Langdon (TF), Capps (FC), McGaha (PS) and Ray (PSM) remain No. 1 qualifiers for NHRA Four-Wide Nationals finals on Sunday

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Friday’s top qualifiers in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway had so much fun that day that their runs held up to pace their respective classes after Saturday’s final two rounds of qualifying.

Shawn Langdon enters Sunday’s final eliminations No. 1 in Top Fuel, while other No. 1’s are Ron Capps (Funny Car), Chris McGaha (Pro Stock) and Michael Ray (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Langdon’s 3.753-second run at 321.81 mph in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster on Friday held up during Saturday’s final two rounds of qualifying to set the pace in Top Fuel.

“We’ve had a really good car this year in qualifying,” Langdon said. “The Al-Anabi team has done an excellent job qualifying, getting towards the top, and we were able to get a couple of No. 1 qualifiers.

“Today, it was just very critical to make good runs in the lanes just because of having the four-wide, where you make one run in each lane.”

Although it was his 15th career No. 1 qualifying position, the defending 2013 NHRA Top Fuel champion has struggled to reach the finals in the first five races this season. He’s still seeking his first win of 2014.

“It’s just a matter of getting the consistency back in the car, and that’s something we’ve been striving to do,” Langdon said. “Since we’ve been kind of assessing everything from the beginning of the year, our problem has been smoking the tires on Sunday, so getting the consistency back in the car is a big thing for us right now.”

With the unique four-car, side-by-side racing – hence why it’s called the Four-Wide Nationals – Langdon will race Steve Torrence, Spencer Massey and Terry McMillen in Sunday’s first round of eliminations.

In Funny Car, Capps’ run of 4.059 seconds at 314.24 mph on Friday held up Saturday, giving Capps the No. 1 spot for Sunday’s finals.

“Today was quite a bit different,” said Capps, who earned his first No. 1 of the season and 16th of his career. “It will be nice conditions for the fans but track-wise a little warm, and that’s great to have a crew chief like Rahn (Tobler).

“I’ve bragged about it before. I have loved and love working with crew chiefs that are old school. You know, they go back and look at the parts and analyze things and look at the big picture. Tobler’s a good guy to have at a Four-Wide with all that’s going on.”

Capps will face Del Worsham, Alexis DeJoria and Chad Head in Sunday’s opening round of eliminations.

In Pro Stock, once again Friday’s best speed and time held up during Saturday’s qualifying. McGaha’s run of 6.523 seconds at 213.10 mph earned him the second No. 1 qualifying position of his career.

“I know there were a lot of doubters who didn’t think that we could have instant success, but I don’t think we’d have done this deal if we didn’t think we’d be where we are now,” said McGaha, who will face Jimmy Alund, V Gaines and Larry Morgan in Sunday’s first round of eliminations.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Ray earned his second No. 1 qualifying spot in the last three races, having also been No. 1 at Gainesville. His 6.816 seconds run at 197.02 mph on Friday couldn’t be topped by his challengers on Saturday. Ray will face Mike Berry, Chaz Kennedy and Katie Sullivan in the first round.

“We came out this morning with a tune-up that we’d use for eliminations and I had the best sixty-foot time of my career with a 1.045 and that’s really hauling the mail,” said Ray. “The way I look at it if I am on my game there not a bike out there that is going to beat me.”

Interestingly, while they didn’t earn the No. 1 qualifying spots, Brittany Force (Top Fuel, 325.61 mph), Courtney Force (Funny Car, 316.01 mph) and Erica Enders-Stevens (Pro Stock, 213.13 mph) all had the top speeds in their respective classes.

All three are hoping to reach a historic milestone of 100 wins by female drivers in NHRA history. The mark heading into this weekend was 98 wins, with Alexis DeJoria (Funny Car) and Enders-Stevens the last females to win a national event in their respective classes, having done so two weeks ago at Las Vegas.

Final eliminations for Sunday’s race begin at Noon ET on Sunday.

Here are the first-round pairing for eliminations for the Fifth annual NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMax Dragway, the fifth of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.

Top Fuel — 1. Shawn Langdon, 3.753 seconds, 324.12 mph  vs. 16. Terry McMillen, 5.591, 120.19 vs. 8. Steve Torrence, 3.818, 322.81  vs. 9. Spencer Massey, 3.827, 321.42; 2. J.R. Todd, 3.781, 325.06  vs. 15. Bob Vandergriff, 4.949, 145.08 vs.7. Doug Kalitta, 3.816, 322.42  vs. 10. Pat Dakin, 3.841, 313.15;; 3. Khalid alBalooshi, 3.793, 324.98  vs. 14. Sidnei Frigo, 4.481, 180.07 vs. 6. Tony Schumacher, 3.815, 321.73  vs. 11. Richie Crampton, 3.855, 305.22; 4. Antron Brown, 3.794, 320.89  vs. 13. Clay Millican, 3.904, 292.58; 5. Brittany Force, 3.800, 325.61  vs. 12. Leah Pritchett, 3.856, 318.77.

Funny Car — 1. Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 4.059, 314.24  vs. 16. Chad Head, Toyota Camry, 4.381, 219.86  vs. 8. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.097, 300.80  vs. 9. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.113, 308.43; 2. Robert Hight, Ford Mustang, 4.074, 311.99  vs. 15. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.206, 286.80  vs. 7. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.088, 310.91  vs. 10. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.119, 303.84; 3. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.079, 310.55  vs. 14. Jeff Arend, Charger, 4.145, 306.05  vs. 6. Courtney Force, Mustang, 4.086, 316.01  vs. 11. John Force, Mustang, 4.130, 304.39; 4. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.080, 311.70  vs. 13. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.136, 305.98  vs. 5. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.084, 312.06  vs. 12. Blake Alexander, Charger, 4.132, 302.62.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Dale Creasy Jr., 4.439, 259.41.

Pro Stock — 1. Chris McGaha, Chevy Camaro, 6.523, 213.10  vs. 16. Larry Morgan, Ford Mustang, 7.142, 196.30  vs. 8. Jimmy Alund, Camaro, 6.550, 212.39  vs. 9. V. Gaines, Dodge Avenger, 6.560, 212.63; 2. Erica Enders-Stevens, Camaro, 6.524, 213.13  vs. 15. John Gaydosh Jr, Pontiac GXP, 7.093, 201.43  vs. 7. Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.546, 212.49  vs. 10. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 6.564, 211.93; 3. Dave Connolly, Camaro, 6.531, 212.59  vs. 14. Justin Humphreys, Mustang, 6.676, 208.36  vs. 6. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.542, 212.73  vs. 11. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.577, 211.46; 4. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.534, 212.79  vs. 13. Robert Patrick, Mustang, 6.616, 209.43  vs. 5. Jeg Coughlin, Dart, 6.538, 212.69  vs. 12. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.577, 211.06.

Pro Stock Motorcycle — 1. Michael Ray, Buell, 6.816, 197.02  vs. 16. Katie Sullivan, Suzuki, 6.961, 190.83  vs. 8. Mike Berry, Buell, 6.873, 193.29  vs. 9. Chaz Kennedy, Buell, 6.874, 195.31; 2. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.825, 196.27  vs. 15. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 6.956, 194.46  vs. 7. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.873, 195.19  vs. 10. Angie Smith, Buell, 6.875, 194.02; 3. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.842, 197.48  vs. 14. Hector Arana, Buell, 6.954, 193.99  vs. 6. Matt Smith, Buell, 6.856, 198.32  vs. 11. Shawn Gann, Buell, 6.892, 195.59; 4. Scotty Pollacheck, Buell, 6.843, 197.91  vs. 13. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.915, 192.82  vs. 5. John Hall, Buell, 6.846, 196.07  vs. 12. Adam Arana, Buell, 6.900, 194.10.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Steve Johnson, 6.998, 191.08; 18. Elvira Karlsson, 7.007, 190.00; 19. Freddie Camarena, 7.030, 193.88; 20. Justin Finley, 7.096, 192.91; 21. Joe DeSantis, 7.164, 186.54; 22. Junior Pippin, 7.331, 186.23.

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Ferrari’s F1 pre-season pace hard to find in Australian GP practice

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Following one of the most impressive pre-season performances in recent times, Ferrari headed into the new Formula 1 season facing the expectation and anticipation of a title challenge against Mercedes, the sport’s incumbent team to beat.

Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel finished as the two fastest drivers in Barcelona earlier this month, with the SF70H appearing to have locked in well to the new technical regulations for 2017.

For the first time since – one may argue – 2008, Ferrari entered the season looking like a serious title threat; perhaps even the fastest team.

Yet you would not have thought so judging by its Friday form in Australia as F1 got its official running underway for 2017.

FP1 saw both Vettel and Raikkonen lose track time due to some minor problems with their cars, the pair only getting in a couple of quick laps to leave them P5 and P6 overall.

Most expected a clearer picture to emerge in FP2 when both qualifying and race simulations would be completed by Mercedes and Ferrari, with Vettel and Raikkonen getting a chance to impress on low fuel and the ultra-soft tire compound.

But once again, they could not match the pace of three-time champion Lewis Hamilton, who led Mercedes’ charge. Vettel finished the session second and beat Valtteri Bottas in the second W08 – but it was the half a second gap to Hamilton that sparked concern. Perhaps Ferrari testing form wasn’t all that it seemed.

Vettel downplayed the importance of Ferrari’s Friday display after the session, telling reporters that it would be Saturday in qualifying when its battle with Mercedes would play out in full.

“Today is not really that important. It’s very important but not if you look at the final standings and one lap only,” Vettel said.

“I think overall it’s been OK. We had some small trouble this morning that cost us some track time, so it took us a bit longer to get into the groove.

“Overall I think we can still improve. The car does not yet feel as good as it should and as it can, so I’m confident we can do something.”

Raikkonen – fourth-fastest in FP2 – echoed his teammate’s sentiments.

“I didn’t really expect anything because it’s like in testing, we had no idea what others were doing, we only know what we are doing,” Raikkonen said.

“For sure we cold have done slightly more straightforward running today and small things here and there, but I think overall we have to be happy and we go forward tomorrow.”

The true difference between Ferrari and Mercedes will become clear in qualifying – but until then, it is feasible that the game of bluffs that played out through testing may just be continuing.

Hamilton boosted by ’99 per cent perfect’ F1 practice in Australia

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Lewis Hamilton was given a boost ahead of the first round of the 2017 Formula 1 season in Australia on Sunday by enjoying a near-perfect day of practice at Albert Park.

Hamilton endured a difficult end to pre-season testing in Barcelona two weeks ago as Ferrari drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel surged clear in the timesheets.

Ferrari’s pace was such that Hamilton said it was the favorite for victory this weekend in Melbourne, with the SF70H car produced by the Italian manufacturer appearing to have adjusted best to the new regulations for 2017.

Hamilton offered a plot twist in practice on Friday, though, heading up a Mercedes one-two in FP1 before leading once again in FP2, finishing half a second clear of the pack.

“It’s great to be back in Australia and I’m super happy to be back in the car, particularly after a first day like that. It was 99 per cent perfect,” Hamilton said.

“After struggling with some issues in Barcelona, we didn’t know if we’d have the same thing here. What’s really encouraging is that we’ve arrived at the track just a week later and the car is exactly where it should be. It’s feeling great out there and the guys have done a fantastic job.

“We’ve shown good form so far on both the long and short runs and we got every lap done that we wanted to. The tires performed really well today too.”

Hamilton refused to read too much into Mercedes’ advantage over Ferrari in practice, believing the true difference between the two teams will only become clear in qualifying on Saturday.

“Coming into today, we really didn’t know where we’d be,” Hamilton said. “We knew from FP1 that the Ferrari’s weren’t at their maximum. Of course, in FP2 all of a sudden they were quick. We’ll see tomorrow how it really stands.

“I feel very much at home in Melbourne. There’s always a great buzz here and a lot of support. I’m just really happy to see everyone and receive their positive energy. I’ll be pushing as hard as I can to win this race.”

Qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from 2am ET on Saturday morning.

Williams’ Massa, Stroll prep for new phases of their careers (VIDEO)

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In the video linked above, Williams Martini Racing’s Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll look ahead to what should be an intriguing 2017 Formula 1 season given their respective stages of their careers.

Massa, 35, returns to the Mercedes-powered team after what was meant to be a retirement following last season’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. But the subsequent retirement of Nico Rosberg at Mercedes AMG Petronas opened the door for Massa to come back once Valtteri Bottas left to replace Rosberg there, and has given Massa a second ‘farewell tour.’

Stroll, meanwhile, is just 18 – born a year and three days (October 29, 1998) after Williams won its last World Championship in 1997 with Stroll’s Canadian countryman Jacques Villeneuve. Having blitzed the junior categories, particularly the FIA European F3 Championship last year, Stroll’s arrival to F1 comes with some fanfare and some question marks as he’s been fortunate to have significant family support.

The two of them make up Williams’ team this season and along with deputy team principal Claire Williams, they look ahead to what is to come in 2017.

You can see this pair and the rest of the F1 grid as part of NBCSN’s coverage from Melbourne for the Australian Grand Prix. All times are linked here.

Lewis Hamilton completes Friday F1 practice double in Australia

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Lewis Hamilton continued his march at the top of the timesheets in practice for the Formula 1 season-opener in Australia on Friday afternoon, leading the way once again for Mercedes.

Hamilton entered the weekend unsure about his chances after an impressive display from Ferrari through pre-season testing, prompting the Briton to pick the Italian team as the favorite for victory in Melbourne.

Hamilton set the pace through first practice at Albert Park as the new-style F1 cars got their first official running, heading up a one-two finish for Mercedes with Valtteri Bottas in tow.

FP2 was expected to offer more insight into Ferrari’s true pace after it opted to limit its running through first practice, but it was Hamilton who led the way once again.

Running on the ultra-soft tire, Hamilton produced a stunning lap of 1:23.620 to finish half a second clear of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, the German driver unable to respond to his rival’s pace.

Bottas continued his impressive start to life with Mercedes, finishing the session third-quickest, while Kimi Raikkonen rounded out a Mercedes-Ferrari top-four lock-out in the second SF70H car.

Despite Ferrari’s inability to challenge Mercedes, it was Red Bull that came away from FP2 as the biggest disappointment after Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen had scruffy sessions en route to P5 and P6 respectively. Verstappen had been on a quick lap and due to improve his time, only to run wide at Turn 12 and narrowly avoid losing control.

Carlos Sainz Jr. finished a solid seventh for Toro Rosso ahead of Haas driver Romain Grosjean, who was fortunate to keep his car out of the wall as the American team’s brake issues arose once again. Nico Hulkenberg was ninth for Renault, with Daniil Kvyat rounding out the top 10.

FP2 was red flagged early on following a big shunt for Jolyon Palmer at the final corner. The Briton lost the rear-end of his car coming through the right-hander, causing him to slide into the wall and suffer a large amount of damage to his car. Felipe Massa was another driver to hit trouble, with his Williams FW40 grinding to a halt midway through the session, forcing the Brazilian to end his day early, while Marcus Ericsson spun off with five minutes to go, beaching his Sauber.