Rookie Richie Crampton paced the Top Fuel field in the first day of qualifying on Friday at the NHRA SpringNationals in Baytown, Texas.  (Photo courtesy: NHRA)

Richie Crampton (TF), Del Worsham (FC), Allen Johnson (PS) lead after first day of NHRA qualifying in Houston

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Rookie Richie Crampton (Top Fuel) and veterans Del Worsham (Funny Car) and Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) were the top qualifiers after the first of two days of qualifying for the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway in Baytown, Texas (a suburb of Houston) on Friday.

In the sixth event of the 24-race national Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule, Crampton – also making only his sixth career Top Fuel start – covered the track in 3.807 seconds at 322.11 mph.

“We’ve been working hard this season and haven’t quite qualified the way we like to,” Crampton said. “To get into the No. 1 spot tonight was just a payoff for all that hard work.”

Crampton is competing in just his sixth career NHRA national event, having replaced team owner Morgan Lucas, who retired from driving after last season.

“It’s still surreal that I get to do this,” said Crampton, a native of Adelaide, Australia. “I don’t know what to say apart from that it’s a great deal.”

Spencer Massey was second-quickest at 3.809 seconds/320.13 mph.

Worsham, who won the 2011 championship in Top Fuel, is back in Funny Car – where he’s spent most of his NHRA career. Friday’s best run of 4.051 seconds at 314.68 mph was impressive despite the humid conditions at the suburban Houston racetrack.

“I’ve been coming here since the track opened up,” Worsham said. “I was with my dad with his Funny Car in 1989, and we were in the semi-finals against Scott Kalitta when he won his first Funny Car race.

“I was 18 years old. … We came back here in 2001, and we were also the No. 1 qualifier. That kind of got my whole career jump-started. We won some races before then, but that was the first one where we won by qualifying No. 1 and running low E.T. of a couple rounds.”

Worsham is seeking his fourth career win at Royal Purple Raceway (two wins in Funny Car, one in Top Fuel), and his second career No. 1 qualifying spot.

Jack Beckman, who won the 2012 NHRA Funny Car championship, was the second-quickest in Funny Car with a run of 4.063 seconds at 314.09 mph.

As for Johnson, he led all Pro Stock drivers with a run of 6.555 seconds at 211.63 seconds. He’s seeking his first-ever win at Royal Purple Raceway.

“We’ve been very fortunate to win at a lot of tracks, and this is one that’s slipped through our fingers many times,” Johnson said. “It presents a challenge to us that we want to win. Tomorrow is April 26, and that’s Happy Hemi Day, so we got a good start towards Happy Hemi Day.”

Johnson, who has wins this season at Phoenix and Gainesville (Fla.), drives a Hemi-powered Dodge Dart.

Erica Enders-Stevens was second-quickest: 6.563 seconds at 211.59 mph.

Qualifying continues Saturday at 12:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. CT with eliminations to take place Sunday at 11 a.m. CT.

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Here are Friday’s results after the first two of four rounds of qualifying for the 27th annual O’Reilly NHRA SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway:

Top Fuel — 1. Richie Crampton, 3.807 seconds, 322.11 mph; 2. Spencer Massey, 3.809, 320.13; 3. Doug Kalitta, 3.819, 324.51; 4. Larry Dixon, 3.828, 319.14; 5. Leah Pritchett, 3.830, 317.72; 6. J.R. Todd, 3.834, 315.42; 7. Tony Schumacher, 3.839, 324.12; 8. Khalid alBalooshi, 3.841, 319.22; 9. Brittany Force, 3.846, 321.27; 10. Antron Brown, 3.869, 316.75; 11. Bob Vandergriff, 3.878, 313.29; 12. Clay Millican, 4.057, 250.55.

Not Qualified: 13. Shawn Langdon, 4.489, 172.70; 14. Troy Buff, 4.861, 150.53; 15. Steve Torrence, 5.186, 132.52; 16. Terry McMillen, 5.504, 121.74.

Funny Car — 1. Del Worsham, Toyota Camry, 4.051, 314.68; 2. Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 4.063, 314.09; 3. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.068, 312.21; 4. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.079, 310.34; 5. Chad Head, Camry, 4.119, 308.78; 6. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 4.131, 305.77; 7. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.213, 245.36; 8. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.231, 291.45; 9. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.280, 268.44; 10. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.300, 241.15; 11. Courtney Force, Mustang, 4.413, 213.50; 12. Gary Densham, Chevy Impala, 4.443, 220.91.

Not Qualified: 13. Terry Haddock, 4.477, 203.52; 14. Todd Simpson, 5.008, 162.53; 15. Robert Hight, 5.403, 135.08; 16. John Force, 5.416, 143.64; 17. Alexis DeJoria, 6.476, 104.39; 18. Jeff Arend, 7.221, 88.47.

Pro Stock — 1. Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.555, 211.63; 2. Erica Enders-Stevens, Chevy Camaro, 6.563, 211.59; 3. Dave Connolly, Camaro, 6.574, 211.03; 4. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.582, 210.44; 5. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.585, 210.57; 6. Jeg Coughlin, Dart, 6.592, 210.47; 7. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 6.595, 210.14; 8. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.599, 211.26; 9. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.605, 210.70; 10. V. Gaines, Dodge Avenger, 6.605, 211.16; 11. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.607, 210.54; 12. Larry Morgan, Ford Mustang, 6.610, 209.56.

Not Qualified: 13. Steve Kent, 6.612, 209.75; 14. Rodger Brogdon, 6.615, 209.88; 15. Greg Stanfield, 6.641, 208.49; 16. Deric Kramer, 6.649, 209.30; 17. Matt Hartford, 6.671, 208.59.

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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.”

Sergio Perez: Force India can give leading F1 teams ‘a hard time’ in 2017

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 22:  Sergio Perez of Mexico and Sahara Force India waves before unveiling the VJM10 car during the Sahara Force India Formula One team launch at Silverstone on February 22, 2017 in Northampton, England.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Sergio Perez is confident that Force India can give the leading teams in Formula 1 “a hard time” in 2017 as it looks to build on its best-ever constructors’ championship finish last year.

Perez led Force India’s charge to P4 in the teams’ standings in 2016 as it finished behind only Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari.

The team launched its new car for the 2017 season, the VJM10, at Silverstone on Wednesday, and Perez is confident that it can give Force India the chance to hassle F1’s established front-runners.

“I think there’s plenty of reasons to be very hopeful that we can do the next step as a team,” Perez said.

“I think in the four years that I’ve been in this organization, I’ve never seen it so stable, everyone knowing their job.

“In none of the teams that I’ve been in Formula 1 I’ve seen this level of confidence, organisation, everyone doing their jobs. So I think we have plenty of reasons to be happy for a great year.”

Force India owner Vijay Mallya has targeted a move into F1’s top three, and Perez sees no reason why the team cannot achieve this.

“Last year we finished fourth, so I see no reason why we cannot improve that,” Perez said.

“As I said before, the base is very solid. There are plenty of reasons to be hoping for that. That means a massive year for us, but I think Force India will be the big surprise this year

“I really hope that we can improve. I’m really optimistic about the car, about the season, so I do hope. It’s easy to talk now, but I have a feeling that Force India has done a tremendous job over the winter.

“I’ve seen the way everyone has worked in the team. I’ve been in talks all the time. I’ve been in the factory many times. I see what the people are doing, they’re explaining to me how the car is working, how big was the development rate for us.

“There are plenty of reasons to feel we can have a good year.”

While he is yet to drive the VJM10 on-track, Perez said that the car feels significantly quicker on the team’s simulator following the introduction of new technical regulations for 2017.

“It’s a big step from last year to this year, we think four to six seconds in margin of how much quicker the car goes,” Perez said.

“So the amount of downforce that we’re going to be generating this year is huge. Just looking at the car, it looks impressive. I think I’m going to have to go back and keep training my neck!”

Perez will get his first taste of the VJM10 car on February 27 when pre-season testing begins in Barcelona, Spain.

Hamilton, Bottas to split Mercedes F1 test running daily in Barcelona

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 23:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP and Valtteri Bottas of Finland and Mercedes GP pose during the launch of the Mercedes formula one team's 2017 car, the W08, at Silverstone Circuit on February 23, 2017 in Northampton, England.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Mercedes has confirmed that drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas will split each day of Formula 1 pre-season testing in Barcelona, taking alternate morning and afternoon sessions.

Hamilton and Bottas were on-hand to unveil Mercedes’ new F1 car, the W08 EQ Power+, at Silverstone on Thursday, as well as both completing a filming run behind the wheel.

The first extended running for Mercedes will come in Barcelona next week, with pre-season testing set to begin on Monday February 27.

As part of its launch announcement, Mercedes confirmed that it will split every day of running in Barcelona between Hamilton and Bottas, with each getting four hours in the car.

Bottas will be the first to test the W08 EQ Power+ publicly, taking it out for the start of testing on Monday, with Hamilton then getting his maiden run that afternoon.

Mercedes F1 Test Schedule

Monday 27 February
Morning – Valtteri Bottas
Afternoon – Lewis Hamilton

Tuesday 28 February
Morning – Lewis Hamilton
Afternoon – Valtteri Bottas

Wednesday 1 March
Morning – Valtteri Bottas
Afternoon – Lewis Hamilton

Thursday 2 March
Morning – Lewis Hamilton
Afternoon – Valtteri Bottas