Hamilton leads Mercedes 1-2 in first practice at Monaco

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Lewis Hamilton has finished fastest in the first practice session for this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix, edging out teammate Nico Rosberg by just 0.032 seconds at the top of the timesheets.

The Briton’s time of 1:18.271 was good enough to give him P1 just ahead of his teammate, but Mercedes’ advantage was reduced as Red Bull ran the team close in third with Daniel Ricciardo, whilst Fernando Alonso finished in fourth place.

Hamilton’s practice session got off to a rather unconventional start, coming to the track ‘fashionably late’ by way of speedboat just as the green light went out. The majority of the drivers did arrive on time, though, and duly went about getting in their first few laps.

This session marked the first opportunity for the drivers to use the new cars around the streets of Monaco, and it soon showed as a number of them locked up under braking and had to be careful not to put it in the barriers.

Rosberg, having arrived on time, was the first driver to head out and post some lap times. He was followed by a suited-up Lewis Hamilton five minutes later, with Marcus Ericsson and Esteban Gutierrez also posting times early on. Hamilton soon got into his rhythm and matched Rosberg’s pace, but he too made a mistake and was lucky not to hit Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat.

Daniel Ricciardo was the first driver to dip below the 1:20s mark, and he temporarily displaced Mercedes from the top of the timesheets. However, less fortunate was Max Chilton, who spun his car at Mirabeau and was forced to leave it in the run-off area, bringing his session to an early end.

Mercedes soon resumed normal service as Hamilton and Rosberg moved up into first and second place, but Red Bull refused to lie down. Ricciardo continually posted times that were far closer to the Silver Arrows than we have seen so far this season, and only finished two-tenths down on Hamilton.

With 13 minutes to go, Adrian Sutil’s session came to an early end when he lost the rear of the car at Mirabeau, but his Sauber was recovered under double waved yellow flags. Teammate Esteban Gutierrez also hit trouble and had to park his car up at turn one.

Kevin Magnussen had a late scare when Sergio Perez ran slowly in front of him, but the Dane managed to avoid the Force India through La Rascasse. Fernando Alonso also had to think fast to avoid the wall at Mirabeau.

Come the end of the session, Mercedes finished first and second once again, but Red Bull’s strong showing suggests that this is by no means a foregone conclusion in Monaco.

NHRA: Antron Brown on verge of earning 50th career Top Fuel win this weekend at Phoenix

Photo courtesy Toyota Racing
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When you’re used to winning championships – like three in the previous five seasons – any other season finish is disappointing.

That’s kind of how NHRA Top Fuel dragster driver Antron Brown looked at his fourth-place showing in the 2017 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.

“At the end of the day, we had a very competitive season last year and made it to 10 final rounds,” Brown said. “But we got into the Countdown (NHRA’s six-race playoffs) and our timing was off.

“We struggled with a lot of problems we don’t usually have. Now it’s time for a new chapter for this team and time to get better. This is a new beginning for us and it’s going to be fun and exciting and we’re coming after them.”

Antron Brown hugs the NHRA Top Fuel championship trophy after winning it in 2016. (Photo by David Allio/Icon Sportswire)

Brown had a good start to 2018, reaching the semifinals before losing to Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tony Schumacher in the season-opening Lucas Oil Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California.

“We had a great performance at Pomona and I couldn’t be more proud of what our Matco/Toyota guys did,” Brown said. “Now we are going to Phoenix where we’ve won three times (2009, 2012 and 2014, and was runner-up in 2011) and we’ll just try to hit it hard and get a fourth.”

Next up on the NHRA 24-race national event circuit is the second race of the season, this weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix (Chandler, Arizona).

Brown has definite plans to make it four wins in Phoenix. And if he does that Sunday, he’ll set a significant career milestone: it would be his 50th career win driving a Top Fueler and the 66th win overall (he won 16 races in Pro Stock Motorcycle before shifting from two to four wheels).

In so doing, Brown would become only the fourth Top Fuel driver in NHRA history to hit the 50-win mark. The others are Tony Schumacher (83), Larry Dixon (62) and Joe Amato (52).

This will be the second time Brown has been racing in Phoenix this month. He was part of the preseason test there for Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock cars a week before the season began.

“Testing went really well there,” said Brown, leaving him optimistic that he can reach victory circle once again. “I love going back to Phoenix.”

Brown has been the most dominant driver in NHRA Top Fuel competition since 2012, winning more than twice the number of races (34) than the next most successful Top Fuel driver (16 by Schumacher) in that time period.

He also has a 71 percent overall win percentage, which exceeds both eight-time Top Fuel champ Schumacher and 16-time Funny Car champ John Force.

“I’m just pumped up, feeling like we’ve got some unfinished business from last year,” Brown said. “We had a good outing but didn’t close the deal, so this year, we’re looking forward to getting back there and getting off to a great start.”

NOTES: Brown will serve as honorary pace car driver for the March 4th Pennzoil 400 NASCAR Cup race at Las Vegas. He’ll be joined by teammates Matt Hagan and Leah Pritchett in a weekend full of activities that they’ll all be involved in.

“I’m really excited,” Brown said. “It’s going to be my first experience as a pace car driver, and I’m just super stoked to go out there and drive the Camry pace car for Pennzoil and start those NASCAR boys off the right way. Throttle down, pedal to the metal. I just want them to get off to a great start.”

Brown has won four times at The Strip, the drag strip adjacent to Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“I couldn’t be more excited to have the opportunity,” he said. “It’s an honor to be out there with such talented drivers, and I know I’m going to really enjoy watching our NASCAR counterparts.”

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