Joan "Nani" Roma ,Michel Perin

Dakar: Roma, Coma, Casale and Karginov emerge as champions (VIDEO)

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Mini got its podium sweep and Nani Roma (pictured, right, with co-driver Michel Perin, left) got his second Dakar Rally championship, beating out teammate Stephane Peterhansel by five minutes and 38 seconds in the overall after today’s final Stage 13 from La Serena to Valparaiso, Chile.

Peterhansel, the 11-time Dakar champion, had taken a 26-second edge yesterday over Roma going into Stage 13 after the Spaniard dealt with the effects of an early puncture. That turn of events came after it was revealed that Mini had issued team orders going into Stage 11 to freeze positions in a bid to take all three spots on the podium for Roma, Peterhansel and third-place Nasser Al-Attiyah.

But following his Stage 12 triumph, Peterhansel noted the possibility that those orders would be re-issued after Roma fell back behind him. It would appear that they were, as the Frenchman slowed down and stopped to allow Roma to pass him along the way to Valparaiso according to the Associated Press. Additionally, the Minis of Roma, Peterhansel and Al-Attiyah (who held on to third place overall at 56 minutes, 52 seconds behind Roma) crossed the finish line in a group.

“I don’t know if this was the most stressful thing I’d ever done, but it was very tough,” said Roma, who is now the third former bike winner of the Dakar to also win it in a car, joining Peterhansel and Hubert Auriol.

“The second week, with difficult, long stages, wasn’t easy. We’re happy, very happy with the work Michel and I did. I’m going to revel in this. 10 years to the day after winning on a motorcycle, I’ve won in a car. It’s a dream come true.”

As for Peterhansel, he had understandably mixed emotions over the outcome after charging so hard during the second week of competition to contend for what would have been his 12th Dakar title.

“Let’s look on the bright side of things – the car didn’t miss a beat, it took anything we threw at it, like usual, and we had lots of fun driving,” he said. “But I’m frustrated with the final result. The third thing I want to say is that Nani’s my friend, and I’m pleased to see him happy because it’s been his dream for ten years, since he shifted to a car.”

In the bikes, Marc Coma capped off his fourth Dakar championship by a margin of almost two hours over fellow KTM rider Jorge Viladoms, with Olivier Pain holding off Cyril Despres for third overall.

It was a sweet result for Coma, who was unable to start last year’s Dakar after suffering a shoulder injury in the 2012 Morocco Rally that failed to heal up in time.

“These are really strong, personal feelings,” he said. “It represents a lot of sacrifices and hard work. It’s an extreme race with ups and downs. Looking back, I remember being unable to start last year’s race. And yet I’m here now, I’ve won. I’d like to thank those around me who made this comeback possible.

“Every time I win this rally, I say I’m going to savor it. I’ll do it with my loved ones, my family. I don’t know if I’ll ever win it again. I’ll try, I’ll work hard for it, but it’s a very complicated rally.”

After surviving a grueling quads rally that saw contenders Marcos Patronelli and Sergio Lafuente forced to bow out, Chilean rider Ignacio Casale took the class title by almost an hour and a half over Poland’s Rafal Sonik, with Sebastian Husseini rounding out the podium.

Going into the final moments of today’s stage, Casale savored the cheers of his fellow countrymen as he put the finishing touches on his championship.

“The last 20 to 30 kilometers were amazing: The crowds, people cheering me on, banners…,” said Casale. “…I hope all of Chile will revel in this victory. It’s a triumph of hard work and passion, which proves you can go a long way if you do your best.”

Finally, Andrey Karginov and Gerard de Rooy’s duel for top honors in the truck category ended with a memorable last stage.

According to a report from the Dakar website, Karginov lost critical time after he was held up by the No. 319 Mini of Yong Zhou, which crashed and then got stuck on the track in the last timed sector of the stage. Altogether, Karginov lost nine minutes, 34 seconds to de Rooy, who crossed the line first today.

However, race officials opted to give Karginov a time dispensation of 5 minutes, 20 seconds after he was blocked by Zhou – which enabled the Russian to beat de Rooy for the championship by a mere 3 minutes, 11 seconds.

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