Lewis Hamilton

Hamilton recovers in FP2 to edge out Alonso and Rosberg

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Lewis Hamilton has bounced back from a suspension problem to finish the second practice session for the Chinese Grand Prix as the fastest driver ahead of Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso and Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg.

The British driver lost some track time early on in the session, but once he came out he managed to lay down a pace that was good enough to edge out Alonso by one-tenth of a second. The Spaniard had threatened to go back-to-back following his charge to P1 in the first practice on Friday.

An increase in track temperature for FP2 meant that conditions were far more representative of what teams can expect to encounter during qualifying and the race in China, and as a result there was less of a reluctance to get out early. For Mercedes and Hamilton, though, there was little choice in the matter as the team continued to work on his car following a problem during the first session.

Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat was the early pace-setter during FP2 with McLaren drivers Kevin Magnussen and Jenson Button slotting into second and third place behind the Russian youngster. However, his lead soon vanished when the front-runners came out as Sebastian Vettel and Felipe Massa traded fastest lap times. Nico Rosberg was eventually the first driver to dip below the 1:40 mark, but Fernando Alonso pulled out another half a second on the Mercedes driver.

Having not set a time during first practice, Kimi Raikkonen finally emerged from the pits for Ferrari after his car had been fixed by the team. The Finn did appear to get in the way of Esteban Gutierrez under braking, prompting the Mexican driver to complain over the radio that he had lost time as a result.

Pastor Maldonado was the first driver to make the switch to the soft compound tire, and jumped up into fourth place as a result thanks to the added pace and grip of the options. However, his session soon took a turn for the worse as he crashed his car on the entry to the pit lane, ending his session in the barrier and giving his team some repair work to do overnight.

Despite the yellow flags, Nico Rosberg was able to go fastest once again on the soft tire, pulling out another half-second over Alonso at the top. Teammate Lewis Hamilton finally managed to get out on track after his team had fixed the W05 car, and the Briton went into sixth place with his first attempt. Fernando Alonso soon returned to the top of the timesheets on the soft tire, suggesting that Ferrari has made a step forwards this weekend after a difficult weekend last time out in Bahrain.

Hamilton was one of the last men to make the switch to the soft tire, but it paid off as he went fastest of all by one-tenth of a second with 40 minutes remaining in the session. Kimi Raikkonen also ventured out on the options after his delay, and went seventh fastest.

After this set of soft tire runs, most of the teams turned their attention to race simulations to prepare for Sunday afternoon, and the times went unchanged as a result. Daniel Ricciardo put in a good stint on his long run with the prime tire, whilst Hamilton reported that his options were wearing very quickly, and even told the team that he wasn’t at all happy with the car.

Mercedes might be back on top, but it is hard to believe that the team’s advantage is just one tenth of a second. It will be interesting to see what result qualifying produces tomorrow, but with rain forecast, this weekend might not be as straightforward as Mercedes may have wanted it to be.

NHRA: Looking at where things stand at midpoint of Countdown

Top Fuel's Antron Brown has been the most dominant driver in the current NHRA Countdown to the Championship.
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The NHRA is now halfway through its six-race Countdown to the Championship and there have been a number of surprises – both good and bad – thus far.

When the series gets back to racing next weekend at Texas Motorplex in Ennis, Texas, those drivers who have dominated their respective categories in the Countdown so far stand a good chance of pulling away.

Not to mention potentially see several drivers start falling by the wayside and be eliminated.

Let’s take a look at each of the four pro classes and analyze the haves and have not’s thus far:


Biggest surprise: Antron Brown. It’s not so much a surprise that Brown is leading the standings, but it’s more so the way he’s doing it. The 2012 Top Fuel champ has been on fire, having won all of the first three Countdown races and a personal-best seven races overall this season. Brown set a NHRA record of 12-0 in final elimination rounds this past Sunday at Reading, Pa. You can’t get much more perfect than that. Brown has been so dominating that only teammate and defending eight-time champ Tony Schumacher is within reach points-wise. The other eight drivers still in contention are between 194 and 274 points behind. At the rate he’s going, Brown could potentially clinch the championship in the second-to-last race at Las Vegas.

You Go Girl: Brittany Force, daughter of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force, has been a surprising upstart in the Countdown. While she’s 194 points behind Brown, Force is ranked third heading to Texas. She’s shown significant confidence and moxie in the first three races and if she keeps it up, she could potentially overtake Schumacher at some point for second place.

Different Team, Same Drive: Shawn Langdon lost his ride at the worst possible time, just before the Countdown began, when team owner Alan Johnson suspended operations. But give credit to fellow team owner Don Schumacher, who “borrowed” Langdon from Johnson for the Chase to replace Spencer Massey, who was released just before the Chase. Langdon has done well, but time is running out if he hopes to make one last shot to win yet another championship.


Biggest surprise: Del Worsham won the first two races of the Countdown and appears headed towards becoming only the third driver in NHRA history to win both a Top Fuel and Funny Car championship in his career. Worsham has been absolutely solid this season.

That’s The Fact, Jack: Jack Beckman has enjoyed arguably the best season of his career, a complete turnaround from last year’s draining struggle. Having left John Force at the end of last season, co-crew chiefs Jimmy Prock and John Medlen have reinvigorated both Beckman and his car. Worsham has been strong, but Beckman is only a mere 16 points back in second place. And with his win this past Sunday at Reading, momentum could potentially turn in Beckman’s direction heading to Texas.

The Numbers Game: Kudos to third-ranked Matt Hagan (90 points behind Worsham) and fourth-ranked Tommy Johnson Jr. (-98) for their strong efforts in the Countdown. Ditto for Ron Capps (105 points behind Worsham) and John Force (-150), who are both still within striking distance. However, two drivers have uncharacteristically struggled thus far in the Countdown: Alexis De Joria (ranked ninth, 207 points back) and Robert Hight (10th, 221 points back). Unless they right their respective ships, they run the risk of being eliminated at Las Vegas.


Biggest Surprise: Chris McGaha (third, 104 points behind series leader Erica Enders) and rookie Drew Skillman (sixth, -173) have definitely opened eyes this season, with each earning wins thus far in the Countdown. Also enjoying a strong run in the Countdown and a welcome resurgence overall this season is veteran racer Larry Morgan (fourth, 145 points back). Enders could potentially have her hands full in the final three races to keep these three hungry drivers at bay.

You Go Girl: Defending champ Enders has looked cool, calm and collected – just like she did en route to becoming the first female Pro Stock champ last season. With a 72-point lead over former champ Greg Anderson, Enders has become one of the best drivers when it comes to reaction times at the starting line, having won close to a dozen or more rounds just because she got the jump on her opponent at the so-called “Christmas tree.”


Biggest surprise: It would be hard to find two riders who have not been more surprising than Hector Arana Jr. (ranked third, 101 points back) and Louisiana alligator farmer Jerry Savoie (fourth, 119 points back). Arana is one of the most promising young riders on the circuit, while Savoie – after a 30-year layoff from racing – is proving that 53 (years old) is the new 23.

Back in the saddle again: Andrew Hines is gunning for his fifth bike championship, and second straight, and has done what he’s needed to do thus far in the Countdown. While Arana and second-ranked Eddie Krawiec (-89) are proving to be formidable foes, Hines appears to be ready to start pulling further away for the title.

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NHRA: New book a celebration of life, love and drag racing

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The overpowering smell from nitromethane that powers Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars in the National Hot Rod Association oftentimes brings fans to tears after getting a whiff of the stuff.

Now there’s a new inspirational book that will also bring tears to the eyes of die-hard drag racing fans.

Veteran crew chief Jim Oberhofer has released “Top Fuel For Life, Life Lessons From A Crew Chief,” a touching homage to both his late wife and persevering and overcoming adversity in the highly competitive world of NHRA drag racing.

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Oberhofer wears a number of hats as vice president of one of the sport’s most veteran and successful teams, Kalitta Motorsports, including serving as crew chief for Top Fuel driver Doug Kalitta’s dragster.

Oberhofer relates a number of stories about overcoming adversity in the book, but none more touching than how he watched his beloved wife “Tammy O” lose a long and painful battle to stage 4 metastatic lung cancer.

While Oberhofer has spent his life using wrenches and tools working on 10,000-horsepower engines, his new book shows that he is also a very gifted writer.

Known in the sport as “Jim O,” Oberhofer describes the fight his wife went through in gritty and descriptive prose, but with a foundation built upon what the love of his life meant to him – and continues to mean to him more than two years since she passed away.

“When you take a long hard look at your life, I guarantee you that being a winner has little to do with crossing the finish line,” Oberhofer said. “After many mistakes and a whole lot of heartache, I learned that happiness comes from a deeper, simpler place. That’s the big win.”

“Top Fuel For Life” is available on Amazon for $19.95.

Follow @JerryBonkowski