Shawn Langdon was the top  qualifier in Top Fuel Friday at the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in Concord, N.C.  (Photo courtesy: NHRA)

Langdon (TF), Tasca (FC), Connolly (PS) and Smith (PSM) lead NHRA Gatornationals qualifying

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After struggling in the season’s first two races, defending NHRA Mello Yello Series Top Fuel champion Shawn Langdon put everything together in Friday’s provisional qualifying for the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla.

Langdon powered his Al-Anabi Racing dragster down the historic Auto-Plus Raceway at 3.786 seconds (320.58 mph) to lead the Top Fuel class.

“As long as the track allows it, you can really throw down some good runs,” said Langdon, in pursuit of his first career Gatornationals win. “We’re trying to make the best run we can on each session, and we thought a .78 was about all we could get away with. We’re trying to get as much information as we can in each lane to get ready for Sunday.”

Richie Crampton, who is among first-year drivers in contention for NHRA Rookie of the Year, was second quickest in Top Fuel at 3.816 seconds/320.58 mph in the GEICO/Lucas Oil dragster.

Top Fuel points leader Doug Kalitta was third fastest followed by Phoenix winner Antron Brown and Steve Torrence rounding out the top five.

Bob Tasca III paced all drivers in Funny Car qualifying with a top run of 4.103 seconds at 304.39 mph in his Motorcraft/Quick Lane Shelby Ford Mustang.

Tasca won the 2009 Gatornationals – his first career Funny Car win – and was runner-up in the 2010 event.

“I don’t know what it is about Gainesville, but I love racing here,” Tasca said. “This place has been awfully good to me over the years. We set a record in my alcohol car and were on the pole that year. I got my first win here in Funny Car. It’s just a special place.”

Jack Beckman was second quickest (4.108/275.96) in Funny Car, followed by Chad Head, Ron Capps and Tony Pedregon.

Series leader John Force qualified 11th and Phoenix winner Alexis DeJoria was 12th overall after day one.

Dave Connolly was the provisional top qualifier in Pro Stock (6.476 seconds/213.98 mph), but No. 2 qualifier Erica Enders-Stevens set a new NHRA speed record with a burst of 214.69 mph.

Debuting their new Dodge Darts, Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Allen Johnson qualified third and fourth, followed by fifth-quickest Shane Gray.

Defending Pro Stock Motorcycle world champ Matt Smith led his class with a run of 6.800 seconds at 196.96 mph

“We spent the off-season building and testing a lot of new parts and we made progress,” Smith said. “I’m excited about this season.”

Andrew Hines, Smith teammate John Hall, Michael Ray and Eddie Krawiec also qualified in the top five.

Qualifying continues Saturday in all pro classes at noon and 2:15 pm ET, with final eliminations starting at 11 am ET on Sunday.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Friday’s results after the first two of four rounds of qualifying for the 45th annual Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville, third of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.  Qualifying will continue Saturday for Sunday’s final eliminations.

Top Fuel — 1. Shawn Langdon, 3.786 seconds, 320.58 mph; 2. Richie Crampton, 3.816, 316.97; 3. Doug Kalitta, 3.819, 319.37; 4. Antron Brown, 3.836, 315.78; 5. Steve Torrence, 3.839, 319.22; 6. Khalid alBalooshi, 3.847, 316.97; 7. Tony Schumacher, 3.858, 320.28; 8. Clay Millican, 3.861, 308.71; 9. Leah Pritchett, 3.899, 306.67; 10. Morgan Lucas, 3.922, 303.50; 11. Brittany Force, 3.945, 308.92; 12. J.R. Todd, 3.974, 271.46.

Not Qualified: 13. Spencer Massey, 4.239, 208.52; 14. Bob Vandergriff, 4.264, 254.62; 15. Terry McMillen, 4.705, 163.39; 16. David Grubnic, 4.801, 149.70; 17. Pat Dakin, 5.152, 128.49; 18. Ike Maier, 5.872, 117.34; 19. Sidnei Frigo, 10.108, 69.25.

Funny Car — 1. Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 4.103, 304.39; 2. Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 4.108, 275.96; 3. Chad Head, Toyota Camry, 4.115, 300.46; 4. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.121, 302.14; 5. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.127, 285.41; 6. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.128, 307.23; 7. Robert Hight, Mustang, 4.132, 303.78; 8. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.148, 305.08; 9. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.188, 299.60; 10. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.189, 288.95; 11. John Force, Mustang, 4.380, 246.98; 12. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.799, 167.76.

Not Qualified: 13. Tommy Johnson Jr., 5.075, 147.96; 14. Blake Alexander, 6.388, 98.77; 15. Dave Richards, 7.109, 92.05; 16. Jeff Arend, 7.669, 83.02; 17. Courtney Force, 8.184, 73.00.

Pro Stock — 1. Dave Connolly, Chevy Camaro, 6.476, 213.98; 2. Erica Enders-Stevens, Camaro, 6.483, 214.69; 3. Jeg Coughlin, Dodge Dart, 6.484, 214.62; 4. Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.487, 213.98; 5. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.495, 213.60; 6. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.510, 212.56; 7. V. Gaines, Dodge Avenger, 6.518, 213.30; 8. Jimmy Alund, Camaro, 6.527, 212.90; 9. Larry Morgan, Ford Mustang, 6.529, 212.66; 10. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.533, 214.04; 11. Steve Kent, Camaro, 6.536, 212.43; 12. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.541, 213.20.

Not Qualified: 13. Rodger Brogdon, 6.541, 212.53; 14. Jonathan Gray, 6.552, 212.16; 15. Matt Hartford, 6.581, 211.39; 16. Shane Tucker, 6.594, 211.53; 17. Kenny Delco, 6.613, 210.24; 18. Robert Patrick, 6.615, 210.28; 19. Lewis Worden, 6.652, 210.83; 20. Mark Hogan, 16.552, 45.53.

Pro Stock Motorcycle — 1. Matt Smith, Buell, 6.800, 196.96; 2. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.813, 195.68; 3. John Hall, Buell, 6.830, 195.05; 4. Michael Ray, Buell, 6.853, 196.16; 5. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.856, 195.96; 6. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.857, 194.38; 7. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.891, 195.45; 8. Chaz Kennedy, Buell, 6.892, 194.46; 9. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 6.901, 196.02; 10. Adam Arana, Buell, 6.910, 196.10; 11. Shawn Gann, Buell, 6.920, 193.82; 12. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.920, 193.27.

Not Qualified: 13. Katie Sullivan, 6.924, 192.85; 14. Fredrik Fredlund, 6.939, 193.99; 15. Mike Berry, 6.987, 188.91; 16. Scotty Pollacheck, 6.987, 187.73; 17. Eddie Reed, 6.989, 190.06; 18. Joe DeSantis, 7.009, 187.55; 19. Freddie Camarena, 7.055, 192.36; 20. James Surber, 7.095, 187.26; 21. Elvira Karlsson, 7.149, 185.92; 22. Hector Arana, 9.994, 81.91; 23. Odolph Daniels, 16.646, 43.73.

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Ricky Taylor makes his IndyCar test debut today at Homestead

BRASELTON, GA - OCTOBER 03:  Ricky Taylor, C, sits with member of his crew before qualifying for Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta on October 3, 2014 in Braselton, Georgia.  (Photo by Brian Cleary/Getty Images)
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It seems to be the winter of all-stars from other racing disciplines testing in IndyCar.

Today Ricky Taylor joined the list of those stars from the closed-top sports car or touring car world on the winter IndyCar test list, with a one-off guest test for Team Penske in defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion Simon Pagenaud’s No. 1 PPG Chevrolet.

The older of two Taylor brothers, who completed a star turn at this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona en route to delivering the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R an overall win with brother Jordan, Max Angelelli and Jeff Gordon, made his maiden laps at the Homestead-Miami Speedway road course.

Chevrolet and General Motors extended the test offer to Ricky Taylor for this opportunity. Fittingly for Pagenaud, it’s the second time in not even a year he’s given up his seat to another member of either the GM or Penske family; Brad Keselowski made a similar out-of-nowhere one-off test at Road America last year.

“Every driver dreams to be an Indy car driver,” Taylor said, via IndyCar.com. It can’t hurt to be involved with (Team Penske); there are no negatives to that. To get to know all the guys and get to drive the car and get an actual feel for it in a low-pressure environment is a great opportunity for me. Even if it doesn’t lead to anything, it’s a big learning opportunity.”

With Ricky Taylor completing this test and with Robert Wickens and Pipo Derani set to test next week at Sebring’s short course, there’s been a sudden series of additional interest in the final few runs before the IndyCar season opens on March 12.

And with Ricky Taylor in Homestead today, it was left to Jordan Taylor and the Konica Minolta team’s new third driver, Englishman Alex Lynn, to run solo today as part of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship February test at Sebring’s full course. Lynn will make his U.S. race debut in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, to be held March 18. Ricky Taylor will be back at Sebring for the second day of the IMSA test, held Friday.

Great to see @simonpagenaud and @rickytaylor_10 today good job both!!

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Alexander Albon moves up to GP2 with ART Grand Prix

2016 GP2 Series Test 3
Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Friday 2 December 2016.
Alexander Albon (THA, ART Grand Prix) 
Photo: Zak Mauger/GP2 Series Media Service.
ref: Digital Image _X0W3990
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2016 GP3 Series runner-up Alexander Albon has announced that he will move into GP2 for 2017 with ART Grand Prix, completing the team’s line-up.

Albon, 20, finished second behind Ferrari junior Charles Leclerc in GP3 last year with ART, racking up four race wins through his rookie campaign.

The Thai youngster will now continue with ART in GP2, partnering McLaren youngster Nobuharu Matsushita through 2017.

“I am really excited to be working with ART Grand Prix for a second year. I learnt a huge amount last year and we have become one big close family,” Albon said.

“Moving up to the GP2 series is an important step in anyone’s career and I am extremely fortunate to be with a top team who already understand me.

“There’s a lot to learn coming from GP3, and the experience and method of working at ART Grand Prix is the reason they have won so many titles. I hope I will continue to proudly wear Thailand’s colours and those of my faithful Thai partners.

“I look forward to the new challenge and cannot wait for the season to begin!”

The new GP2 season will begin in Bahrain on April 15.

Sergey Sirotkin set for more F1 practice chances through 2017

SOCHI, RUSSIA - APRIL 28: Sergey Sirotkin of Russia and Renault Sport F1 in the Paddock during previews ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 28, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Sergey Sirotkin is poised to enjoy more Formula 1 practice opportunities through 2017 with Renault after the team confirmed he would continue in a reserve role.

Sirotkin, 21, joined Renault in 2016 as a test driver after previously working with Sauber and falling short in a bid to be on the grid for 2015.

The Russian enjoyed two practice run-outs through 2016 behind the wheel of the Renault R.S.16, but will enjoy an expanded program in the forthcoming campaign.

“For Sergey, stability is important and we are happy to continue the development program after a very good GP2 season,” Renault F1 managing director Cyril Abiteboul said.

“He will continue to focus on his development role as a reserve, and he will have more opportunities to run in the car on Friday.

“His attention to detail and his appetite to be at the factory, looking at the simulator, his focus and his mentality, we’re happy to maintain at the team.”

Sirotkin is yet to confirm his racing plans for 2017, having spent the past two seasons in GP2, but has his sights firmly set on an F1 race seat next year.

“I don’t think anyone would be surprised if I said that my main target for the 2018 season is to have a seat as a Formula 1 race driver and that’s what I’m working towards,” Sirotkin said.

“I’m here to learn and be an asset to the team as well as show that I am worthy of further opportunities.”

VTB Group becomes title sponsor for Russian Grand Prix

SOCHI, RUSSIA - MAY 01: Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo leads Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP), Valtteri Bottas of Finland driving the (77) Williams Martini Racing Williams FW38 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo and the rest of the field at the start during the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on May 1, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Russian finance group VTB has been named as the new title sponsor for the Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix for 2017, set to take place on April 30.

Russia first joined the F1 championship calendar back in 2014, with the Sochi Autodrom being constructed in the city that hosted the Winter Olympics earlier that year.

For 2017, the race will feature a title sponsor for the first time, with an announcement being made by the VTB Group and F1 officials on Thursday.

As per a statement on the official F1 website: “The company’s branding has been included in the race’s logo and VTB has obtained additional advertising, marketing and communication options.”

“The right to be the title sponsor of such a major international project opens up new opportunities for both VTB Group and the Russian round of the FIA Formula One World Championship,” first deputy president and chairman of VTB management board Vasily Titov said.

“I am confident that our cooperation will become an example of an effective sponsorship in the area of motorsport for many companies. We are looking forward to seeing everyone at the 2017 Formula 1 VTB Russian Grand Prix in Sochi on 28-30 April.”

“The 2017 Formula 1 VTB Russian Grand Prix is not only a great event to attend to enjoy high-tech sporting battles and a wide range of entertainment, but is also a business platform of the highest level,” race promoter Sergey Vorobyev added.

“We are grateful to Bernie Ecclestone for making the decisions necessary for the development of this partnership and look forward to successfully working with Chase Carey and the new Formula 1 management team.”

Carey became F1’s new CEO last month following Ecclestone’s resignation, and was pleased to confirm the deal for VTB to become the Russian Grand Prix’s title sponsor.

“We are delighted to welcome VTB into the Formula One family as it becomes Event Title Partner of the Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix,” Carey said.

“VTB’s involvement will only add to the continued success of the event and we look forward to this being the start of a long and successful relationship.”