Female drag racers could set NHRA history Sunday; Kalitta to race 82-year-old legend Chris Karamesines in Top Fuel

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History has the potential to be made in Sunday’s final eliminations of the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway in Commerce, Ga.

Emerging as No. 1 in their respective classes after Friday’s and Saturday’s qualifying sessions, Alexis DeJoria (Funny Car) and Erica Enders-Stevens (Pro Stock) look to become the 100th female in the sport’s history to win a NHRA national event.

Also earning No. 1 qualifying spots heading into Sunday’s eliminations were Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

A two-time winner this far this season, Dejoria earned the first No. 1 qualifying position of her career with Friday’s track record elapsed time of 3.786 seconds at 321.81 mph.

“If it happens tomorrow, great,” DeJoria said of the possibility of earning the 100th female win. “We just want to keep going rounds. First things first, we’ve got to get past first round and get past (first round opponent) Tony Pedregon.

“This has been our turnaround year. We’ve had some great consistent runs, and I’m just hoping we can keep on going.”

Del Worsham, DeJoria’s Kalitta Motorsports teammate, qualified No. 2, followed by 2009 Funny Car world champion Robert Hight, 2011 world champion Matt Hagan and Tommy Johnson Jr.

Enders-Stevens also has a good chance of earning the 100th win by a female. Like DeJoria, Enders-Stevens, who leads the Pro Stock points, set an Atlanta Dragway track record for elapsed time (6.493 seconds at 212.69 mph) on Friday, and that mark held up to keep Enders-Stevens No. 1 through Saturday’s two final qualifying rounds.

“I was very confident that we’d be able to stay No. 1,” Enders-Stevens said of her first No. 1 qualifying position of the season and seventh of her career. “The best thing is that we managed to learn a little on every run and improve a little each time.”

Dave Connolly qualified second, followed by Shane Gray, Jason Line and Rodger Brogdon.

As for Top Fuel, Kalitta set both ends of the Atlanta Dragway track record with an elapsed time mark of 3.732 seconds and a very stout speed of 328.86 mph.

It was Kalitta’s third No. 1 of the season and 39th of his career.

“I think the conditions are probably perfect for Atlanta,” Kalitta said. “It’s got its reputation for ‘Hotlanta.’ It’s been great conditions. I think the fans have definitely seen some good action. … It’s real exciting to be going into eliminations with that kind of car.”

Kalitta is seeking his second win of the year (he also has two runner-up finishes). In the first-round, he’ll face 82-year-old Chris Karamesines.

Yes, you read that right, Karamesines is 82 years old, and has been drag racing now for more than six decades.

Also setting a new track record was three-time PSM champ Krawiec, whose 6.796 second pass (at 196.62 mph) on Friday held up Sunday, putting him at the top of the bike qualifying ladder.

“Coming here to Atlanta, the air was not at all what we’re used to,” Krawiec said. “It was cool and crisp and that was just right for our combination. We did struggle to get off the starting line, but that was a problem for the whole class. It was so sticky up there that it was hard to generate any wheel speed.”

Eliminations for the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals begin on Sunday at 11 a.m. ET.

 

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Here are Sunday’s first-round pairings for eliminations for the 34th annual Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway, the seventh of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.

Top Fuel — 1. Doug Kalitta, 3.732 seconds, 328.86 mph  vs. 16. Chris Karamesines, 4.388, 177.74; 2. Bob Vandergriff, 3.757, 324.05  vs. 15. Clay Millican, 4.189, 206.32; 3. Antron Brown, 3.764, 322.19  vs. 14. Ike Maier, 4.007, 281.30; 4. Steve Torrence, 3.765, 323.04  vs. 13. Terry McMillen, 3.841, 321.04; 5. Tony Schumacher, 3.771, 325.30  vs. 12. Khalid alBalooshi, 3.836, 319.60; 6. Brittany Force, 3.777, 326.71  vs. 11. Pat Dakin, 3.828, 314.53; 7. J.R. Todd, 3.777, 323.66  vs. 10. Spencer Massey, 3.828, 316.82; 8. Shawn Langdon, 3.786, 324.44  vs. 9. Richie Crampton, 3.803, 309.06.

Funny Car — 1. Alexis DeJoria, Toyota Camry, 4.012, 313.95  vs. 16. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 9.302, 178.59; 2. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.014, 320.05  vs. 15. Chad Head, Camry, 8.463, 79.47; 3. Robert Hight, Ford Mustang, 4.030, 318.39  vs. 14. Bob Bode, Camry, 4.565, 193.74; 4. Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 4.049, 318.32  vs. 13. Jeff Arend, Charger, 4.208, 296.24; 5. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.051, 315.49  vs. 12. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.184, 299.80; 6. John Force, Mustang, 4.077, 311.20  vs. 11. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.158, 303.30; 7. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.095, 309.20  vs. 10. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.150, 271.35; 8. Courtney Force, Mustang, 4.098, 316.67  vs. 9. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.103, 305.08. Did Not Qualify: 17. Dave Richards, broke.

Pro Stock — 1. Erica Enders-Stevens, Chevy Camaro, 6.493, 212.69  vs. 16. John Gaydosh Jr, Pontiac GXP, 9.358, 204.39; 2. Dave Connolly, Camaro, 6.496, 212.86  vs. 15. Warren Johnson, GXP, 8.147, 207.98; 3. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.513, 212.86  vs. 14. Kurt Johnson, GXP, 6.610, 204.45; 4. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.514, 213.00  vs. 13. Larry Morgan, Ford Mustang, 6.576, 210.93; 5. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.523, 212.59  vs. 12. V. Gaines, Dodge Dart, 6.547, 212.56; 6. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 6.526, 211.89  vs. 11. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.542, 211.53; 7. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.536, 212.13  vs. 10. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.541, 212.66; 8. Jeg Coughlin, Dart, 6.537, 211.79  vs. 9. Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.540, 212.29.

Pro Stock Motorcycle — 1. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.796, 196.62  vs. 16. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 7.005, 191.38; 2. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.833, 195.22  vs. 15. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.960, 193.16; 3. John Hall, Buell, 6.860, 193.21  vs. 14. Katie Sullivan, Suzuki, 6.949, 192.77; 4. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 6.861, 195.65  vs. 13. Scotty Pollacheck, Buell, 6.938, 191.89; 5. Michael Ray, Buell, 6.875, 195.90  vs. 12. Shawn Gann, Buell, 6.931, 192.19; 6. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.878, 194.18  vs. 11. Angie Smith, Buell, 6.918, 192.14; 7. Chaz Kennedy, Buell, 6.895, 193.21  vs. 10. Hector Arana, Buell, 6.912, 194.24; 8. Matt Smith, Buell, 6.907, 194.60  vs. 9. Adam Arana, Buell, 6.908, 195.14. Did Not Qualify: 17. Mike Berry, 7.011, 189.23; 18. Freddie Camarena, 7.064, 192.11; 19. Elvira Karlsson, 7.090, 185.92; 20. Junior Pippin, 7.140, 184.35; 21. Brian Pretzel, 7.163, 184.93; 22. James Surber, 7.207, 182.28; 23. Justin Finley, 7.282, 187.23; 24. Redell Harris, 7.284, 192.25; 25. Joe DeSantis, 11.719, 185.28; 26. Michael Phillips, broke.

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Maverick Vinales wins MotoGP opener in Qatar after rain delays start

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Maverick Viñales made a flying start to life with Yamaha in MotoGP by winning on his debut with the factory team in Qatar on Sunday night.

Rain throughout the weekend had already forced qualifying to be cancelled on Saturday, with Viñales claiming pole by virtue of setting the fastest time in practice.

Officials decided early on Sunday that they would not be amending its schedule for races, with the Moto2 and Moto3 events going ahead as planned.

Just minutes before the MotoGP race was set to get underway at 11pm local time, rain started to fall once again over the Losail International Circuit, prompting the stewards to delay the race start after a number of riders went off during an installation lap.

A 45-minute delay followed as a number of officials from both MotoGP and the teams remonstrated on the grid before being asked to take their discussions inside, away from the cameras and the watching world.

With the rain easing to a light drizzle, the stewards confirmed the race would start as planned, albeit reduced to 20 laps.

On a moist track, Viñales made a tentative start from pole, dropping to fifth as Suzuki’s Andrea Iannone made the best getaway to lead into the first corner.

Iannone was quickly passed by Tech3’s Johann Zarco, who completed his first lap in MotoGP as the race leader, and soon began to forge a lead over the chasing pack.

Zarco’s hopes of a debut win were dashed when he slid off the track in the tricky conditions, allowing Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso to assume the lead ahead of Iannone.

When Iannone fell and third-placed Marc Marquez began to drop off the pace as his tires faded, Viñales and Yamaha teammate Valentino Rossi began to close on Dovizioso, setting up a grandstand finish.

Viñales found a way past Dovizioso, only to lose the lead a couple of laps later, before then taking it back with two laps to go, curbing the Ducati’s straight-line speed advantage as they headed into Turn 1 for the final time.

From there, Viñales was able to keep his cool and cross the line half a second clear of Dovizioso to record his second MotoGP victory, his first coming with Suzuki last year at Silverstone.

Rossi crossed the line a close third, much to his surprise after a torrid pre-season, while Marquez was left to settle for fourth place to begin his riders’ title defence.

Dani Pedrosa finished one place behind his Honda teammate in fifth, while Aleix Espargaro was one of the unsung heroes of the race, crossing the line sixth for Aprilia.

Scott Redding wound up seventh ahead of Jack Miller and Alex Rins, while Tech3 debutant Jonas Folger rounded out the top 10.

Three-time MotoGP champion Jorge Lorenzo had a forgettable debut with Ducati, finishing a lowly 11th after an off-track excursion on the opening lap.

The MotoGP season continues with round two of the season in Argentina on April 9.

Ocon picks up maiden F1 point in Australia, finishes as top rookie

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Esteban Ocon picked up his first point in Formula 1 during his maiden outing for Force India in Australia on Sunday, finishing the race 10th and as the top rookie.

Ocon made his F1 debut in Belgium last year with the backmarker Manor team, completing the final nine rounds of the season before moving into a seat with Force India for 2017.

Embarking on his first full season of F1 (and therefore still a rookie) in 2017, Ocon qualified 14th in Australia on Saturday before spending much of the race battling with Fernando Alonso and Nico Hulkenberg, the trio going three-wide down the main straight at one point.

Ocon was able to come out on top, clinching the final point on offer in Melbourne by finishing P10 to complete a double-points finish for Force India after Sergio Perez ended up seventh.

“Very happy with today. It’s been a tough weekend but a great reward at the end,” Ocon told NBCSN after the race.

“Fighting with Alonso made things difficult. It was side by side. Then I had the better pace with him. It’s so much harder to overtake, but I made the pass and got the point.

“I’m learning all the time. It’s good what we’ve done here. This is good for the team. We hope we can score many more for the championship.”

Ocon emerged as the top rookie in Melbourne, with Antonio Giovinazzi and Stoffel Vandoorne finishing 12th and 13th respectively. Williams’ Lance Stroll – making his first start in F1 – retired due to a brake disc issue.

F1 Paddock Pass: Australian Grand Prix post-race (VIDEO)

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And so, the 2017 Formula 1 season is officially underway with the Australian Grand Prix. Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari are on top, having beat Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes both on strategy and on pace to kick off this new era in the sport’s history.

A recap of the day from the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne occurs below in the latest edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series, Paddock Pass, as F1 pit reporter and insider Will Buxton and producer Jason Swales go into the paddock to run down the stories of the day.

MORE: Full Australian Grand Prix event replay; Mosaic replay

The podium saw Vettel ahead of Hamilton, with Mercedes’ new driver Valtteri Bottas coming third on debut for the team.

Other interviews that occurred during NBCSN’s post-race coverage on F1 Extra included with Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen, who came fourth and fifth respectively, with Force India’s Esteban Ocon who scored his first career point, and with McLaren’s Fernando Alonso, who doggedly dragged his McLaren Honda into a potential points-paying finish before a late-race retirement.

Paddock Pass is in three parts and can be viewed below.

Haas’ sophomore F1 season starts badly with double DNF in Australia

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The Haas Formula 1 team’s sophomore campaign got off to a bad start on Sunday as drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen were both forced to retire from the Australian Grand Prix.

NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas took his eponymous operation into F1 last year, making its debut in Australia 12 months ago.

Grosjean scored a memorable sixth-place finish on that day in Melbourne, and looked poised to repeat the result in 2017 after qualifying sixth on Saturday.

A poor start was Grosjean drop to seventh, but he managed to hold position through the opening stint of the race ahead of the pit stop cycle.

However, Grosjean had no chance to wield some strategic genius as Haas did last year, with a water leak forcing him to retire while inside the top 10.

“I suddenly lost a lot of power. I told the guys, then the next thing I knew I had to slow down the car,” Grosjean explained.

“It’s a pretty disappointing result, but again, right now I’m hot and we’re all disappointed to lose a seventh-place position, but the car was there in qualifying in P6. The start wasn’t ideal, so we need to improve that. I felt I was faster than the Williams, so there’s huge potential in the car.

“I guess the key for us is to keep the momentum and get the consistency we didn’t have last year, where I’d be fifth in Bahrain then 19th in China. I really want to improve on that and get more consistency in terms of results. If we do that, then I’m sure there are going to be plenty of races where we can score good points.”

Grosjean’s new teammate for 2017, Kevin Magnussen, suffered an early setback when he clashed with Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson on the first lap, and ultimately retired due to a suspension issue stemming from the incident.

“I had Ericsson on the outside and I understeered into the side of him, which was unfortunate. I lost my front wing and damaged the car a little bit,” Magnussen said.

“We changed the front wing and then I went for a long test session to feel the car and learn a bit more about it, which was good. It feels good and the car is fast.

“That’s the really positive thing from this weekend. The car is there. We just have to make it finish and score points.”

Team principal Guenther Steiner added: “Not the race we wished for, or we expected. With Romain it looks like we had a water leak. We don’t know yet where that came from.

“Obviously, Kevin’s race was destroyed in the third corner after the contact with Ericsson. He then ended up later with a suspension failure, which we still have to investigate why.

“The good thing we take out of here is that the car seems to be fast. We need to work on a few parts and, hopefully, we can get back strong again in China in two weeks.”