Everything you need to know about this weekend’s NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla.

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While this weekend’s Amalie Motor Oil Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla., will be the third race of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season for Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock, the Pro Stock Motorcycle class will be kicking off its share of the 2014 campaign, as well.

While Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock compete in 24 NHRA national events, Pro Stock Motorcycle (PSM) is a condensed 16-event slate of races, kicking off its share of the 2014 schedule at the Gatornationals’ long-time home of Auto-Plus Raceway.

Two-time and reigning PSM series champ Matt Smith is looking to pick up where he left off at the end of last season, and with added incentive: he’s never won before at Gainesville.

“Gainesville is definitely one of the premier events the bikes race at,” Smith said. “It’s one place I’ve always wanted to win. That’s always been a goal of mine. There’s going to be some strong competition, but my mindset is to go lay down some big numbers right off the bat and let everyone know I’m serious about defending this title.”

Smith qualified No. 1 at last year’s Gatornationals but was unable to earn the victory. He’ll be debuting a brand new bike in an attempt to get that elusive Gainesville win this weekend.

“We’re looking to be just as strong this year as we were a season ago,” said Smith, who rides the Stockseth Racing Buell. “We’re going to do our best to carry it over. It’s real exciting to enter the season with that No. 1 on your bike. It puts a target on your back, but that’s what you like. I’m trying to defend my title. We’ve worked hard and prepared, and it should be a great event.”

Hector Arana Jr. won last year’s PSM portion of the Gatornationals and ultimately wound up winning the first three events of the season in 2013. He’d welcome doing the same this season.

“I set some pretty high standards last season in Gainesville for myself,” said Arana Jr., who finished fourth in last season’s PSM final standings. “I look to do the same again this year. It’s a new season and I want to start it off like I did in 2013 with a win in Gainesville.”

Arana will be joined in this weekend’s field by teammates Hector Sr. (his father) and brother Adam. Other key riders to keep an eye on this weekend include three-time (2010-2012) Gatornationals winner Eddie Krawiec, Andrew Hines, Michael Ray and newcomer Chaz Kennedy.

“We worked hard (during the offseason) to get ready,” said Hector Arana Sr., who finished fifth in the 2013 standings. “We regrouped and learned some things from last year. Hopefully, we can stay consistent this year. We worked hard trying to find little things to make the bike go faster. That’s what we focused on, the little things, so we can make fewer mistakes. Hopefully it will lead us to accomplish more at the races.”

Krawiec, who won the PSM championship in 2012, wants to reclaim his crown in 2014.

“I think we’ve gotten a lot better over the winter, and we were able to work with the full combination of our new ideas,” Krawiec said. “It appears that we have very consistent motorcycles, and we can now duplicate the setup from run to run, and really see the results of our tuning. I’m really itching to line up and pop the clutch on my V-Rod.”

Defending Gatornationals winners in the other three pro series heading into this weekend are Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Johnny Gray (Funny Car) and Allen Johnson (Pro Stock).

NOTES: There has been a great deal of action already in the first two NHRA national Events in the season-opening race last month at Pomona (Calif.) and three weeks ago at Phoenix.

Funny Car driver John Force, coming off a record 16th championship last season, began the 2014 campaign off in great fashion by setting new national elapsed time (3.965 seconds) and speed (324.12 mph) records in his class at Pomona.

Fellow Funny Car driver Alexis DeJoria became the first female Funny Car driver to dip below the 4.00 second mark (3.996 seconds) at Pomona, and then won her first national event at Phoenix.

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AMALIE MOTOR OIL NHRA GATORNATIONALS FACT SHEET

WHAT:  45th annual Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals, the third of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Drivers in four categories – Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle – earn points leading to 2014 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships.

WHERE: Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville, Gainesville, Fla. The track is located on 11211 North County Road 225 in Gainesville.

WHEN: Thursday through Sunday, March 13-16

SCHEDULE:

THURSDAY, March 13

LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying at 8:30 a.m.

FRIDAY, March 14

LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations at 8 a.m.

PRO MOD DRAG RACING SERIES qualifying at 1:45 p.m.

MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at noon and 2:15 p.m.

SATURDAY, March 15

LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations at 8 a.m.

PRO MOD DRAG RACING SERIES qualifying at 11:30 a.m. and 1:45 p.m.

MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at noon and 2:15 p.m.

SUNDAY, March 16

PRO MOD DRAG RACING SERIES eliminations begin at 9:30 a.m.

Pre-race ceremonies, 10 a.m.

MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at 11 a.m.

2013 EVENT WINNERS: Antron Brown, Top Fuel; Johnny Gray, Funny Car; Allen Johnson, Pro Stock, Hector Arana Jr., Pro Stock Motorcycle.

MOST GATORNATIONALS VICTORIES:  Warren Johnson, 9, Pro Stock; John Force, 7, Funny Car; Don Prudhomme, 5, FC; Joe Amato, 4, Top Fuel; Kenny Bernstein, 4, FC/TF; Larry Dixon, 4, TF; Don Garlits, 4, TF; Jason Line, 4, PS; Ed McCulloch, 4, FC; Tony Schumacher, 4, TF; Dave Schultz, 4, Pro Stock Motorcycle; Terry Vance, 4, PSM.

TRACK RECORDS:

Top Fuel – 3.749 seconds by Morgan Lucas, March ’12; 326.87 mph by Lucas, March ’12.

Funny Car – 4.026 seconds by Cruz Pedregon, March ’12; 317.12 mph by Robert Hight, March ’12.

Pro Stock – 6.473 seconds by Mike Edwards, March ’12; 214.31 mph by Edwards, March ’13.

Pro Stock Motorcycle – 6.750 seconds by Eddie Krawiec, March ’12; 199.26 mph by Krawiec, March ’11.

CURRENT NATIONAL RECORDS:

Top Fuel – 3.701 sec. by Antron Brown, Oct. ‘12, Reading, Pa.; 332.18 mph by Spencer Massey, April ’12, Charlotte, N.C.

Funny Car – 3.965 sec. by John Force, Feb. ’14, Pomona, Calif.; 324.12 mph by J. Force, Feb. ’14, Pomona, Calif.

Pro Stock – 6.471 sec. by Mike Edwards, April ‘13, Charlotte, N.C.; 214.35 mph by Line, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.

Pro Stock Motorcycle – 6.728 sec. by Andrew Hines, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 199.26 mph by Eddie Krawiec, March ’11, Gainesville, Fla.

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NHRA MELLO YELLO DRAG RACING SERIES POINTS STANDINGS

Point standings (top 10) following the second of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series:

Top Fuel:  1.  Doug Kalitta, 191; 2.  Khalid alBalooshi, 165; 3.  Antron Brown, 156; 4.  Steve Torrence, 155; 5.  (tie) Brittany Force, 127; Spencer Massey, 127; 7.  Shawn Langdon, 124; 8.  Tony Schumacher, 92; 9.  (tie) Richie Crampton, 84; David Grubnic, 84.

Funny Car:  1.  John Force, 225; 2.  Robert Hight, 159; 3.  Alexis DeJoria, 156; 4.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 136; 5. Del Worsham, 132; 6.  Matt Hagan, 129; 7.  Bob Tasca III, 124; 8.  Jack Beckman, 92; 9.  Ron Capps, 88; 10.  Tim Wilkerson, 84.

Pro Stock:  1.  V. Gaines, 191; 2.  Jason Line, 180; 3.  (tie) Allen Johnson, 161; Vincent Nobile, 161; 5. Dave Connolly, 128; 6.  Shane Gray, 127; 7.  Erica Enders-Stevens, 120; 8.  Jeg Coughlin, 88; 9. (tie) Larry Morgan, 82; Shane Tucker, 82.

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Bottas tops final Baku F1 practice ahead of Raikkonen

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Valtteri Bottas closed out Formula 1 practice for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in Baku at the head of the field after edging out Ferrari rival Kimi Raikkonen in the closing stages of FP3.

Bottas led Mercedes to the top of the classification in final practice with a fastest lap of 1:42.742 to finish 0.095 seconds clear of Raikkonen, the pair having exchanged blows in the final 15 minutes in the battle for P1.

After a mixed Friday, Mercedes appeared more comfortable through final practice as Lewis Hamilton completed the top three, four-tenths down on Bottas’ time.

Ferrari, meanwhile, was left to rely on Raikkonen at the front as drivers’ championship leader Sebastian Vettel suffered a setback.

The German driver was forced to pit with 20 minutes to go due to a problem on his car – an apparent hydraulics issue – prompting his mechanics to set to work quickly in a bid to resolve the problem ahead of qualifying.

After finishing both FP1 and FP2 as the fastest driver, Max Verstappen could not complete a hat-trick in FP3 as he was forced to park up at the side of the track late on, citing a shutdown on his car after reporting an earlier engine issue.

Joylon Palmer was another driver to hit trouble, suffering an engine fire in the early part of the session that meant he had to park up in the run-off area. After crashing out of FP2 on Friday, the already-under pressure Briton will head into qualifying on the back foot, if indeed Renault can fix his car in time.

Back on the timesheets, it was Daniel Ricciardo who followed the top three, taking fourth for Red Bull. Despite his stoppage, Verstappen did enough to take sixth in FP3, trailing Force India’s Esteban Ocon.

Felipe Massa wound up seventh for Williams ahead of Daniil Kvyat and Lance Stroll, while Sergio Perez took P10 overall.

Qualifying for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix is live on CNBC and the NBC Sports app from 9am ET on Saturday, with a re-air at 1pm ET on NBCSN.

George Russell gets Mercedes F1 test duties in Hungary

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Mercedes has confirmed that junior driver George Russell will enjoy his first Formula 1 test at the beginning of August at the Hungaroring following the Hungarian Grand Prix race weekend.

Russell, 19, joined Mercedes’ junior program back in January, balancing his simulator duties with the German marque with a full-season drive in the GP3 Series.

Russell won the British Formula 4 title back in 2014 before spending two years in FIA European Formula 3, coming third in the championship last year.

Russell will now get a chance to impress for Mercedes in the W08 car on August 1 and 2 at the Hungaroring, fulfilling its young driver allocation for in-season testing.

“I’m just so excited to be testing the W08. I’ve probably driven more virtual laps than anyone else with this car so it’s going to be incredible to drive it in reality,” Russell said.

“My biggest priority is to do a good job for the team, to tick off the items on the engineers’ program, and make sure we get the most out of the car and our running over the two days.”

Russell is one of three junior drivers currently on Mercedes’ books, with Esteban Ocon and Pascal Wehrlein both already racing in F1 with Force India and Sauber respectively.

Road America weekend, Friday notes

Abnormal USF2000 podium of Malukas, VeeKay, Kohl. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – The Verizon IndyCar Series had two practice sessions today (you can see linkouts to practice one, and practice two, here). But it was far from the only action at Road America.

With seven sessions from the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires and three sports car sessions, two Pirelli World Challenge and the first Battery Tender Global MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires race, it was a very busy day of action.

Notes from all of those sessions are below.

MRTI

  • In USF2000, a rare occasion happened. Oliver Askew not only didn’t win the first race of the weekend, but had a mechanical issue that sent him to pit road. It opened the door for Dutch driver Rinus VeeKay (full surname of Van Kalmthout) to capture his first series win in a banner day for Augie Pabst’s Oconomowoc, Wis.-based team. Pabst Racing finished first (VeeKay), third (Lucas Kohl, in his first podium) and fourth (Calvin Ming, after starting 15th). Splitting them up was BN Racing’s David Malukas, the young Chicago native having scored a surprise pole position in the morning, finishing an impressive second place.
  • The first Pro Mazda race of the weekend saw Victor Franzoni on top over Anthony Martin, as the two championship combatants this season continued their bout. Martin (Cape Motorsports) and Franzoni (Juncos Racing) exchanged the lead early before Franzoni got past, then waltzed away. Team Pelfrey’s Nikita Lastochkin finished third for his first podium finish of his Mazda Road to Indy career, after two years in USF2000 and now into his first Pro Mazda season.
  • An intriguing Indy Lights qualifying session for race one saw Freedom 100 winner Matheus Leist continue his recent form. The Brazilian rookie edged Carlin teammate Neil Alberico for the top spot, with Ryan Norman best of Andretti Autosport’s quartet in third. Points leader Kyle Kaiser (Juncos Racing) starts fourth while Nico Jamin (Andretti) is fifth, Wisconsinite Aaron Telitz (Belardi) 11th and Colton Herta (Andretti/Steinbrenner) 13th. Zachary Claman De Melo (Carlin) did not qualify due to a mechanical issue. Kaiser led practice earlier in the day.
  • The Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires held three other sessions on Friday. As noted, Malukas won the pole for the first USF2000 race held earlier Friday. Qualifying for the second race took place after IndyCar second practice, and saw VeeKay on pole. In qualifying for Pro Mazda race two, the grid is jumbled after an apparent strategic error cost Franzoni a proper lap time. A red flag meant he wasn’t able to set a realistic time and he will start from 15th and last on Saturday. Meanwhile Martin will be on the pole for Saturday’s race.

RESULTS

Indy Lights: Weekend Results
Pro Mazda: Weekend Results
USF2000: Weekend Results

SPORTS CARS

Photo: Global MX-5 Cup
  • Patrick Gallagher edged Bryan Ortiz by just 0.0263 of a second in a new record closest finish in Battery Tender Global MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires, which breaks the record for the second time in three races. After Robert Stout beat Gallagher by 0.0632 at Indianapolis, Gallagher turned the tables with his win today, moving his McCumbee McAleer Racing Mazda MX-5 Cup car to the outside of Ortiz exiting Turn 14.
  • Pirelli World Challenge had only two sessions total today, one practice apiece for GT and GTS/TC.

RESULTS

MX-5 Cup: Weekend Results
PWC: Weekend Results

Tony Stewart to race in Rico Abreu fundraiser at Calistoga

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SONOMA, Calif. (AP) NASCAR is back at Sonoma Raceway and the defending race winner won’t be part of the field on Sunday.

Tony Stewart, who scored the last of his 49 career victories here, is retired now and watches the Cup races as a team owner. He still plans to race this weekend.

Stewart will run at Calistoga Speedway in an event that is being largely promoted by Rico Abreu and his father, local businessman David Abreu.

The race used to be called the Wine Country Classic, but has been renamed the Boys and Girls Club Dirt Track Classic. David Abreu designed the event as a fundraiser for a facility to house after-school programs for local children in Calistoga.

“My dad and I have always wanted to promote a race to raise money for the Boys and Girls Club,” Rico Abreu said. “There is a need for it with our demographics and it accommodates hundreds of kids in our valley. It provides them a safe place to learn and grow.”

Rico Abreu, one of the nation’s top dirt track drivers, benefited from the program along with his two siblings in St. Helena.

Stewart, Abreu and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. are among those entered in the Saturday night dirt track event to help draw attendance.

David Abreu, founder of St. Helena’s Abreu Vineyards, is hoping to raise $250,000 for an equipped clubhouse at the Calistoga Boys and Club location. He will give a famous “Macho Magnums” – 40 magnums from his Napa Valley 2010 collection – to the first $100,000 donor.

It will be Stewart’s first Winged Sprint Car start at the Calistoga half-mile. He did win a USAC Western Midget Series race in 1994. He also set the midget track record that same weekend and held it until USAC made its return to the venue in 2008.

“I’m really looking forward to running the Calistoga Speedway since I haven’t raced there since 1994,” Stewart said. “I’m also excited to see all the improvements that have taken place at the track since the last time I’ve been there.”

Abreu is driving as well as promoting and fundraising. He’s competing Saturday night in the Sprint Car Challenge Tour 360’s and the King of the West-NARC 410’s.

“Having Tony Stewart and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in competition will certainly be an exciting thing for all the fans in Nor-Cal,” said Rico Abreu.

More AP Auto Racing: http://racing.ap.org/