Remember the name Patrick Staropoli: Aspiring doctor by day, winning race car driver at night

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So much has been said over the years about Ryan Newman being one of the first full-fledged college graduates to race in NASCAR.

And he has the sheepskin from Purdue University, touting his Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering, to prove it.

But Newman may soon be knocked off his lofty educated throne.

Remember the name Patrick Staropoli – you may soon be talking about and seeing him in NASCAR’s three pro series — well, after he completes a few more years of medical school.

You see, Staropoli isn’t just a race car driver, he’s also on track to become a full-fledged MD in a few years.

You can just hear it now on the radio or TV: “And starting on the pole for the Daytona 500, Patrick – uh, err, make that Dr. Patrick Staropoli.”

That’s right, a former honors student at Harvard (where his degree is in neurobiology), Staropoli is now in his second year of medical school at the University of Miami.

But his alter-ego – “The Racing Doc” sounds good – is also coming off a great run last weekend in the K&N Pro Series West race at Irwindale Speedway, about 30 miles away from Auto Club Speedway.

Staropoli not only competed in the race, he actually won the whole darned thing, as well (see video below).

In fact, in his first season on the K&N tour, the suburban Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native has finished no lower than 11th in the first four races (11th at New Smyrna, eighth at Daytona, sixth at Bristol and his March 22 cross-country triumph at Irwindale.

But perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of Staropoli’s story is that he requested a semester away from school to do independent research for the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, as well as driving for Bill McAnally Racing, which is part of the Michael Waltrip Developmental Driver team.

“I shuffled everything around in my life, taking time off school,” Staropoli told NASCAR.com, which interviewed him a few days before the Irwindale event. “I subleased my apartment in Miami so I can spend time with my race team, started working on the cars and really immersed myself as much as possible.

“There’s definitely a lot of pressure to perform, but I feel like whether it was interviewing for Harvard or getting into med school, or now trying to make this happen on the racing side, I’m kind of used to it and up to the challenge.”

Ever since he first started racing go-karts in 2003, Staropoli has been nothing short of outstanding. Consider his outstanding overall racing record, including karts, Cyclones, FastKids, Fasttruck, Late Models and now K&N: 34 wins, 103 top-5′s, 127 top-10′s in 143 races.

Staropoli’s big break came last year when he outdistanced more than 6,000 entries in the PEAK Stock Car Dream Challenge, with the top prize being a one-race ride in a K&N Pro West Series race.

Shortly thereafter, he caught the eyes of Waltrip’s organization and Peak-sponsored Danica Patrick, which ultimately led to what has now been five K&N starts thus far in 2014 (and six overall in his career).

“PEAK thought this competition would be a cool way to meet some unique racers,” Waltrip told NASCAR.com. “I think we met one. It’s just really, really fun for me to see the results of this competition and we had a whole lot of people to chose from.

“There were four or five on the track whose skills were similar with Patrick, who was at the top of the class. But he just had something about him, just a glow, an energy, a respect and appreciation for it that made a difference for me.”

Patrick’s father Nick had a lot to do not only with his son’s decision to race, but also to become a doctor. For it was the elder Staropoli who was seriously hurt while competing himself in a crash in 2001 at Hialeah Speedway in the family’s native Florida.

Patrick, then 12 years old, saw his father’s wreck (the throttle stock on his race car, sending him head-on and full-speed into the racetrack wall). And after watching his dad go through four months of rehab, Patrick decided to become a doctor.

“I remember as a kid being in awe of the whole process,” Staropoli said. “That stayed in my mind. And now I’m at the very place learning medicine where they saved my dad’s life. Kinda weird how it’s all worked out.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Below are videos of Staropoli’s first win last week at Irwindale, followed by winning the Peak challenge.

 

 

 

 

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Daniel Ricciardo frustrated to crash out of home F1 qualifying

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Daniel Ricciardo made no secret of his frustration after crash out of Formula 1 qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix, resigning himself to a 10th-place start for his home race on Sunday.

Ricciardo entered the Melbourne weekend aiming to become the first Australian to finish on the podium at his home race since the event became part of the F1 world championship in 1985.

Despite struggling with the setup on his RB13 car on Friday, Ricciardo looked poised to claim a top-five grid slot for Sunday’s race, only to lose control of his car at Turn 14 in Q3 and end the session in the wall.

“That was a tough one today. I don’t crash into the barriers often and the last place I want to do that is at home,” Ricciardo said after the session.

“But I feel I crashed for the right reason, as I was basically pushing and trying to find the limit and these things happen, so let’s say I’m not disappointed by the approach, it was just more of a frustrating outcome, starting 10th instead of being under the top five.”

Ever the optimist, Ricciardo said the difficult qualifying will only serve as greater motivation to fight back up the order and give his home fans a result to celebrate on Sunday.

“I knew the crowds would have also preferred to see me further up the grid and it would have been nice to put on a better performance than that but tomorrow is where the points are,” Ricciardo said.

“It’s a chance to create a bigger headline if I have a good race so that’s what will motivate me to do better tomorrow. I made it a bit more difficult for myself but it’s going to be alright.

“To get a good start in the race will be the key. I saved a set of ultra-softs in Q2, I know that not everyone in front of me has, so maybe that gives me a chance.”

The Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from midnight ET.

Valtteri Bottas disappointed with P3 start for Mercedes F1 debut

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Valtteri Bottas came away from qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix feeling disappointed despite securing third place on the grid for his first Formula 1 race as a Mercedes driver.

Bottas joined Mercedes over the winter following world champion Nico Rosberg’s decision to retire from racing, and made his first official race weekend appearance for the Silver Arrows on Friday.

The ex-Williams driver made a splash in qualifying by running teammate Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel close, but was left to settle for third on the grid after finishing three-tenths of a second off the pole time.

“Third position is not ideal. In general I’m not happy with the result,” Bottas admitted after qualifying.

“But what I’m really happy about and proud about [is] what the team has done again with this car. I only saw a very small part of the preparation with the new car and the new era of Formula 1, and it’s really nice to see that all the work has paid off and we’re fighting at the very front.

“It seems to be very close this year, especially here. Myself I didn’t get any perfect laps in, so not that satisfied.

“Tomorrow’s the day that matters. It seems like in the race starts we’ve been quite strong. If we can keep that form I had in practice, and have a nice and clean race and get some really good points.”

Bottas’ best finish in Australia currently stands at fifth place in 2014 with Williams, with the Finn never qualifying any higher than sixth at Albert Park in his four previous attempts.

The Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from midnight ET.

Vettel: Front-row grid slot for Australia proof of Ferrari’s progress

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Sebastian Vettel believes that his charge to second place on the grid for Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix acts as proof of the progress Ferrari’s Formula 1 operation has made over the winter.

Vettel arrived in Australia as one of the favorites to take pole following an impressive showing in pre-season testing, prompting three-time champion Lewis Hamilton to name Ferrari as the leading team.

Hamilton rallied in qualifying to take pole position for Mercedes, beating Vettel by two-tenths of a second, but the Ferrari driver managed to fend off Valtteri Bottas in the second Silver Arrow and clinch a front-row berth.

The result marked Ferrari’s best qualifying result since the 2015 Singapore Grand Prix – Vettel’s and Ferrari’s last pole and victory in F1 – and the German was encouraged by the result.

“I think we have a good car. I think we are working well as a team,” Vettel said.

“Things are improving. Obviously it’s nice to see that things are working, the car is working. I had a mixed day yesterday, but the confidence in the car was there from testing and I think we showed that again today.”

Vettel conceded that he felt his final lap in qualifying could have been faster, but doubts it would have been enough to catch pole-sitter Hamilton.

“In the end I was not entirely happy with my lap. I was pretty happy with the end, maybe not so much with the opening of the lap where we lost a bit too much,” Vettel said.

“But I think Lewis did a very good lap. I would have loved to, but I don’t think pole was up for grabs. Tomorrow I think we can do something in the race. The car feels good, we’ve improved it so the pace should be much better than it was yesterday when we had practice.

“It’s been a big winter for us, lots of change we’ve gone through as a team in the last 12 months, and for the better. I think the team is getting stronger.

“Obviously everyone is pushing very hard and it’s not so easy to come here with a long journey to get to Australia, but I think people are fired up and we are motivated for tomorrow.

“I think it’s the first good opportunity.”

Hamilton buoyed by sixth Australia F1 pole, ready for tight race

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Three-time Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton was buoyed by his charge to pole position in Australian Grand Prix qualifying on Saturday, but is braced for a tight race at the front of the pack.

Hamilton saw off a challenge from Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and new Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas to capture his sixth pole at Albert Park, and the 62nd of his F1 career.

Hamilton had doubts over Mercedes’ advantage over Ferrari heading into the new year, making his charge to pole all the more meaningful as he paid tribute to the team members after qualifying.

“It’s been a fantastic weekend so far. It’s quite amazing to come here for I think the 11th time, and it feels like it was only yesterday that I came here and had my first race here in 2007,” Hamilton said.

“I’m just incredibly proud of my team. This rule change has been huge and such a massive challenge for everyone. The guys have just worked so hard to make this car what it is today.”

Despite taking pole by almost three-tenths of a second in Q3, Hamilton is braced for a close fight on Sunday with Vettel and Bottas, the latter starting his first race for Mercedes from third on the grid.

“Valtteri did a fantastic job given it’s his first qualifying session with the team. He did a great job and it’s great for Mercedes,” Hamilton said.

“Looking forward to the race, it’s close between us all. As you can see, there’s going to be a tight race this year I think.

“I think tomorrow is about putting all the work that’s gone in over the winter, all the work that’s gone through testing and this whole weekend and really put it to work tomorrow.

“I’ll make sure I get a good night’s sleep and come back tomorrow stronger than ever.”

The Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from midnight ET on Sunday.