Erica Enders-Stevens (Pro Stock), Robert Hight (Funny Car) and Antron Brown (Top Fuel) celebrate their wins at the NHRA SpringNationals on Sunday in Baytown, Texas. (Photo courtesy NHRA)

Enders-Stevens (PS), Hight (FC) and Brown (TF) capture wins in NHRA SpringNationals near Houston

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The next time a female drag racer wins an NHRA national event will be one of the most historic milestones in the sport’s more than half-century of competition.

Erica Enders-Stevens earned the 99th national event win by a female driver in NHRA history, capturing the Pro Stock division of Sunday’s finals in the O’Reilly Auto Parts SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway in Baytown, Texas.

In other pro classes, Antron Brown (Top Fuel) and Robert Hight (Funny Car) each won their third respective races of 2014.

Having a quicker reaction time at the start of the race, Enders-Stevens (6.594 seconds at 210.60 mph) powered to her second national event of the season, defeating 2012 NHRA Pro Stock champion Allen Johnson (6.588 seconds at 201.28 mph).

“My team’s been really awesome,” said Enders-Stevens, driver of the Elite Motorsports Chevy Camaro. “I’ve had a really consistent race car. That’s what it takes Sundays, consistency. We had to make a last-second transmission change and go through the gears to make sure everything was right.”

With her eighth-career win and first-ever at Royal Purple Raceway in suburban Houston, Enders-Stevens retained her points lead in Pro Stock, the only female to lead the points in the history of that class.

She realizes there’s a lot for her to live up to, both as a female racer and the points leader.

“The ball’s in our court,” Enders-Stevens said. “We’ve got to carry the momentum. That’s important in this game, and I know I keep saying that, but it’s huge, and we’re going to keep carrying it as long as we can.

“Pro Stock really goes in cycles, so I’m really hoping this is our cycle, and we’re going to keep fighting for it.”

The loss was Johnson’s first in three final round appearances this season, having previously won at Phoenix and Gainesville (Fla.). He came into Sunday’s eliminations as the No. 1 qualifier in Pro Stock for the event, and is now second to Enders-Stevens in the standings.

Hight, president of John Force Racing, made it 13 straight final round appearances in Funny Car for a JFR driver (the team includes Hight, team patriarch John Force and Force’s daughter, Courtney), including this season’s first six races and dating back to the last seven races of 2013.

In his fifth straight Funny Car final round, Hight defeated Jack Beckman, who made his first final round of 2014. Hight ran 4.055 seconds at 314.90 mph, to 4.176 seconds at 308.43 mph for Beckman, the 2012 NHRA Funny Car world champ.

Hight earned his 32nd career national event win. Royal Purple Raceway is special because it was where Hight won his first national event.

It was a big rally for Hight, who failed to make even one complete pass (in two attempts) in Friday’s first round of qualifying.

“It was like we didn’t show up on Friday,” Hight said. “It was horrible. We just totally missed it, but I never lost faith in my team. They showed confidence that we were going to get them tomorrow.

“On Saturday, we went out there and ran 4.07, 4.08, and then we went 4.07, 4.07 and 4.07 before the final. Do you know how hard it is to do that in one of these cars? There are so many variables. It’s hard to make that many consistent runs in a row.”

Hight remains the Funny Car points leader, 122 points ahead of teammate, boss and father-in-law John Force.

In Top Fuel, Brown won his 44th career national event and second race in a row this season with a run of 3.793 seconds at 317.72 mph over Al-Anabi Racing driver Khalid alBalooshi.

Brown won two weeks ago at Charlotte, beating alBalooshi’s teammate, defending NHRA Top Fuel champion Shawn Langdon.

“We have a lot of respect for the Al-Anabi guys,” said Brown, who moved to the top of the Top Fuel standings, leading Doug Kalitta by 37 points. “You have to beat them to contend for the championship because it goes through them.

“We get up for that challenge whenever we race them. Any time we beat them, it’s like hitting the jackpot. There are a lot of good teams out here, and we don’t take anybody lightly.”

Brown has been the most consistent driver in Top Fuel since the latter part of last season. He has reached seven of the last 10 finals, winning five of them.

Of special note Sunday, former three-time Top Fuel world champ Larry Dixon made his first start in nearly a year and finished 16th, while former four-time Pro Stock champ Greg Anderson, who missed the first five races recovering from heart surgery, finished 14th.

The next NHRA national event is May 16-18 at the Summit Racing Equipment Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway in Commerce, Ga.

 

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Here’s a complete statistical package of Sunday’s final eliminations in the 27th annual O’Reilly NHRA SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway in Baytown, Texas:

 

FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

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

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

PRO STOCK: 1.  Erica Enders-Stevens; 2.  Allen Johnson; 3.  Jeg Coughlin; 4.  Vincent Nobile; 5.  Jason Line; 6.  Jonathan Gray; 7.  Dave Connolly; 8.  Shane Gray; 9.  Chris McGaha; 10.  Larry Morgan; 11.  Rodger Brogdon; 12.  V. Gaines; 13.  Steve Kent; 14.  Greg Anderson; 15.  Greg Stanfield; 16.  Matt Hartford.

 

FINAL ROUND RESULTS:

Top Fuel — Antron Brown, 3.793 seconds, 317.72 mph  def. Khalid alBalooshi, 4.433 seconds, 184.67 mph.

Funny Car — Robert Hight, Ford Mustang, 4.055, 314.90  def. Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 4.176, 308.43.

Pro Stock — Erica Enders-Stevens, Chevy Camaro, 6.594, 210.60  def. Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.588, 210.28.

Top Alcohol Dragster — Randy Meyer, 6.478, 259.26  def. Mark Taliaferro, 19.835, 34.27.

Top Alcohol Funny Car — Shane Westerfield, Chevy Monte Carlo, 6.311, 254.23  def. Annie Whiteley, Ford Mustang, 11.004, 76.93.

Pro Modified — Mike Janis, Chevy Camaro, 5.927, 244.56  def. Mike Castellana, Camaro, foul.

Competition Eliminator — Clark Smiley, Pontiac GXP, 7.326, 181.57  def. Alan Ellis, ’23-T Ford, 9.806, 101.53.

Super Stock — Dale Hulquist, Pontiac Grand Am, 10.419, 128.62  def. Larry Stewart, Dodge Challenger, 9.872, 125.25.

Stock Eliminator — Jacob Pitt, Plymouth Barracuda, 10.598, 122.03  def. Brett Candies, Ford Mustang, 9.059, 147.44.

Super Comp — Austin Williams, Dragster, 8.928, 167.72  def. Brandon Mouton, Dragster, 8.913, 166.99.

Super Gas — Steven Collier, Chevy Vega, 9.917, 158.87  def. Rustin Mayse, Chevy Corvette, 9.928, 150.38.

Top Dragster — Allen Constantine, Dragster, 6.308, 226.01  def. Wade Pennington, Dragster, 6.202, 208.04.

Top Fuel Harley — Tommy Grimes, Harley, 6.247, 232.91  def. Jay Turner, Harley, 6.349, 230.69.

 

FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Brittany Force, 3.787, 327.82 def. Richie Crampton, 3.813, 323.74; Doug Kalitta, 3.779, 326.48 def. Bob Vandergriff, 3.810, 321.88; Khalid alBalooshi, 3.802, 321.19 def. Tony Schumacher, 3.838, 313.80; Steve Torrence, 3.776, 328.86 def. Terry McMillen, 3.866, 321.81; Antron Brown, 3.843, 318.47 def. Clay Millican, 3.899, 305.91; Shawn Langdon, 7.140, 93.10 def. Troy Buff, foul; Leah Pritchett, 3.813, 313.22 def. J.R. Todd, 5.867, 116.08; Spencer Massey, 3.990, 270.81 def. Larry Dixon, 12.967, 36.10;

QUARTERFINALS — Brown, 3.778, 322.11 def. Massey, 3.839, 318.32; alBalooshi, 3.950, 312.50 def. Pritchett, 4.010, 288.64; Langdon, 3.804, 325.14 def. Kalitta, 3.799, 324.28; Torrence, 5.363, 154.46 def. Force, 11.827, 46.49;

SEMIFINALS — alBalooshi, 3.846, 315.42 def. Torrence, 9.959, 81.18; Brown, 3.801, 321.58 def. Langdon, 3.863, 320.66;

FINAL — Brown, 3.793, 317.72 def. alBalooshi, 4.433, 184.67.

 

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Robert Hight, Ford Mustang, 4.074, 313.29 def. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 12.008, 63.19; Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 4.114, 310.20 def. Jeff Arend, Charger, 4.263, 292.65; Del Worsham, Toyota Camry, 4.106, 308.07 def. Courtney Force, Mustang, 4.113, 299.80; Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.143, 300.60 def. Terry Haddock, Chevy Impala, 5.140, 151.12; Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.114, 310.27 def. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.148, 276.29; Ron Capps, Charger, 4.073, 311.41 def. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.132, 305.01; Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 6.234, 123.66 def. John Force, Mustang, foul; Chad Head, Camry, 4.110, 293.41 def. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 5.099, 150.18;

QUARTERFINALS — Beckman, 4.116, 308.43 def. C. Pedregon, 5.382, 140.39; Capps, 4.177, 294.75 def. Johnson Jr., 4.920, 167.30; Hight, 4.076, 313.07 def. DeJoria, 5.221, 155.54; Worsham, 4.368, 242.54 def. Head, 6.968, 91.61;

SEMIFINALS — Beckman, 4.485, 288.39 def. Capps, 9.490, 75.57; Hight, 4.071, 309.20 def. Worsham, 4.201, 287.29;

FINAL — Hight, 4.055, 314.90 def. Beckman, 4.176, 308.43.

 

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Jonathan Gray, Chevy Camaro, 6.645, 209.82 def. V. Gaines, Dodge Avenger, 6.642, 211.06; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.626, 209.69 def. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.611, 210.60; Jeg Coughlin, Dodge Dart, 6.609, 210.08 def. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.670, 209.36; Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.618, 209.82 def. Larry Morgan, Ford Mustang, foul; Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.627, 209.85 def. Steve Kent, Camaro, foul; Dave Connolly, Camaro, 6.614, 210.08 def. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.640, 208.88; Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.581, 211.06 def. Greg Stanfield, Camaro, 6.692, 206.92; Erica Enders-Stevens, Camaro, 6.578, 211.26 def. Matt Hartford, Avenger, 6.695, 207.78;

QUARTERFINALS — Nobile, 6.722, 209.20 def. S. Gray, 15.159, 55.97; Coughlin, 6.598, 210.24 def. Connolly, 6.659, 209.04; Johnson, 6.587, 211.13 def. J. Gray, 6.649, 209.20; Enders-Stevens, 6.577, 211.26 def. Line, 6.639, 209.75;

SEMIFINALS — Johnson, 6.585, 210.47 def. Nobile, 6.639, 210.01; Enders-Stevens, 6.584, 211.26 def. Coughlin, foul;

FINAL — Enders-Stevens, 6.594, 210.60 def. Johnson, 6.588, 210.28.

 

POINTS STANDINGS:

Top Fuel: 1.  Antron Brown, 580; 2.  Doug Kalitta, 543; 3.  Steve Torrence, 428; 4.  Shawn Langdon, 408; 5.  Khalid alBalooshi, 381; 6.  Tony Schumacher, 353; 7.  Spencer Massey, 342; 8.  Brittany Force, 300; 9.  Richie Crampton, 224; 10.  J.R. Todd, 220.

Funny Car: 1.  Robert Hight, 609; 2.  John Force, 487; 3.  Alexis DeJoria, 431; 4.  Del Worsham, 361; 5.  Ron Capps, 356; 6.  Jack Beckman, 336; 7.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 323; 8.  Matt Hagan, 289; 9.  Tim Wilkerson, 277; 10.  Courtney Force, 275.

Pro Stock: 1.  Erica Enders-Stevens, 554; 2.  Allen Johnson, 477; 3.  Jason Line, 437; 4.  Vincent Nobile, 414; 5.  Shane Gray, 390; 6.  Dave Connolly, 366; 7.  Jeg Coughlin, 344; 8.  V. Gaines, 340; 9.  Chris McGaha, 290; 10.  Jimmy Alund, 282.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Juan Pablo Montoya victorious on opening day of Race of Champions in Miami

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 27:  Juan Pablo Montoya of Columbia, driver of the #2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet prepares to practice on Carb Day ahead of the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 27, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
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Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya added another trophy to his cabinet on Saturday by claiming a shock victory in the Race of Champions.

The event at the Marlins Park in Miami pitted some of motorsport’s biggest names up against each other in a multi-discipline challenge, with the Race of Champions’ traditional crossover circuit style being used.

Ahead of the battle for national honors on Sunday, the 17 drivers on the entry list in Miami faced off for the individual title.

Defending champion and four-time F1 world champion Sebastian Vettel suffered a shock exit in the group stage after defeats to Helio Castroneves and Travis Pastrana. The German won only one tie against 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi, who in turn had qualified following a shoot-out against GRC’s Scott Speed.

In the bottom half of the draw, IndyCar stars James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Tony Kanaan were eliminated in the group stages, while veteran British F1 racers David Coulthard and Jenson Button made it through. The pair were joined by nine-time Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen and NASCAR’s Kyle Busch; the latter’s brother, Kurt, was knocked out at the first hurdle.

Pastrana and Castroneves both fell in the quarter-finals, losing to Felipe Massa and Montoya respectively. Massa advanced through the draw despite a frightening incident in the group stage involving fellow F1 driver Pascal Wehrlein, who flipped his car after crossing the finish line.

Kristensen edged out Button 2-1 in their best-of-three bout to reach the semi-finals, setting up a tie against Coulthard after he eased past Kyle Busch 2-0.

Massa and Montoya’s semi-final went down to a tie-breaker, with the former receiving a time penalty to hitting the wall and gaining an advantage. As a result, Montoya progressed into the final, winning the tie 2-1. Losing 2015 finalist Kristensen followed Montoya through, beating Coulthard 2-0.

Montoya won the first heat of the final in the rallycross car, edging Kristensen out by less than a car length before jumping into a KTM X-Bow for the second match-up. Despite almost jumping the start, Montoya managed to wrestle his car through the two laps before edging out Kristensen by just 0.08 seconds, securing a shock rookie victory in the process.

“Honestly I had a blast,” Montoya said. “It’s pretty amazing. I told my wife, I’ve got to make it through the first round. It just worked out.”

Montoya will race in the ROC Nations Cup on Sunday, teaming up with recent IndyCar racer Gabby Chaves for Team Colombia.

Report: Manor making progress in talks to make start of F1 season

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - NOVEMBER 12:  Pascal Wehrlein of Germany driving the (94) Manor Racing MRT-Mercedes MRT05 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during final practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Brazil at Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace on November 12, 2016 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Manor Racing has made progress in talks with a possible investor as it bids to make the grid for the start of the 2017 Formula 1 season, according to a report from BBC Sport.

Manor confirmed at the beginning of the month that it had entered administration for the second time in three years amid ongoing financial difficulties.

The backmarker team finished 11th in last year’s constructors’ championship, dropping behind Sauber at the penultimate round and missing out on a sizeable amount of prize money as a result.

With a little over one month to go until the start of pre-season testing, Manor faces a race against time to keep racing, but the latest report from BBC Sport suggests that a breakthrough has been made.

Andrew Benson writes that the future of the team is dependent on the promised investment arriving in the next week, noting that “prospects have improved considerably over the last few days”.

Manor had previously been in talks with Mexican-American businessman Tavo Hellmund over a buyout, as well as a Chinese consortium. The report from BBC Sport also names Indonesian businessman Ricardo Galael, the father of GP2 racer Sean Galael, as a possible suitor for the team.

NBC Sports learned last week that the team is pushing to race with a modified version of its 2016 car – likely to be named the MRT05B – should it make the grid in 2017.

If Manor fails to find a buyer, the F1 grid will drop back down to 10 teams for the 2017 season, returning to its pre-2016 level prior to the arrival of Haas.

NBC Sports has approached Manor’s administrators, FRP Advisory, for comment.

Jacques Villeneuve: F1 is ‘supposed to be too expensive, too crazy’

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1997 Formula 1 world champion Jacques Villeneuve feels that he cannot relate to the series in its current form, saying that it is supposed to be “too expensive” and “too crazy”.

Villeneuve raced in F1 between 1996 and 2006, and remains a keen observer as part of his role as a pundit on Italian television.

F1 has striven to enforce greater cost control and road relevance in recent years, but Villeneuve believes that this is the wrong direction, saying officials should instead focus on making the series spectacular.

“That’s when I start to feel old because I don’t relate to the technology of modern Formula 1,” Villeneuve said.

“Because to my mind, Formula 1 has always been about extremes. Pushing the boundaries and human boundaries.

“It’s supposed to be too fast, it’s supposed to be too expensive, it’s supposed to be crazy. And that’s not what we have.

“You see drivers get out of the car and they didn’t even break a sweat because they have too massage their car the whole race and drive within eight seconds of what they’ve done in qualifying. It’s wrong.”

Villeneuve also believes that those in charge of F1 should not listen to fans’ opinions, citing the introduction of DRS in 2011 as being a negative result of doing so.

“The fans kept complaining that ‘oh, there’s not enough overtaking’, ‘oh, there’s not enough of this or that’,” Villeneuve said.

“By listening to that, what did F1 do? Let’s put DRS. Because that way we’ll have hundreds of overtakes in a race. But name me one overtake that you remember since DRS – you don’t. Because you don’t see the driver working it.

“Look at a motorbike race, sometimes they take a rider 10 laps to overtake another rider, but in these 10 laps you see the work that goes with it, and what that overtake happens, wow.

“But now you don’t. Next straight line, press a button, that’s it. All of these rule changes to try and create a better show actually create a worse show.

“Then the technology, take the engine, amazing beautiful technology – for the engineers. It shouldn’t be in F1. It doesn’t bring anything. It takes away from F1.

“It has nothing to do there. It’s crazy engineering. I wouldn’t want it on my road car.”

WRC’s Paddon calls for lessons to be learned from Monte Carlo spectator death

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FIA World Rally Championship racer Hayden Paddon has called for lessons to be learned following the death of a spectator on the opening stage of the Monte Carlo Rally on Thursday night.

A spectator was killed after being struck by Paddon’s car when the New Zealander hit black ice and careered into a roadside bank.

Hyundai driver Paddon was withdrawn from the remainder of the rally out of respect, and has now issued a statement regarding the incident.

Here is the statement in full:

Hi everyone,

Upon reflection, I wanted to issue a small statement about yesterday’s events.

Firstly, our thoughts are with the family and friends of the spectator involved. No matter the circumstances, this is never something we want to see.

Secondly, John [Kennard, co-driver] and I are humbled by all the messages of support at this time. Obviously, my thoughts are with the family and that is my only concern at the moment. Not being able to return home to New Zealand does make it a little tougher but it is important we stay strong.

I do want to take this chance to ask people not to speculate. Irrespective of how and why the accident happened, finger pointing will not change anything. The most important thing is that we learn from this and I am committed to work with the FIA and rally organizers relentlessly to ensure this does not happen again.

I will take this chance to ask spectators at rallies to please be considerate of where you stand and to respect the instructions of the marshals. We all want to enjoy a good show and go home to the family afterwards.

I also ask each and every rally fan at the events, if you see someone in a dangerous position to request they move for everyone’s best interest. As a community, we can collectively work together to prevent this from happening again.

Lastly, I please ask the respect from the media in these times, especially for the family and friends of the spectator. I will not issue any further statements or conduct interviews at this stage. We made the decision not to continue this weekend out of respect, but will be back in Sweden where we will pay tribute.

Thank you again for everyone’s support and for the support of the team – it really does mean a lot.”

The Monte Carlo Rally finishes on Saturday.