Ron Capps

NHRA Funny Car driver Ron Capps seeks win, new record this weekend at Englishtown

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For the last few races, the buildup to one of the more significant milestones in NHRA history has been who would win the 100th national event by a female driver?

Now that Funny Car driver Courtney Force earned that distinction this past Sunday at Topeka, Kansas, another milestone could be on tap in this weekend’s 45th annual Toyota NHRA Summernationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J.

You might say Funny Car driver Ron Capps is on a mission at the fabled Englishtown track. It was there two years ago that Capps recorded the fastest elapsed time in a Funny Car in NHRA history: 3.964 seconds.

But if Capps – a previous Funny Car winner at Englishtown in 2006 – has his way, he’s going to lay down an even quicker time than that this weekend.

And this time, he wants it to become the NHRA elapsed time record (his 2012 mark, while it remains the quickest in the sport’s annals, was not “backed up” in succeeding runs that weekend, thus denying Capps of the national record.

“It was fitting that it happened at such a historic racetrack, and I’ve got a lot of other great memories there,” Capps said in an NHRA media release. “To win there, you have to have a great crew chief and a great team.

“Obviously, the driver has to be on his game to leave on time and keep the car in the middle of the track. That place can go from the most extreme record-setting conditions, like we saw on that 3.96, to hot and humid and tricky.”

In a way, Capps has some unfinished business to take care of this weekend.

“That 3.96 is going to get broken this year, and it could be us on Friday night if the conditions are right and we’re at the back of the pack on the second qualifying session,” Capps said. “(But Englishtown is) a track that’s very, very unforgiving for a crew chief that doesn’t have his act together.”

Capps doesn’t have to worry about that. Rahn Tobler was his crew chief in 2012 and remains in that same position today. If anyone can send Capps down the 1,000-foot dragstrip and break that elapsed time mark, it’s Tobler.

Although he hasn’t won a race yet in 2014, Capps has unquestionably been knocking on the door, having reached the semifinals in five of the last six races, including last weekend at Topeka.

“It’s funny because even before our string of semifinal finishes, Rahn Tobler had been playing around a little with the tune-up,” Capps said. “A great part of having him as our crew chief and our crew being together for several years is that we don’t veer too far away from having a really good car.

“We can try to be the best in qualifying, but we usually have a good car for Sunday when he can make great decisions.”

This weekend’s event brings to an end a run of three consecutive weekends of racing for the NHRA pros. But after next weekend off, they’ll have four straight races to contend with.

That’s why Capps wants to go into the upcoming off-weekend with momentum from a win and a potential record.

“I love it because it’s a chance for a team like mine to make a run in the points,” Capps said. “I don’t think many teams can keep their heads above water like ours can.

“It’s our time to keep our noses down and make a move in the standings. We have a week off after Englishtown, and then it’s four in a row, and we can move up to second or third. It can be a great time for our team.”

Qualifying begins Friday with sessions at 4 and 6:15 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions are Saturday at 12:45 and 3:15 p.m. Final eliminations begin Sunday at 11 a.m.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Formula E: Team Aguri confirms da Costa for second season

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Antonio Felix da Costa has been confirmed for a second season with Team Aguri for the 2015-2016 FIA Formula E Championship, which begins later this month in Beijing.

He won once this past year at Buenos Aires and finished eighth in the points despite missing both the season opener and season finale due to clashes with his DTM schedule.

Said the 24-year-old Portuguese driver, “I am really happy to continue with Team Aguri and Formula E for season two. This championship is earning its respect in the world of motorsport and I am honoured to be involved. Regarding the season, I am really looking forward to getting started.”

Team Aguri team principal Mark Preston added, “It is a great pleasure to have Antonio continuing with the team for season two of Formula E. Antonio brought us our maiden win in Buenos Aires and helped to develop the team from scratch, he will continue to build on that success for season two and beyond.”

The team that bares the name of ex-Formula 1 driver and team owner Aguri Suzuki has not yet confirmed its second driver, which is the last outstanding seat to be filled on the Formula E grid.

Amlin, which had partnered with Aguri last year, is now present with the Andretti Formula E team and its drivers, Robin Frijns and Simona de Silvestro.

Hulkenberg leads shorter than normal FP1 in Russia

Nico Hulkenberg
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Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg posted a 1:44.355 lap of the of the Sochi Autodrom to lead a fairly abnormal, and shorter than usual, first free practice for the Russian Grand Prix.

Hulkenberg posted the time to conclude the usual 90-minute session, to pip Nico Rosberg at 1:44.407 on his final lap. The usual 90-minute session was shortened due to a track delay for cleanup of diesel fuel on course.

Sebastian Vettel, Sergio Perez and Daniel Ricciardo completed the top five.

While the clock started on time for the full 90-minute session, track activity was halted for the opening 30 minutes to clean up diesel spillage on the track at Turn 8.

It left teams and drivers with just a 60-minute first free practice to tackle the Sochi Autodrom, but did not push the session later or affect the timetable for the rest of the day. However, with a damp if not entirely wet track, it made things difficult in FP1.

The delay also meant that teams weren’t able to use an extra set of Pirellis handed out at the start of FP1. Supersofts can be used for the first time in FP2.

During the delay, it did offer a chance for sarcasm, and Manor seized the opportunity following a comment from McLaren Honda’s Fernando Alonso noting that even with Mercedes engines next year, Manor wouldn’t move ahead of them.

NBC’s Will Buxton explained the track surface dilemma drivers would face in this session.

With just under one hour to go in the session, Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson was the first to head out on course, leading several others. Ericsson made the first laps of the weekend at the track where he made his final start for Caterham a year ago.

Both Williams drivers went on course on Pirelli’s wet weather tires for their installation laps. Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg tried the intermediates, and Alonso was first on course in slicks.

No official times were registered until there were less than 40 minutes remaining in the session, with Alonso registering a 2:00.736 time, while putting down a bevy of sparks. He quickly lowered the mark to 1:56.327, and 1:53.854 after that. Ericsson was next in at a 1:58.926, although dropped into the 1:54 range not long after.

Alonso’s teammate Jenson Button clocked in at 1:50.920 with just under 20 minutes remaining and for the first time this year, we could say we had a McLaren Honda 1-2 on track, albeit under abnormal circumstances.

The trsck got busy in the final 15 minutes, with Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen posting a 1:50.870 to lead before Alonso clocked in a 1:49.240.

A 1:47.959 from Williams’ Valtteri Bottas, then a 1:45.987 from Hulkenberg followed in the final 10 minutes as times firmly began to drop. Vettel got down to a 1:45.491 shortly thereafter, and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton came up two tenths shy of the mark at a 1:45.691.

Ericsson reported a power cut near the end of the session down at Sauber but otherwise there were no issues through the field, other than a handful of spins, including one from Hamilton on his final flier at the second-to-last corner.

FP2 begins from 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra.