Defending NHRA Top Fuel champ Shawn Langdon ready to pick up where he left off in 2013

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If anyone has a home track advantage at this weekend’s National Hot Rod Association season-opening Circle K Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway, it’s defending Top Fuel champ Shawn Langdon.

Langdon began and ended his run for the 2013 championship with season-opening and season-ending event wins at the Pomona, Calif., track, just 20 miles from where he grew up in nearby Mira Loma.

It was nothing short of a career year for Langdon, who led the Top Fuel ranks in wins (seven), was the No. 1 qualifier seven times, and had an outstanding record in elimination rounds (54-17 for a .760 winning percentage).

In addition to winning both races at Pomona, Langdon had additional big wins at the U.S. Nationals, the Toyota Summernationals and the Traxxas Shootout.

And now the driver for the Toyota-powered Al-Anabi Racing Team, which has won the Top Fuel title three of the last four seasons, is ready to pick up where he left off in 2013.

“We’re going to approach 2014 the same way that we have the last two years,” Langdon said. “We’re just very excited to get back out there and get running again.

“We feel very confident; the whole Al-Anabi team has done a lot of homework in the off-season. We had a successful test session. I don’t think there are going to be too many things that we want to change.”

The key to defend his first-ever Top Fuel title is to stay the course, don’t deviate much from last year’s gameplan, focus on wins – and if you can’t win, at least go for consistency.

“We just kind of want to stay in the same attack mode as we have the last two years,” Langdon said. “In 2012 season we struggled a little bit throughout the year, but we also gained a lot of information that we were able to use last year with winning the championship.

“So we’re hoping to just further that along for the 2014 season. We’re just very excited to get back out there and get racing at Pomona.”

And there’s some bad news for Langdon’s key rivals heading into Pomona: in a recent test last month at West Palm Beach, Fla., the defending champ recorded the fastest pass down the 1,000-foot dragstrip at 3.726 seconds.

Sounds like Langdon is already in midseason form.

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Di Resta to make shock F1 return in Hungary, replacing unwell Massa

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Paul di Resta will make a shock return to Formula 1 race action this weekend in Hungary, replacing Felipe Massa at Williams after the Brazilian was taken unwell.

Massa first showed signs of illness on Friday, visiting the local hospital in Budapest as a precaution before being given the go-ahead to take part in practice on Saturday morning.

Massa completed just 12 laps before coming into the garage and stopping, with doctors then reviewing him a second time and ruling him out.

This means di Resta, who has not started an F1 race in over three years and has never driven Williams’ 2017 car, will make a surprise return in qualifying and the race.

“After feeling unwell during practice in Budapest on Friday and Saturday, Felipe Massa will not drive for the remainder of the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend,” a statement from Williams reads.

“Felipe visited the medical centre and the MH EK Honvedkorhaz hospital for precautionary tests on Friday, after feeling unwell and dizzy during FP2.

“He was cleared to take part in Saturday’s practice session by the FIA medical delegate, but he felt unwell again during FP3 and has made the decision to withdraw from the weekend.

“Williams supports Felipe’s decision and the team will work with him to ensure he makes a full recovery, with a view to return to the race track for the Belgian Grand Prix.

“Following this decision, the team’s Reserve Driver Paul di Resta will drive alongside Lance Stroll for the remainder of the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend.”

More to follow.

Vasseur: ‘Good choice’ for Sauber to extend Ferrari F1 partnership

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Sauber Formula 1 chief Frederic Vasseur has explained the decision to cancel a planned technical partnership with Honda for 2018 and extend its long-running agreement with Ferrari.

Sauber has enjoyed an engine supply from Ferrari since 2010, but announced in April that it would be linking up with Honda for 2018 as part of an extensive technical partnership.

The deal hit the rocks following the departure of long-standing CEO and team boss Monisha Kaltenborn, with Sauber’s owners uneasy about teaming up with Honda given its public F1 struggles.

Ex-Renault F1 chief Vasseur was brought in to replace Kaltenborn, and moved to cancel the deal with Honda and secure a new agreement with Ferrari, as announced on Friday.

“Sauber and Honda signed a memorandum of understanding a couple of weeks ago but things move forward quite fast in our world,” Vasseur said.

“I think that the situation was a bit unclear also regarding the collaboration between McLaren and Honda and on our side the engine supplier had to find a solution for the gearbox. We had a deal with McLaren and the situation was a bit more complicated.

“On the other end, the collaboration with Ferrari is based on a long-term relationship and we had the opportunity to discuss with Ferrari to get the new-spec engine and I think it was a good choice and we found a mutual agreement with Honda to stop the collaboration.”

Vasseur believes the decision will help Sauber’s long-term growth, with the team currently lagging behind at the rear of the field following a period of uncertainty.

“The short term, that will be difficult to achieve something. It’s a long-term project for sure,” Vasseur said.

“But I think the basics are there. The facility is impressive compared to the other teams. I think we are in a good move. The wind tunnel is a good one and the team, I think that Sauber is still in F1 an iconic name and there is a real team spirit, quite comparable to the team spirit I had last year at Enstone.

“Everybody is really dedicated, pushy, and now that the financial structure is stabilized I think we can have some hope for the future.”

Vettel quickest as Ferrari pulls clear in final Hungary F1 practice

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Sebastian Vettel headed up a Ferrari one-two in final Formula 1 practice for the Hungarian Grand Prix on Saturday morning, the Italian marque pulling clear of rivals Red Bull and Mercedes at the Hungaroring.

After seeing Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo lead both of Friday’s practice sessions, Vettel was able to vault to the front of the pack with an unofficial lap record, laying down an ominous pace heading into qualifying.

Vettel posted a fastest lap time of 1:17.017 to finish almost half a second clear of the pack, leading home Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen at the head of the timesheets.

Mercedes drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton tried in vain to try and match Ferrari’s headline pace, lagging to third and fifth respectively.

While Bottas was able to finish nine-tenths of a second off Vettel’s time, Hamilton was 1.4 seconds back, the pair being split by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.

Friday pace-setter Ricciardo had a session to forget as he suffered a gearbox issue, forcing him to park up at the side of the track with just seven laps on the board, his time nevertheless good enough for P8.

Stoffel Vandoorne continued McLaren’s good weekend by finishing sixth-fastest, with teammate Fernando Alonso ninth overall. Renault also got both of its cars into the top 10 as Nico Hulkenberg and Jolyon Palmer finished seventh and 10th respectively.

Felipe Massa was forced to halt his running halfway through the session after being taken unwell again, putting his participation in the remainder of the race weekend in doubt.

Williams has Paul di Resta on standby as its reserve driver should Massa be declared unfit.

Massa cleared for Hungary FP3 despite Friday hospital visit

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Felipe Massa received late clearance to take part in Saturday’s final Formula 1 practice session for the Hungarian Grand Prix after a visit to hospital on Friday.

Massa was taken to the local hospital in Budapest following second practice at the Hungaroring after feeling unwell, putting his participation in the rest of the weekend for Williams in doubt.

The Brazilian was ultimately cleared by the FIA medical delegate, allowing him to take part in FP3 on Saturday morning, but he will be subject to another check-up ahead of qualifying.