Alexis DeJoria won her second career NHRA national Funny Car event -- and second in her last three races -- this past Sunday at Las Vegas. (Photo courtesy NHRA.com)

Alexis DeJoria hopes dream season continues at Gainesville

2 Comments

Funny Car driver Alexis DeJoria is already having a dream season – and she’s only two races into the 24-race 2014 NHRA schedule.

In the season opener at Pomona, Calif., DeJoria became the first female to drive a Funny Car quicker than four seconds (3.997). Then two weeks later in Phoenix, DeJoria won her first career Mello Yello Drag Racing Series national event.

She also became the 14th woman to win a NHRA national event and the fourth in Funny Car.

Still riding a high from Phoenix, DeJoria is getting ready for next weekend’s Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville.

DeJoria comes into the event third in the points behind series leader and 16-time Funny Car champion John Force and Force’s son-in-law, Robert Hight. DeJoria beat Force in the semifinals en route to her win at Phoenix.

“I have so much respect for him and his entire team,” DeJoria said of Force during an NHRA teleconference on Wednesday. “They’re very tough to beat. You have to beat the best to be the best. Any day that you get to go up against these guys is pretty awesome. After we beat John in the semis, we’re going to our first final (round) after a year, so it felt just amazing.

“Whatever the outcome was, I would have been just as excited to make it to a final. But the fact that we got the win, it was huge. It was really huge. It was almost surreal that I couldn’t actually enjoy the win until a few minutes after it had sunk in that we had done it. I was just so focused all day long, and we really felt confident in our race car that day.”

Given the great start she’s had – Force calls her “a real tiger” this season – some are predicting DeJoria could be a potential championship contender this season.

She’s not ready to go that far, though.

“We have a long way to go,” she said. “We’ve just won one race. But obviously our short term goal right now is to stay in the Top 10. And hopefully stay in the Top 10, and whatever happens after that happens. But keep the consistency getting the car down the racetrack and hopefully win more rounds and win more races before the season is over.”

DeJoria, who is married to former TV star Jesse James, has gained a lot of respect from fellow drivers for what she’s done not just this year, but in her overall drag racing career to date.

“That team is just as deadly as any other team in the sport of Funny Car,” said 2012 NHRA Top Fuel champion Antron Brown. “Don’t let Alexis’ demeanor fool you because she’s modest and humble, but that girl is out for blood. You lineup against her, and she’s going to try to chop your head off. I tell her all the time and she laughs and giggles, and she’s got all you guys in the media fooled.”

Gainesville may be just another stop on the NHRA circuit for most drivers, but not for DeJoria. She used to live in the area as she was learning the drag racing ropes while driving an Alcohol Funny Car.

“Gainesville is one of my favorite tracks on the entire circuit,” DeJoria said. “I ran record numbers in my Alcohol Funny Car there. I won my first nitro Funny Car round against John Force (there), so that was pretty exciting.

“On a personal note, my daughter learned how to ride her bicycle in the pit without training wheels. So it’s got a lot of firsts for me, and just the fact that the fans are amazing, it’s beautiful, and we can run fast down there. So I’m really excited to run Gainesville.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Marcus Ericsson excited about Pascal Wehrlein’s arrival at Sauber for 2017

SPIELBERG, AUSTRIA - JULY 02: Pascal Wehrlein of Germany driving the (94) Manor Racing MRT-Mercedes MRT05 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track ahead of Marcus Ericsson of Sweden driving the (9) Sauber F1 Team Sauber C35 Ferrari 059/5 turbo during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Austria at Red Bull Ring on July 2, 2016 in Spielberg, Austria.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
© Getty Images
Leave a comment

Marcus Ericsson is relishing the opportunity to work with Pascal Wehrlein at Sauber through the 2017 Formula 1 season, saying he rates the German driver highly.

Wehrlein made his F1 debut in 2016 with Manor, scoring just the second top-10 finish in the team’s history at the Austrian Grand Prix.

The Mercedes junior was announced as a Sauber driver for 2017 on Monday, replacing Felipe Nasr after the Brazilian lost his financial backing.

Speaking to the official F1 website, Ericsson spoke warmly of Wehrlein’s arrival, believing that they will forge a strong partnership that will help Sauber to develop.

“I think it’s great news for me and Sauber. Pascal is a very fast and respected driver with a great CV,” Ericsson said.

“I think we can really push each other and the team forward, so I am looking forward to a great season.

“I honestly rate [Wehrlein] highly. He’s won the DTM championship and been part of the Mercedes family for a long time, so they seem to believe a lot in him.

“Of course my aim is to beat him – what else? – and I expect it to be a tough fight. But that’s exactly what I need in order to perform at my best.”

Sauber was at risk of collapsing at midway through the 2016 season, having struggled financially for some time before being taken over by Longbow Finance during the summer.

The team subsequently went on a recruitment drive, bringing in a number of management and engineering staff, with Ericsson noticing a difference.

“It definitely takes time, but I think it’s clear that if you look at the second half of last season we really made some big progress,” Ericsson said.

“And the aim is, of course, to continue that way in 2017. We’ve had some great people decide to join the team in the last couple of months and that also makes a difference.

“So all in all it feels like we’re moving in the right way. And with two young and hungry drivers in the cockpits we should be on a good run.”

VIDEO: Valtteri Bottas’ first day as a Mercedes F1 driver

Leave a comment

Following Valtteri Bottas’ official unveiling as a Mercedes driver on Monday, the team wasted little time in showing the Finn the ropes at its base in Brackley, England.

Bottas was released from his contract by Williams so he could join Mercedes for 2017, replacing world champion Nico Rosberg following the German’s shock decision to retire from F1.

Bottas was announced as Mercedes’ new driver on Monday, completing the puzzle for the 2017 driver market and putting an end to six weeks of speculation.

In the above video released by Mercedes, Bottas gets to grips with life at Brackley after signing his new contract with team chief Toto Wolff and meeting his new team members for the first time.

In related news, Mercedes announced on Friday that it had struck an agreement with the Wihuri Group, a Finnish conglomerate that has previously sponsored Bottas.

Wihuri’s branding will appear on the Mercedes drivers’ racesuits and helmets, as well as on the team’s trackside uniform.

“We are delighted to welcome Wihuri to the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport family today,” Wolff said.

“As a respected brand both in Finland and globally, Wihuri will be a valuable addition to our team and we look forward to working with them and helping to expand their Formula One experience.

“This year will be a new challenge for our team, with a new driver line-up, including our new Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas of course, and new regulations.

“I am sure it going to be a very exciting year to be involved with our team and the sport of Formula 1.”

Yamaha, Ducati enjoy launches ahead of new MotoGP season

yfr_editorial_use_pictures_16-php
© Yamaha MotoGP
Leave a comment

MotoGP heavyweights Yamaha and Ducati geared up for the new season of motorcycle racing’s premier championship with launches this week.

Yamaha and Ducati both enter 2017 with a new line-up following Jorge Lorenzo’s decision to move from the former to the latter, acting as one of a number of shake-ups in the rider market.

Three-time MotoGP champion Lorenzo replaces Andrea Iannone at Ducati, who sought refuge at Suzuki after a seat was freed up by Maverick Viñales following his move to Yamaha in replace of – the man who started the merry-go-round all – Lorenzo.

Yamaha was the first to take the covers off its new bike at a launch in Madrid on Thursday, with Viñales being joined by nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi for the unveiling of the YZR-M1.

The new bike features a darker blue as its main livery color, as well as greater presence for title sponsor Movistar.

“I had the first test in Valencia after the race, but particularly after we moved to Sepang and we could have more kilometers and [do] more work on the new bike,” Rossi said.

“We discovered a very good potential. It looks like we can be stronger. For sure now it’s important to work in the three tests before the first race, and try to arrive ready in Qatar. But the first impression is very good.”

Ducati followed suit earlier today by unveiling its new livery for 2017, with Lorenzo making one of his first official appearances in the team’s colors following the expiration of his Yamaha contract on December 31.

The team presented its 2016 bike, the Desmosedici GP16, in ’17 colors, as well as removing the controversial – and now banned – winglets from its model.

The new MotoGP season begins in Qatar on March 26, with pre-season testing set to start at the end of January in Malaysia.

Neuville leads Ogier midway through Monte Carlo Rally

Thierry Neuville (BEL) competes during the FIA World Rally Championship 2017 in Monte Carlo, Monaco on January 20, 2017
© Red Bull Content Pool
Leave a comment

MONACO (AP) Belgian driver Thierry Neuville took a 45-second lead Friday over defending world rally champion Sebastien Ogier midway through the season-opening Monte Carlo Rally.

Overnight leader Neuville won three of Friday’s six special stages, while Ogier struggled early on before pegging Neuville back by winning the last two. Ott Tanak of Estonia is third.

Four-time champion Ogier is now driving for Ford M-Sport after switching from Volkswagen last month. The Frenchman was eight seconds behind Neuville’s Hyundai overnight and quickly under pressure.

Tanak, who also drives for M-Sport, won Friday’s first special stage – the third of 17 overall – ahead of Neuville, with Ogier in ninth.

Difficult morning conditions saw snow and sheet ice on the roads. With all the top drivers fitting studded winter tires, Ogier still went off into a ditch.

“It happened at a junction, it was very, very icy. I pulled the handbrake but the car never turned,” Ogier said. “I slipped into the ditch and became stuck.”

Neuville won the next three specials – with Ogier second on 4 and 5 – but Ogier finally found his best form to trim back the deficit from 1:12 to 45 seconds. He also overtook Tanak, who is a fraction of a second behind Ogier.

Conditions were slushy in the afternoon as the icy roads began melting.

“For me this was more tricky than this morning and difficult to know what rhythm to go,” Neuville said.

A spectator was killed on Thursday night after being hit by a car during the first stage.

Organizers said the spectator was struck by a car driven by New Zealand driver Hayden Paddon during the first of two night stages.

That stage was canceled but the second went ahead, with Neuville beating Ogier.

There are six specials Saturday with the race concluding Sunday lunchtime.

Last year, Ogier won by nearly two minutes ahead of then-teammate Andreas Mikkelsen of Norway.

Ogier announced last month that he was going to drive the Ford Fiesta for M-Sport this season. A fifth title would move him into outright second place on the all-time list behind countryman Sebastien Loeb, who won nine straight titles.

The 33-year-old Ogier, who has won 38 career races, is tied with Finnish drivers Tommi Makinen – who won four straight – and Juha Kankkunen.

The next event in the 13-race season is in Sweden in three weeks.