John Force sets another national record en route to NHRA Winternationals win; alBalooshi, Line also triumph

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John Force started the weekend of the season-opening NHRA Circle K Winternationals in Pomona, Calif., by setting a pair of national records and ended it Sunday with yet another new record en route to his 139th career Funny Car victory.

After setting new national records for elapsed time (3.966 seconds) and speed (324.12 mph) earlier in the weekend, Force broke his still- fresh elapsed time record with a 3.965 second effort (at 323.58 mph) in Sunday’s final round of eliminations, defeating arch-rival Matt Hagan.

Force ended last season by extending his own record of NHRA championships, earning his 16th in 24 seasons. And with this being the final season of long-standing sponsorship and support from Castrol GTX motor oil and Ford (Force drives a Mustang), Sunday’s performance makes it abundantly clear he’s determined to go for his 17th Funny Car crown this season.

“We’re back in the game,” Force said. “Everything’s just going right. … I’m just excited. There’s a lot going on (with potential new sponsors for 2015), and man, what a good time to flex your muscles.”

In Top Fuel, Khalid alBalooshi won his third career national event, defeating top qualifier Doug Kalitta in the final round. alBalooshi finished in 3.974 seconds at 324.36 mph in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster, while Kalitta’s Mac Tools dragster lost traction at mid-track and slowed to 5.368 seconds at 143.40 mph.

“We had a strong day today,” said alBalooshi. “It’s a good win. … Doug’s car was the best car all weekend, so it made it a very big day for us to take him down in the final and get the trophy.”

alBalooshi, who finished 11th as a rookie in 2012 and eighth last season, leaves Pomona atop the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series’ Top Fuel points standings for the first time in his career.

Jason Line won the Pro Stock class, defeating V. Gaines in the final round. Line and his Summit Racing Chevrolet Camaro covered the 1,000-foot lane at 6.526 seconds at 212.06 mph to defeat Gaines’ Kendall Oil Dodge Avenger (6.533 at 212.56 mph).

It was Line’s 32nd career NHRA win and his third at the Winternationals.

“My day was great,” Line said. “It’s a huge deal to start the season off with a win. It’s a big deal. The last few years we’ve struggled and wasn’t what we had hoped for. We worked really hard over the winter and I think we improved. This sport is just crazy hard right now. It’s tough to separate yourself out here it’s so competitive.”

Line said he would give his winner’s trophy to longtime teammate Greg Anderson, who is at home recovering from heart surgery and will miss the first three months of the season.

“I’m forever indebted to him,” Line said of Anderson. “He gave me an opportunity that nobody else would.”

The next NHRA national event, the CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park near Phoenix, Ariz., will be held Feb. 21-23.

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F1 2017 driver review: Lewis Hamilton

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Following on from the driver reviews from the Verizon IndyCar Series, MotorSportsTalk kicks off its Formula 1 recaps by looking back on Lewis Hamilton’s championship year.

Lewis Hamilton

Team: Mercedes AMG Petronas
Car No.: 44
Races: 20
Wins: 9
Podiums (excluding wins): 4
Pole Positions: 11
Fastest Laps: 7
Points: 363
Laps Led: 527
Championship Position: 1st

Lewis Hamilton may have wrapped up his fourth Formula 1 world title with two races to spare, but his margin of victory was far from representative of what was arguably his greatest championship victory yet.

Mercedes entered 2017 bidding to become the first team to defend its titles across a seismic regulation change, and appeared to be on the back foot early on after Ferrari impressed in pre-season testing and won the opening race through Sebastian Vettel.

Hamilton was left wrestling with a “diva” of a car, as coined by Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff, but was able to get on top of it by the second race of the year in China, taking a dominant win in wet-dry conditions.

The win was representative of Hamilton’s form through the first portion of the season. When he won, he won in style – as in Spain, Canada and on home soil in Great Britain – but the off weekends saw him struggle.

Heading into the summer break, Vettel’s championship lead stood at 14 points, with the pair’s on-track rivalry having already spilled over in Baku when they made contact behind the safety car.

But Hamilton then produced the form that propelled him to titles in 2014 and 2015, breaking the back of the season through the final flyaways. As Vettel and Ferrari capitulated over the Asian rounds, picking up just 12 points when a full score of 75 for three wins was certainly in reach, Hamilton capitalised and put himself on the brink of the title.

While Hamilton’s run to P9 in Mexico was a messy way to wrap up his hardest-fought title to date, getting across the line and the job done was a significant result.

Unlike his last two titles, Hamilton was tasked with an enemy outside of the team in this title race and a car that arguably wasn’t the fastest on the grid.

But his unquestionable talent and ability to dig deep to get himself out of tough situations – Singapore and Brazil being two key examples where the result was far from expected – proved crucial once again.

Hamilton is now in the annals of F1 history as one of its all-time greats. The pole record is his, and only two drivers can boast more world titles than him (Michael Schumacher and Juan Manuel Fangio).

Depending on how long he wants to continue racing, going down as F1’s statistical all-time great is certainly not out of the realm of possibility.

Season High: Charging from the pit lane to P4 in Brazil, a race he could have even won.

Season Low: Dropping out in Q2 in Monaco, only recovering to P7 in the race.