Alexis DeJoria hopes dream season continues at Gainesville

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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.”

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F1 Preview: 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
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The third trip to the Baku City Circuit for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix comes slightly earlier in 2018 for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship. Contested in June each of its first two years, the event was moved to April for 2018.

Although the circuit was initially criticized for its close quarters, its mix of tight corners and high-speed sections has produced quite a lot of action.

Last year’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix was particularly eventful. Sebastian Vettel intentionally hit Lewis Hamilton under a Safety Car after he thought Hamilton brake-checked him, and Vettel was given a 10-second stop and go penalty. Later, the headrest of Hamilton’s Mercedes AMG Petronas W08 came loose, forcing him to make a late pit stop.

The Sahara Force India duo of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon saw their budding rivalry come to blows, as they made contact while battling inside the Top 5.

Valtteri Bottas finished second after early-race contact with Kimi Raikkonen, and Bottas pipped Lance Stroll for second at the finish line. Stroll, for his part, scored his first career podium.

And, Daniel Ricciardo rebounded from an unscheduled pit stop early in the race – Red Bull Racing had to clear debris out of the brake scoops due to overheating – to take a stunning victory that featured a remarkable three-wide pass on Stroll, Felipe Massa, and Nico Hulkenberg. Highlights of last year’s race can be seen here.

Will this year’s race produce as many thrills? Talking points ahead of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix are below.

Hamilton Seeks First Baku Podium, and First Win of 2018

SHANGHAI, CHINA – APRIL 15: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 15, 2018 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

The first two trips to Baku have not been kind to four-time world champion Lewis Hamilton. His 2016 outing was fairly unremarkable by his standards, as he finished fifth after qualifying tenth.

The 2017 event might have been a victory for him if not for the aforementioned problems with Vettel and a loose headrest. Alas, he again finished fifth.

It’s hard to believe that Hamilton does not have a victory through the first three races of 2018. Combine that with his desire to erase the bad memories of Baku from 2016 and 2017, and the Briton will be extra motivated to stand on the top step of the podium.

Red Bull Looks to Keep Momentum

SHANGHAI, CHINA – APRIL 15: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB14 TAG Heuer leads Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB14 TAG Heuer on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 15, 2018 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Red Bull Racing is riding high after the Chinese Grand Prix, when Daniel Ricciardo took a shock win due to tire strategy following a Safety Car.

And the Baku circuit is one that Ricciardo likes, and not just because of last year’s victory, but also because it presents a lot of chances for overtaking.

“Baku is different to other street circuits – because there are places where you can pass,” Ricciardo asserted in a preview on Formula1.com. “Actually, lots of places where you can pass. As opposed to Monaco and Singapore where there’s not many places to overtake really.”

He added that the track’s combination of high-speeds and tight corners put a premium on getting your braking points exactly right, otherwise the track will bite you.

“The trickiest thing in Baku is braking. There’s so many braking points where you have to commit and you have to brake as late as you can – but there’s no room for error,” he detailed. “Once you’ve committed to that braking point, if you’ve locked a wheel, you’re in the wall. I’d say the hardest part about Baku is finding the limit with braking, and just having that confidence.”

Teammate Max Verstappen, meanwhile, looks to rebound after again catching the ire of many rivals and onlookers for his contact with Sebastian Vettel in China. Further, Verstappen looks to avenge last year’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, in which he dropped out following a power unit failure.

“Last year was a very unfortunate weekend for me. It was a shame because the car felt really good but I encountered a lot of problems which ultimately meant I missed out on a potential podium, perhaps even a win. I’m hoping this year I can make up for that lost opportunity,” said Verstappen in the aforementioned preview piece.

Ferrari Looks to Reclaim Dominance After China Hiccup

SHANGHAI, CHINA – APRIL 15: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 15, 2018 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

After winning the opening rounds at Australia and Bahrain with Sebastian Vettel, Scuderia Ferrari had their first hiccup of 2018 in China, when a Safety Car butchered their tire strategy and left them vulnerable when others, chiefly Ricciardo and Verstappen, pitted for new tires.

Vettel was relegated to eighth after spinning following contact with Verstappen, while teammate Kimi Raikkonen finished third, his second podium in three races to start 2018.

Baku was one of the races from 2017 in which Vettel drew criticism for his on-track antics – see the aforementioned collision with Hamilton – and he’ll hope to get back on the podium to avenge both his struggles from China and from last year’s Baku outing.

Raikkonen, meanwhile, will look to get back to his winning ways for the first time since 2013.

Misc.

  • McLaren F1 Team sits a much-improved fourth in the constructor’s championship on the strength of two double-points finishes, with Fernando Alonso leading the way. Alonso has finishes of fifth, seventh, and seventh after three races, while Stoffel Vandoorne has points finishes of ninth and eighth to his name so far.
  • Sahara Force India still only has one points finish in 2018 – Esteban Ocon’s tenth in Bahrain. It’s hard to believe how far this team has fallen, even if the midfield is jammed with ultra competitive teams. That they have been off the pace to start 2018 is genuinely surprising.
  • Renault Sport F1 Team and Haas F1 Team have been the strongest of the midfield teams so far, along with McLaren, and they should contend once again for points this weekend.

The Azerbaijan Grand Prix rolls off at 8:00 a.m. ET on Sunday.

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