Robert Hight, second from bottom, won the Funny Car class in Sunday's finals of the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C. (Photo courtesy of NHRA)

Brown (Top Fuel), Hight (Funny Car), Alund (Pro Stock) and Hines (Motorcycle) rule finals of NHRA Four-Wide Nationals

1 Comment

Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Jimmy Alund (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) won their respective classes in Sunday’s finals of the fifth-annual NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C.

In the unique four-car, side-by-side format, Brown (3.800 seconds, 317.42 mph) held off No. 1 qualifier Shawn Langdon (3.800 seconds, 322.11 mph), J.R. Todd (3.799, 318.32) and Doug Kalitta (4.587, 172.04).

Even though Langdon had a higher mph, a great jump at the starting line by Brown earned him his second race of the season, 27th Top Fuel win, 43rd overall NHRA win and his first-ever four-wide victory.

“When you go into a final and there’s two Kalitta cars and an Al-Anabi car, it’s pretty much stacked against you because the Kalitta team and Alan [Johnson]’s team work together,” said Brown, who races for Don Schumacher Racing. “It’s like running three teammates’ car against one, so they definitely had the advantage, but you go out there and do what you do. We just keep our head down and keep it to the grind, and we put our best foot forward today, and we were able to edge out and become the victors.”

In Funny Car, Hight (4.074 seconds, 311.34 mph) won his second race (in four final round appearances) of the season and also his second career four-wide triumph.

He defeated teammate, father-in-law and team president John Force (4.132 seconds, 307.51), Alexis DeJoria (4.098, 301.67) and Tim Wilkerson (6.631, 98.01).

Hight’s winning margin over Force was about 24 feet. He becomes the first two-time Funny Car winner at the Four-Wide event.

“This has been a great weekend,” Hight said. “We love coming to zMAX Dragway. What a better place to bring potential sponsors than this facility. John and I getting to the final made it that much more special. It’s my fourth final in a row and we’ve only missed two rounds in Pomona to start the season.

“You would think three Ford Funny Cars in the final would be pretty good odds. With the way (DeJoria has) been running and winning races it’s no gimme. That was a big one.”

It was the 31st win of Hight’s career. During the week, he serves as president of John Force Racing and is the husband of Force’s oldest daughter Adria.

John Force earned his 89th runner-up finish and is seeking a record 17th Funny Car championship in the final year that he’ll be sponsored by Castrol Oil and Ford Motor Company.

In Pro Stock, series newcomer Alund rallied from a bad start in his first final round to also earn his first career NHRA win.

Alund (6.562 seconds, 211.59 mph) defeated Shane Gray (6.563, 211.69), Vincent Nobile (6.667 209.46) and Erica Enders-Stevens (11.719, 79.19).

Alund’s winning margin was about 14 feet in front of Gray. A native of Sweden, he becomes the first European winner and only the fourth non-American winner in NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series history.

An eight-time FIA European Drag Racing Pro Stock champ, Alund is filling in this season for four-time NHRA Pro Stock champ Greg Anderson, who is recovering from heart surgery and isn’t expected to return to racing until next month, at the earliest.

“Since I got here (in the U.S.) the very first time I didn’t feel pressure,” Alund said. “I knew if I did my best that I could do much more. They’re [KB Racing] professionals and they gave me a great race car. I think we work well together.”

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Hines (6.859 seconds, 196.10 mph) defeated Eddie Krawiec (6.874, 196.13), Scotty Pollacheck (6.966, 191.73) and John Hall (7.547, 133.32).

It was Hines’ first win of the season and his first-ever Four-Wide triumph. He won by less than five feet over Krawiec in capturing his 33rd career NHRA victory.

“This does a lot for my confidence because I’ve never had a round win here [at the Four-Wide],” Hines said. “In fact, Charlotte was bad to me. It took four races before I broke through for a win at the two-wide race in the fall. At this race there is so much going on that you never know what’s going to happen. Some guys take a long time to stage and some guys want to get up there as quickly as they can. You have to be prepared for anything.”

Coming into the weekend offered the possibility that a significant milestone may be reached, but it did not occur, that of 100 all-time pro event wins by female drivers.

The amount heading into the Four-Wide Nationals was 98, and it remains that number afterward. The next chance to get closer to, if not achieve that milestone, will be in two weeks in the NHRA O’Reilly Auto Parts SpringNationals, April 25-27, at Royal Purple Racway in Baytown, Texas.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Here are the final statistics for professional categories at the fifth-annual NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway, the fifth of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.

FINAL FINISHING ORDER (1-16):

TOP FUEL: 1.  Antron Brown; 2.  Shawn Langdon; 3.  J.R. Todd; 4.  Doug Kalitta; 5.  Tony Schumacher; 6.  Spencer Massey; 7.  Khalid alBalooshi; 8.  Brittany Force; 9.  Steve Torrence; 10.  Clay Millican; 11.  Bob Vandergriff; 12.  Richie Crampton; 13.  Leah Pritchett; 14.  Terry McMillen; 15.  Sidnei Frigo; 16.  Pat Dakin.

FUNNY CAR: 1.  Robert Hight; 2.  John Force; 3.  Alexis DeJoria; 4.  Tim Wilkerson; 5.  Del Worsham; 6.  Tommy Johnson Jr.; 7.  Blake Alexander; 8.  Matt Hagan; 9.  Courtney Force; 10.  Ron Capps; 11.  Jack Beckman; 12.  Bob Tasca III; 13.  Chad Head; 14.  Tony Pedregon; 15.  Jeff Arend; 16.  Cruz Pedregon.

PRO STOCK: 1.  Jimmy Alund; 2.  Shane Gray; 3.  Vincent Nobile; 4.  Erica Enders-Stevens; 5.  Jason Line; 6.  Chris McGaha; 7.  Jeg Coughlin; 8.  Allen Johnson; 9.  V. Gaines; 10.  Dave Connolly; 11.  Rodger Brogdon; 12.  Jonathan Gray; 13.  Larry Morgan; 14.  Justin Humphreys; 15.  Robert Patrick.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1.  Andrew Hines; 2.  Eddie Krawiec; 3.  Scotty Pollacheck; 4.  John Hall; 5.  Hector Arana Jr; 6.  Chaz Kennedy; 7.  Mike Berry; 8.  Hector Arana; 9.  Jerry Savoie; 10.  Shawn Gann; 11.  Angie Smith; 12.  Michael Ray; 13.  Matt Smith; 14.  Adam Arana; 15.  Jim Underdahl; 16.  Katie Sullivan.

 

FINAL ROUND RESULTS:

Top Fuel — Antron Brown, 3.800 seconds, 317.42 mph def. Shawn Langdon, 3.800 seconds, 322.11 mph and J.R. Todd, 3.799 seconds, 318.32 mph and Doug Kalitta, 4.587 seconds, 172.04 mph

Funny Car — Robert Hight, Ford Mustang, 4.074, 311.34 def. John Force, Mustang, 4.132, 307.51 and Alexis DeJoria, Toyota Camry, 4.098, 301.67 and Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 6.631, 98.01

Pro Stock — Jimmy Alund, Chevy Camaro, 6.562, 211.59 def. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.563, 211.69 and Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.667, 209.46 and Erica Enders-Stevens, Camaro, 11.719, 79.19

Pro Stock Motorcycle — Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.859, 196.10 def. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.874, 196.13 and Scotty Pollacheck, Buell, 6.966, 191.73 and John Hall, Buell, 7.547, 133.32

 

FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL:

ROUND ONE — Antron Brown, 3.801, 323.04 and Brittany Force, 3.814, 323.19 def. Clay Millican, 3.983, 285.05 and Leah Pritchett, 4.537, 194.83; Tony Schumacher, 3.815, 324.12 and Khalid alBalooshi, 3.926, 289.88 def. Richie Crampton, 4.517, 237.00 and Sidnei Frigo, 4.970, 148.46; J.R. Todd, 3.783, 324.51 and Doug Kalitta, 3.795, 325.69 def. Bob Vandergriff, 4.173, 89.05 and Pat Dakin, 6.779, 97.50; Shawn Langdon, 3.791, 321.27 and Spencer Massey, 3.840, 322.65 def. Steve Torrence, 3.860, 315.27 and Terry McMillen, 4.621, 170.62;

SEMIFINALS — Langdon, 3.821, 315.86 and Brown, 3.988, 280.84 def. Massey, 4.066, 238.34 and Force, 5.802, 145.50; Todd, 3.822, 322.73 and Kalitta, 3.847, 323.81 def. Schumacher, 3.847, 317.94 and alBalooshi, 4.154, 254.71;

FINAL — Brown, 3.800, 317.42 def. Langdon, 3.800, 322.11, Todd, 3.799, 318.32 and Kalitta, 4.587, 172.04.

FUNNY CAR:

ROUND ONE — Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 4.109, 311.70 and Blake Alexander, Dodge Charger, 4.137, 304.25 def. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.310, 256.36 and Cruz Pedregon, Toyota Camry, broke; John Force, Mustang, 4.046, 312.71 and Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.113, 312.57 def. Courtney Force, Mustang, 4.104, 315.12 and Jeff Arend, Charger, 5.068, 151.75; Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.089, 307.72 and Del Worsham, Camry, 4.096, 311.34 def. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.125, 309.98 and Chad Head, Camry, 4.146, 304.25; Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.087, 314.75 and Robert Hight, Mustang, 4.115, 311.34 def. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.138, 310.41 and Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.436, 97.55;

SEMIFINALS — DeJoria, 4.087, 310.84 and Wilkerson, 4.125, 308.21 def. Worsham, 4.128, 308.14 and Alexander, 4.151, 299.20; J. Force, 4.123, 309.63 and Hight, 4.139, 305.98 def. Johnson Jr., 4.164, 289.14 and Hagan, DQ;

FINAL — Hight, 4.074, 311.34 def. J. Force, 4.132, 307.51, DeJoria, 4.098, 301.67 and Wilkerson, 6.631, 98.01.

PRO STOCK:

ROUND ONE — Jeg Coughlin, Dodge Dart, 6.681, 210.28 and Shane Gray, Chevy Camaro, 6.566, 211.69 def. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.947, 165.56 and Robert Patrick, Ford Mustang, DQ; Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.579, 210.70 and Jason Line, Camaro, 6.560, 211.76 def. Dave Connolly, Camaro, 6.650, 211.76 and Justin Humphreys, Mustang, 6.679, 207.05; Erica Enders-Stevens, Camaro, 6.546, 212.33 and Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.554, 211.46 def. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 6.598, 210.77; Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.545, 212.56 and Jimmy Alund, Camaro, 6.554, 211.53 def. V. Gaines, Dodge Avenger, 6.606, 210.57 and Larry Morgan, Mustang, 6.641, 208.62;

SEMIFINALS — Enders-Stevens, 6.559, 211.30 and Nobile, 6.603, 210.21 def. Line, 7.482, 141.71 and Johnson, 17.414, 49.25; Alund, 6.563, 211.43 and S. Gray, 6.555, 211.96 def. McGaha, 19.450, 43.54 and Coughlin, 6.542, 211.63;

FINAL — Alund, 6.562, 211.59 def. S. Gray, 6.563, 211.69, Nobile, 6.667, 209.46 and Enders-Stevens, 11.719, 79.19.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE:

ROUND ONE — Scotty Pollacheck, Buell XB12R, 6.885, 193.46 and John Hall, Buell XB9R, 6.835, 195.96 def. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki TL1000, 6.899, 193.88 and Adam Arana, XB9R, 6.943, 192.08; Andrew Hines, Harley V-Rod, 6.820, 196.27 and Hector Arana, XB9R, 6.933, 196.70 def. Shawn Gann, XB9R, 6.927, 193.29 and Matt Smith, XB9R, 6.831, 196.85; Chaz Kennedy, XB9R, 6.903, 192.33 and Mike Berry, XB9R, 6.928, 192.22 def. Michael Ray, XB9R, 10.233, 80.79 and Katie Sullivan, TL1000, DQ; Hector Arana Jr, XB9R, 6.805, 196.22 and Eddie Krawiec, V-Rod, 6.817, 196.53 def. Angie Smith, XB9R, 6.943, 192.52 and Jim Underdahl, Suzuki GSXR, 8.632, 111.13;

SEMIFINALS — Hall, 6.869, 193.38 and Pollacheck, 6.901, 193.43 def. Kennedy, 6.920, 190.35 and Berry, 6.968, 191.16; Krawiec, 6.840, 194.91 and Hines, 6.851, 194.83 def. Arana Jr, 6.879, 195.14 and H. Arana, 6.980, 195.28;

FINAL — Hines, 6.859, 196.10 def. Krawiec, 6.874, 196.13, Pollacheck, 6.966, 191.73 and Hall, 7.547, 133.32.

 

OVERALL POINTS STANDINGS:

Top Fuel: 1.  Doug Kalitta, 485; 2.  Antron Brown, 460; 3.  Steve Torrence, 347; 4.  Shawn Langdon, 330; 5.  Tony Schumacher, 316; 6.  Khalid alBalooshi, 290; 7.  Spencer Massey, 288; 8.  Brittany Force, 246; 9.  Richie Crampton, 189; 10.  J.R. Todd, 183.

Funny Car: 1.  Robert Hight, 488; 2.  John Force, 453; 3.  Alexis DeJoria, 375; 4.  Ron Capps, 282; 5.  Del Worsham, 277; 6.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 264; 7.  Matt Hagan, 257; 8.  (tie) Courtney Force, 244; Tim Wilkerson, 244; 10.  Jack Beckman, 234.

Pro Stock: 1.  Erica Enders-Stevens, 426; 2.  Jason Line, 384; 3.  Allen Johnson, 370; 4.  Vincent Nobile, 339; 5.  Shane Gray, 334; 6.  (tie) Dave Connolly, 308; V. Gaines, 308; 8.  Jimmy Alund, 282; 9.  Jeg Coughlin, 270; 10.  Chris McGaha, 258.

Pro Stock Motorcycle: 1.  Andrew Hines, 180; 2.  Scotty Pollacheck, 169; 3.  John Hall, 152; 4.  Eddie Krawiec, 151; 5.  Hector Arana Jr, 145; 6.  Steve Johnson, 124; 7.  Michael Ray, 107; 8.  Matt Smith, 97; 9.  (tie) Hector Arana, 83; Chaz Kennedy, 83.

 

Hawksworth’s team’s labor hasn’t yet borne fruit of better results

04CJ3891
Photo: IndyCar
Leave a comment

What do Jack Hawksworth and Allen Iverson have in common?

Practice, man.

“The Answer’s” famous – or perhaps infamous – “We talkin’ ‘bout practice, man” riff a number of years ago remains the go-to line whenever practice comes up in conversation.

It’s practice where the seeds of success are sown for a team when it comes to game day.

And for Hawksworth and the No. 41 ABC Supply Co. Honda team, it’s been practice where the team has starred in the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series.

But thus far, following practice, it’s been a case where the rest of the weekend has gone downhill for a variety of small but niggling reasons.

“If it was based off practice one I’d be leading the points!” Hawksworth told NBC Sports Thursday, and the thing is, he’s not joking.

In the three road or street course races this season, Hawksworth has ended second (St. Petersburg), third (Long Beach) and second (Barber) in first practice.

He’s followed it up with fellow top-10 runs in second practice of eighth, ninth and second again, respectively.

But come qualifying, it’s gone awry.

Starts of ninth, 20th and 14th have followed and in the races, it’s gone even worse with results lower than his grid spot: 11th, 21st and 19th. Toss out the Phoenix oval, because that was a nightmare weekend for him.

If ever there was a case where stats are misleading, it’s here, because Hawksworth and the team are clearly better than what they’ve been able to produce results-wise this year, and also far more gelled as a unit now compared to where they were 12 months ago as a new collective group.

“Our team is full of good people; we really believe in the 41 garage,” he said. “We did a lot of hard work over the winter. We haven’t seen the fruits of it yet.

“It looks like we’re a long way away, but we’re incredibly close. It’s a few small details, little tweaks and we’ll be at the front. It’s imminent. We’ve not shown it yet but we know it’s coming.”

The big change occurred this weekend was seeing Daniele Cucchiaroni promoted to lead race engineer on the No. 41 car, replacing the departed Dan Hobbs.

Hawksworth and Cucchiaroni worked together at Bryan Herta Autosport in 2014 and he joined the Foyt team last year with Takuma Sato’s effort. Hawksworth called him one of the brightest minds in the paddock.

He said it’s not the operating window of the Honda aero kit that the team has missed, but it has just missed getting the setup right for the qualifying and the race, where mere thousandths of a second make a difference.

“The cars are sensitive to track temperature… the conditions… it’s easy to get outside the window, but our problem hasn’t been balance or anything,” he said.

“You’re completely right in that we’ve had very quick cars at times. We haven’t understood the (Firestone) reds yet. Really, it’s just executing the qualifying and the race, with having a quick car and right car. It sounds crazy, but it’s worked out that way.

“There’s many reasons for that. We’re narrowing them down for the next couple races. It’s just small but vital things that have tripped us up. It’s been frustrating. Different at each race as well.”

Hawksworth also said he was doing everything possible to get out of the way at Barber when leaders Graham Rahal and Simon Pagenaud were trying to overtake him in the final stages.

“What happened there was a funny deal. To be honest, with the day we were having, the last thing I want to do is get in the way of leaders,” he said.

“I really don’t care who wins if it’s not me. But for courtesy, you don’t want to wreck the leaders.

“So I ducked out of Turn 5 to go to the left, that was the only place I could go. I saw Graham and Simon were side-by-side. If I’d have gone to the outside or stayed in the middle I’d have caused a crash. The only place to go was the inside. Rahal tried to get a tow off of me but he misjudged it and clipped my rear pods. That’s just racing.”

Hawksworth’s race was compromised to begin with when Mikhail Aleshin on the start clipped him, after Carlos Munoz clipped Aleshin. All three had to restart at the back of the field.

“The problem is mate, when you qualify (poorly), you’re in the middle of the pack. So we were on the bad side of the 26 and the 7, then you go to the back and toss around all day… much the story of our season.

“I spoke to Brian (Barnhart, Race Director) about it. The rule is, if you don’t reclaim your position by start of the pace lap, you automatically start at the back. With me being at the back, but going onto the grass to avoid running into the side of Aleshin, they deemed that the pace lap. It was a rules thing.”

Hawksworth said he’d like to see the gray areas of the rulebook examined for future use to try to remove warnings and unclear calls as best as possible.

“I’d beat on the drum of making it as black and white as possible. If you cross a line, you cross a line. We need to simplify the rules as much as we can to where things are a straightforward decision. There still seems to be a bit of the gray area.

“Still, it’s up to the series. It’d be easier for them too (to go black and white).”

Heading into May, Hawksworth sits 20th in points (50 points) while Takuma Sato is 40 points ahead, but in ninth.

Hawksworth’s season to date:

	FP1	FP2	FP3	QUAL	WU	RACE
STP	2	8	2	9	21	11
PHX	22	21	-	17	-	19
LB	3	9	11	20	17	21
BAR	2	2	11	14	8	19

Hakkinen sure Rosberg is ready to become F1 world champion

SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 17:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP celebrates his win with his team during the Formula One Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 17, 2016 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
© Getty Images
Leave a comment

Two-time Formula 1 world champion Mika Hakkinen believes that current series leader Nico Rosberg is now ready to follow in his footsteps and win his first title in 2016.

Rosberg has finished second to Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton in the past two seasons, taking the championship to the final round in 2014.

Having won the last six grands prix, Rosberg is in the form of his career and is the early leader in the 2016 championship, enjoying a 36-point advantage over Hamilton after three races.

Rosberg has cooled talk of the championship with 18 races still to go in the season, but Hakkinen now believes the German is ready to win his first world title.

“I remember how he walked around as a four or five-year-old with a small helmet in his hand,” Hakkinen told Spox.

“When I see him now, I’m very proud of him. He has developed fantastically. He has became a man and a father with the responsibility of a family.

“What many people underestimate [is that] the path to being world class is incredibly long, arduous and painful. The emphasis is on pain. Since it does not matter if your own father himself was world champion or not.

“Although he has his friends and family on the side, at the end you are still alone, with an immense burden, especially mentally, to cope.

“The physique and talent were always there. Now he has the goal clearly in mind and says with conviction: ‘Yes, I want to become world champion!’ He has risen to the challenge.

“Therefore my answer is yes, he is ready for the world title.”

Alex Tagliani will make No. 35 lucky for five AJ Foyt fans

AlfeRacing-35-Speedway-Overhead
Photo: Alfe Racing
Leave a comment

On May 10th, Alfe Heat Treating will unveil the No. 35 “Tribute to AJ Foyt” IndyCar at the Foyt Wine Vault in Speedway Ind.

It’s the formal reveal of the car that was announced when Alex Tagliani’s month of May program was announced in March.

“We want to honor the fans of IndyCar and AJ Foyt by inviting them to partake in a special event with us and share in the excitement surrounding the 100th Running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” Ryan Westman, regional sales manager and director of motorsports for Fort Wayne-based Alfe Heat Treating, said in a release.

The event will be a private viewing of the tribute car along with the opportunity to meet and take photos with Tagliani, Takuma Sato, and Jack Hawksworth, all drivers for A.J. Foyt Enterprises.

The tribute car will be driven by Tagliani in the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the Indianapolis 500. It bears the No. 35 for the number of consecutive starts Foyt made in the Indy 500 from 1958 through 1992. The number also has the added significance of being Foyt’s birth year, all of which the team hopes will be a lucky omen.

Before the racing begins, five race fans will have already experienced the luck by entering a Facebook contest one week prior to the special unveiling event. Alfe Heating is sponsoring a contest for which five winners will receive two tickets for the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indy on May 14th.

Beginning at noon Eastern time through 4 pm ET on May 3, fans will have the opportunity to answer a question alternately on the Alfe Racing and AJ Foyt Racing Facebook page, with the first person answering each question correctly earning a ticket for two to the May 10th unveiling and May 14 race.

Winners must be 21 years or older, or if younger accompanied by an adult aged 21 or older.

Follow: @FantasyRace

Gutierrez hoping for more in Russia after finally banking first finish

during practice ahead of the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 18, 2016 in Melbourne, Australia.
Getty Images
Leave a comment

An accident in the Australian Grand Prix and brake issues in the Bahrain Grand Prix was not the kind of return to competition Esteban Gutierrez was expecting.

After a one-year hiatus and two failures to finish in 2016, the 24-year-old Mexican driver for Formula 1’s new American team was finally running at the end of a race.

As he heads into this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix, Gutierrez is keen to start getting any sort of momentum going.

“For sure it was a relief to finish the race finally,” Gutierrez said in Thursday’s FIA Press Conference.

“It’s been a frustrating start for me, a lot of interruptions over the weekends, but I wasn’t satisfied completely just by finishing the race of course, I want much more than that.”

Gutierrez finished the Chinese Grand Prix 14th, as the first driver one lap down to the leaders in the No. 21 Haas VF-16 Ferrari.

Notably, that is precisely where he finished his most recent five races of 2014—one lap off the pace, but running at the end of the show. Gutierrez’s last complete race came in the 2014 Belgian Grand Prix when he finished 15th.

“China overall wasn’t a great track for our car,” he admitted. “Hopefully we can recover from now on, in Russia, and that this track gives us better possibilities.

“Russia offers… yeah, let’s say a medium range of overtaking so it’s not very straightforward but hopefully the strategy can be a bit more viable, that we can have more pitstops. As you say, the prediction is not the case, but hopefully we have a fun race for the people outside to watch, and have fun.”

Last year, Gutierrez spent his year working on race simulations to stay sharp. It was no substitute for race experience, but it provided a different perspective he hopes will lead to eventually finishing in a points’ paying position.

Working on a simulator in 2015 “didn’t change the approach; it changed my knowledge,” Gutierrez added. “I basically experiment a lot.”

“I feel very confident and I feel very prepared right now and everything is in front of me.”

Follow: @FantasyRace