Sunday, July 30, 10 a.m.-10:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Race (Replay): Sunday, July 30, 9:30 p.m.-11:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Formula 2: Sunday, July 30, 6 a.m.-7 a.m. ET (NBCSN)

The next race is the Belgian Grand Prix, on August 27, after F1’s traditional summer break.

Robert Hight extends Funny Car victory streak to 13 seasons

Photo: Gary Nastase and Auto Imagery
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MORRISON, Colo. (AP) Robert Hight beat Tommy Johnson Jr. on Sunday in the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway to extend his Funny Car victory streak to 13 seasons.

Hight topped Johnson with a 3.995-second pass at 317.57 mph in a Chevrolet Camaro SS for his 38th career victory.

“We definitely struggled through the first few rounds and we were lucky to get those round wins, but I have a great team who figured things out and helped get me to the winner’s circle,” Hight said. “It’s definitely a long-time coming and we hadn’t had much luck, but today we had some luck and we hope this continues throughout the Western Swing.”

Antron Brown won in Top Fuel, Drew Skillman in Pro Stock, and Eddie Krawiec in Pro Stock Motorcycle.

Brown edged teammate and No. 1 qualifier Leah Pritchett with a 3.792 at 319.82. He has three victories this season to push his career total to 64.

Skillman raced to his second straight victory and the fifth of his career, beating points leader Bo Butner with a 6.916 run at 198.15 in a Camaro.

Krawiec topped Matt Smith with a 7.145 at 188.28. The Harley-Davidson rider has two victories this season and 38 overall.

Sauber confirms Matsushita for Hungary test as well

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Honda junior driver Nobuhiro Matsushita will have a run with Sauber F1 Team on the second day of the Hungarian Grand Prix post-race week test, in the team’s C36 chassis.

Sauber’s engine selection for 2018 is up in the air. While the team announced a switch from year old Ferraris to Hondas, this was done under prior team principal Monisha Kaltenborn and rumors have persisted the deal may be off, or wasn’t fully done in the first place.

That Matsushita is running at this test for his first day in an F1 car – Gustav Malja will run on day one – could indicate the Honda switch isn’t yet a dead topic.

“When I was four years old, I was fascinated by Michael Schumacher, watching him racing in Formula 1. Since then my dream was to become a Formula 1 driver,” he said. “I am very excited about my first Formula 1 test and I am really looking forward to driving the Sauber C36-Ferrari at the Hungaroring – it is a great opportunity for me. I hope it will be a productive day for the team as well as for myself, so that I can learn as much as possible. I would like to thank the Sauber F1 Team for making this happen.”

New team boss Frederic Vasseur, formerly of Renault, gave his take on the test.

“I am pleased that Nobuharu has this great opportunity. He deserves the experience of his first test in a Formula 1 car. Ever since his debut in Formula 2 with ART Grand Prix, I have been following his progress closely, and have watched him advance his performance from year to year. With this Formula 1 test, he comes one step closer to his dream of becoming an F1 driver one day.”

Renault confirms Robert Kubica will test in Hungary

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Renault Sport F1 Team has confirmed Robert Kubica will make his return to a current Formula 1 car in the post-Hungarian Grand Prix test, which will only continue to fuel the hype train for a possible race return.

The Pole has undertaken two tests in recent weeks with older cars but this day in the Renault R.S.17 will provide the team a chance to evaluate him in current machinery to gauge his race level fitness.

It’s a story that has got the F1 world buzzing in recent weeks as Kubica, injured in a rally accident before the 2011 season, has made a comeback to restart his racing career.

Poor Nicholas Latifi, also confirmed for the test that runs the Tuesday and Wednesday after the Hungarian Grand Prix, will be undoubtedly overlooked as a result.

Jolyon Palmer will race in Hungary this weekend at least but whether the Brit continues beyond the summer break that follows afterwards remains a question mark.