(Photo: AP/NHRA, Teresa Long)

Several marks already set, even more could fall in Sunday’s NHRA finals in Englishtown

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Cruz Pedregon will have at least one more chance to set the NHRA Funny Car elapsed time record in Sunday’s first round of eliminations of the Toyota NHRA Summernationals in Englishtown, N.J.

The former two-time world champ (in photo) recorded the fastest pass down a dragstrip in NHRA history on Friday night, covering the 1,000-foot surface at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park at a time of 3.959 seconds at 310.48 mph to lead the field.

The run, the quickest ever in Funny Car, will be certified as an NHRA national record if Pedregon can post a time of 3.999 seconds or quicker on Sunday.

“We had such monster early runs yesterday,” Pedregon said in a NHRA media release. “It’s like a tiger by the tail, a snake by the tail. It was pretty aggressive.”

Pedregon lost traction in the first of two final qualifying rounds on Saturday. He was forced to miss the second round due to a mechanical malfunction when a bracket on the team’s starter prevented him from attempting the final qualifying pass, according to the NHRA.

“It was just a good-old-fashioned breakage,” Pedregon said. “It’s probably one of those things that will never happen again in my career, and it will probably not happen to a lot of people in their careers. It had freak accident written all over it.”

Even without having the opportunity to set a new record, Pedregon remained the No. 1 qualifier in Funny Car heading into Sunday’s four rounds of final eliminations.

It is the 56th No. 1 qualifying position of Pedregon’s career, his fifth at Englishtown and his second No. 1 of the season. He faces Terry Haddock in Sunday’s first round round.

In other classes, No. 2 qualifier Erica Enders-Stevens set the NHRA Pro Stock national speed record with her 215.55 mph pass, the first time that a Pro Stock car has reached 215 mph.

Saturday’s qualifying sessions provided seven of the top 10 fastest speeds in Pro Stock history and 11 of the top 15.

No. 1 qualifier Allen Johnson ran the second quickest elapsed time (6.472 seconds at 214.35 mph) in NHRA history and will attempt to back it up for a new national record in Sunday’s eliminations.

“Our guys put our Magneti Marelli Dodge on kill and it stuck and we went to the top,” Johnson said of his second No. 1 qualifier of the season and 33rd of his career.

Johnson, who is seeking his fourth win of 2014, faces Chris McGaha in the first round, while Enders-Stevens, who is seeking her third triumph in 2014, will face Val Smeland.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Eddie Krawiec not only earned his second No. 1 qualifying position of the season (6.747 seconds at 198.90 mph), he also has his sites set on becoming the first PSM rider to break the 200 mph milestone.

But do does series points leader and No. 3 qualifier Andrew Hines, who set a track record with a speed record of 199.23 mph.

“Obviously it’s great to be back in New Jersey and to be running so well,” said Krawiec, former track manager at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park. “Now, I just need to do my job tomorrow.”

Krawiec will face No. 16 Angie Smith in the first round, while Hines will face Adam Arana, and No. 2 qualifier Hector Arana Jr. will face Jim Underdahl.

In Top Fuel, Doug Kalitta improved on Friday’s No. 1 qualifying effort with an even better 3.748 second run at 327.66 mph on Saturday.

“So far, the thing has been running strong, going consistently down the track all of our qualifying runs,” Kalitta said of his 40th career No. 1 qualifying position. “I’m just real proud of those guys and looking forward to (Sunday).”

Kalitta will face No. 16 qualifier Clay Millican in the first round Sunday.

“Conditions should be good,” said Kalitta, who is the Top Fuel points leader. “It’s a little cooler than it normally is here, so I think that’s helping everybody with the performance. It should be a fun day.”

 

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Here’s Sunday’s first-round pairings for eliminations for the 45th Toyota NHRA Summernationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park:

Top Fuel — 1. Doug Kalitta, 3.748 seconds, 327.66 mph  vs. 16. Clay Millican, 6.081, 108.20; 2. Richie Crampton, 3.750, 326.95  vs. 15. Dom Lagana, 3.894, 316.38; 3. Shawn Langdon, 3.761, 327.27  vs. 14. Terry McMillen, 3.841, 321.19; 4. Steve Torrence, 3.777, 324.67  vs. 13. Morgan Lucas, 3.823, 319.82; 5. Brittany Force, 3.777, 324.44  vs. 12. Spencer Massey, 3.811, 320.36; 6. Khalid alBalooshi, 3.777, 322.27  vs. 11. Bob Vandergriff, 3.804, 319.75; 7. Leah Pritchett, 3.779, 321.04  vs. 10. J.R. Todd, 3.787, 321.65; 8. Tony Schumacher, 3.784, 316.75  vs. 9. Antron Brown, 3.786, 319.07.

Funny Car — 1. Cruz Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 3.959, 310.48  vs. 16. Terry Haddock, Chevy Impala, 4.245, 289.51; 2. Del Worsham, Camry, 3.994, 321.04  vs. 15. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.167, 287.17; 3. Robert Hight, Ford Mustang, 4.014, 316.45  vs. 14. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.154, 303.64; 4. John Force, Mustang, 4.015, 310.48  vs. 13. Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 4.080, 308.50; 5. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.017, 318.99  vs. 12. Chad Head, Camry, 4.080, 312.28; 6. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.027, 314.31  vs. 11. Jeff Arend, Charger, 4.071, 310.63; 7. Courtney Force, Mustang, 4.030, 319.14  vs. 10. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.055, 311.70; 8. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.048, 311.27  vs. 9. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.054, 307.65.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Mike Smith, 6.275, 107.40.

Pro Stock — 1. Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.472, 214.35  vs. 16. Chris McGaha, Chevy Camaro, 11.528, 95.41; 2. Erica Enders-Stevens, Camaro, 6.473, 215.55  vs. 15. Val Smeland, Chevy Cobalt, 8.017, 127.94; 3. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.485, 214.45  vs. 14. V. Gaines, Dart, 7.583, 157.82; 4. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.488, 214.83  vs. 13. John Gaydosh Jr, Pontiac GXP, 6.992, 199.37; 5. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.488, 214.42  vs. 12. Larry Morgan, Ford Mustang, 6.611, 208.46; 6. Jeg Coughlin, Dart, 6.489, 214.25  vs. 11. Kenny Delco, Cobalt, 6.597, 210.50; 7. Dave Connolly, Camaro, 6.490, 214.55  vs. 10. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.512, 214.14; 8. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.503, 214.31  vs. 9. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 6.511, 214.08.

Pro Stock Motorcycle — 1. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.747, 198.90  vs. 16. Angie Smith, Buell, 6.929, 192.33; 2. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.772, 198.12  vs. 15. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 6.929, 193.29; 3. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.778, 199.23  vs. 14. Adam Arana, Buell, 6.880, 193.88; 4. Matt Smith, Buell, 6.793, 198.06  vs. 13. Shawn Gann, Buell, 6.872, 195.17; 5. John Hall, Buell, 6.803, 194.63  vs. 12. LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.862, 195.82; 6. Michael Ray, Buell, 6.810, 197.36  vs. 11. Scotty Pollacheck, Buell, 6.845, 195.34; 7. Hector Arana, Buell, 6.822, 197.57  vs. 10. Chaz Kennedy, Buell, 6.840, 196.04; 8. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.826, 196.30  vs. 9. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.839, 195.73.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Elvira Karlsson, 6.947, 192.08; 18. Joe DeSantis, 6.967, 191.32; 19. Justin Finley, 6.978, 192.69; 20. Junior Pippin, 7.047, 189.84.

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Hamilton quickest in Malaysia FP3 as Verstappen splits the Mercedes

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - SEPTEMBER 30: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Malaysia Formula One Grand Prix at Sepang Circuit on September 30, 2016 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton sent out a warning shot to his rivals ahead of qualifying for the Malaysian Grand Prix on Saturday afternoon by dominating the final Formula 1 practice session of the weekend at Sepang.

Hamilton arrived in Malaysia trailing Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg in the drivers’ championship for the first time since the middle of July following the German’s trio of victories since the summer break.

Hamilton lagged behind Rosberg in FP1 before pulling ahead in FP2 on Friday afternoon, and extended his advantage in the final hour of practice running on Saturday.

A fastest lap of 1:34.434 was enough to give Hamilton P1 by four-tenths of a second, but it was not Rosberg who finished as the next-best driver.

Instead, a rapid lap late in the session from Red Bull’s Max Verstappen saw him slot into second place, giving his team hope of a challenge to Mercedes through qualifying and Sunday’s race.

Rosberg was left to settle for P3, six-tenths of a second shy of Hamilton’s best lap and just a tenth clear of the Ferrari duo of Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel.

Daniel Ricciardo finished sixth in the second Red Bull, one second off Hamilton’s itme, while Nico Hulkenberg ended up P7 for Force India ahed of Valtteri Bottas. Carlos Sainz Jr. and Felipe Massa rounded out the top 10.

With a litany of engine penalties already racked up, Fernando Alonso opted to limit his practice running on Saturday morning and save tires, finishing P22 and some six seconds off the pace. The Spaniard is expecting to watch most of qualifying on TV later today.

For those wishing to do the same, you can watch qualifying for the Malaysian Grand Prix live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 5am ET on Saturday.

MotorSportsTalk’s Predictions: 2016 Malaysian GP

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - SEPTEMBER 30: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer on track during practice for the Malaysia Formula One Grand Prix at Sepang Circuit on September 30, 2016 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Ever since shifting towards the beginning of the Formula 1 calendar in 2001, the Malaysian Grand Prix has always been seen as a race that is of little consequence when it comes to the title race.

Few would look at Lewis Hamilton’s win in 2014 or Sebastian Vettel’s 2013 victory at Sepang as being crucial in defining their title success, largely the result of how early in the season the race fell.

Yet with the Malaysian Grand Prix now coming later in the year as part of the title run-in, its importance has been magnified.

Nico Rosberg arrives in Sepang leading the drivers’ championship by eight points after a run of three straight wins in Belgium, Italy and Singapore, but with Hamilton still hungry and six races remaining, the title race is far from over.

As usual, myself and fellow MST F1 writer Tony DiZinno have made our picks for the coming weekend.

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race Winner: Lewis Hamilton. Rosberg may be on a roll, but I’m backing Hamilton to strike back this weekend and end his teammate’s run. Hamilton’s form may be patchy, yet this race is so, so important to his title aspirations: he simply cannot afford to lose.

Surprise Finish: Esteban Gutierrez. I’ll tip Esteban to finally end his points drought on Sunday. He’ll probably end up 11th though. Again.

Most to Prove: Lewis Hamilton. Yep, I’m putting Hamilton down twice here. See above: he’s got to win this weekend or at the very least beat Rosberg.

Additional Storyline: Resurfaced track to pose fresh challenge. The renovations undertaken at Sepang were necessary, and the newly-resurfaced track looks good. It will definitely hand the drivers a new challenge, though, particularly at the final corner where the racing line has changed dramatically.

Predict the Podium

1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
3. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race Winner: Lewis Hamilton. Nothing on Lewis’ current form makes me confident in this pick but I just don’t see Nico pulling together his fourth straight win this weekend.

Surprise Finish: Sergio Perez. This track is hard on tires and there’s few better in the business at managing them over the course of the race. Do we hear more about Perez’s future this weekend? Perhaps, but I think we hear more about him in the race, with a top-five possible.

Most to Prove: Max Verstappen. Max is in dire need of a clean start after a couple rough getaways in recent GPs. He also hasn’t finished ahead of Daniel Ricciardo since Silverstone, so time for the much-hyped 18-year-old to have a dynamic, clean weekend.

Additional Storyline: Button 300. We’re still not sure if Jenson Button will be driving his last Grand Prix in a few events’ time, but his 300th is something to celebrate – and it’s cool to see him hit this milestone.

Predict the Podium

1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
3. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull

Olivier Pla leads polesitters for 2016 Petit Le Mans

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Photo courtesy of IMSA
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BRASELTON, Ga. – Olivier Pla (Prototype and overall), Robert Alon (Prototype Challenge), Richard Westbrook (GT Le Mans) and Jeroen Bleekemolen (GT Daytona) have secured the pole positions for Saturday’s Petit Le Mans, the season finale of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship 2016 campaign.

Pla and the sterling pace of the No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Ligier JS P2 Honda he shares with Ozz Negri and John Pew continued into qualifying on Friday afternoon. The Shank Ligier Honda led all four pre-qualifying practice sessions and then Pla lowered the bar to a 1:13.061 around the 2.54-mile Road Atlanta road course.

Pla has won his second pole of the year, having also done so at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring back in March.

This ensures an LMP2-spec car has won a pole in each of the four Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup races (SMP Racing at Daytona, Shank at Sebring and Road Atlanta, Tequila Patron ESM at Watkins Glen) and seven of the 10 Prototype races overall.

Tristan Nunez brought the No. 55 Mazda Prototype into second on the grid at 1:13.520, ahead of Dane Cameron in the No. 31 Action Express Racing Corvette DP at 1:13.903.

Cameron and Eric Curran, who share their car with newly crowned IndyCar champion Simon Pagenaud, seek to win the title but are up one point over their teammates Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi (Filipe Albuquerque) in the No. 5 car, 286-285, going into Saturday’s race. The No. 5 car qualified in fifth with the second Mazda, the No. 70 Mazda, in fourth.

In PC, Alon edged a pair of drivers by less than a tenth for his fourth pole of the season in the PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Oreca FLM09 he shares with Tom Kimber-Smith and Jose Gutierrez.

Alon was 0.059 of a second ahead of Starworks Motorsport’s Alex Popow and 0.084 of a second BAR1 Motorsports’ Johnny Mowlem in his final drive.  Alon’s best time was 1:16.411, and Mowlem felt as though he gave away the tenth he needed to grab the pole.

“I’m gutted for the team. I should have got pole,” Mowlem told IMSA Radio. “Especially when Renger (van der Zande) is not out there. No excuse, but my predicted lap time wasn’t working. That’s the thing you need to find half a tenth here or there. I might have been able to squeeze it. But to be fair, proper job to Robert Alon. He deserves the pole. But I am a little bit disappointed, I wanted pole for the last one.”

Kenton Koch and Stefano Coletti completed the top five for Performance Tech Motorsports and Starworks Motorsport, respectively.

GT

Westbrook has his third, and the Ford Chip Ganassi Racing team’s fifth pole of the 2016 season in the No. 67 Ford GT he shares with Ryan Briscoe and Scott Dixon. Westbrook and Briscoe look to overcome a points deficit to win the title on Saturday.

“Westy’s” best lap of 1:18.131 in the No. 67 Ford topped a tightly bunched 10-car field in GTLM, with all of the cars within 0.735 of a second down to Nick Tandy in 10th in the No. 911 Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSR. Tandy’s heroics were on display last year as the No. 911 Porsche won this race overall in miserably wet conditions, and the race stopped early.

The No. 3 Corvette C7.R of Antonio Garcia was second at 1:18.283 and the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE third in the hands of Toni Vilander at 1:18.294.

The No. 4 Corvette C7.R, which leads the points by 11, will roll off seventh with Tommy Milner, Oliver Gavin and Marcel Fassler driving – that trio looking to add a Petit Le Mans win to its earlier triumphs at Daytona and Sebring. Milner was only 0.337 of a second off the pole time.

Bleekemolen brings the No. 33 Riley Motorsports Dodge Viper GT3-R to the pole in its final scheduled start. The team also won the pole here last year with Cameron Lawrence in the No. 93 Viper.

Bleekemolen will share his car with Ben Keating, the nation’s largest Viper dealer (Viper Exchange) and Marc Miller for Saturday’s race. The Dutchman doesn’t usually qualify but did so for the endurance race, and posted a best time of 1:21.305.

Matt McMurry took the No. 73 Park Place Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R to second on the grid, at 1:21.765. He’ll share the car that won last year with Patrick Lindsey and Joerg Bergmeister.

Mario Farnbacher qualified third in the No. 23 The Heart of Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R in the car he shares with Alex Riberas and Ian James.

Points leader Christina Nielsen, who stands on the brink of the GTD class title in the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 she shares with Alessandro Balzan and Jeff Segal, qualified fourth and Lawson Aschenbach brought the No. 9 Stevenson Motorsports Audi R8 LMS to fifth on the grid.

New CTSC champs win titles, race at Road Atlanta

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BRASELTON, Ga. – Billy Johnson and Scott Maxwell (GS) and Spencer Pumpelly and Nick Galante (ST) made it easy for the record keepers in the 2016 Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge season finale at Road Atlanta.

Both driver pairings won the race, and subsequently both pairings also won their respective season-long class championships.

Maxwell started the No. 15 Multimatic Motorsports Ford Shelby GT350R-C from pole and Johnson played the hunter after the final round of pit stops, on fresher tires than the competing No. 33 CJ Wilson Racing Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport driven by Marc Miller, and started by Danny Burkett.

Johnson then made it past Miller with 12 minutes to go, on the inside of the right-handed Turn 7, for the lead and ultimately the win on Lap 80.

This secures the title for the pairing after an authoritative season in GS, having won six of the 10 races.

Miller and Burkett rounded out their first year as teammates once again on the podium, with the No. 09 Automatic Racing Aston Martin Vantage of Charlie Putman and Charles Espenlaub in third.

The drama occurred more so in ST, with Pumpelly and Galante overcoming an eight-point deficit entering the race to win in the final 30 minutes.

Stevan McAleer and Chad McCumbee looked poised to capture their second straight title in ST and with a second different team. They won it for CJ Wilson Racing last year but looked to do the same for Freedom Autosport on this occasion.

But while Pumpelly made it past McAleer for the lead and McAleer was still second, smoke began to emerge from the right front of the engine bay with just over 20 minutes remaining.

McAleer attempted to get a push in his No. 25 Mazda MX-5 from teammate Andrew Carbonell in the No. 26 Mazda MX-5 but despite Carbonell doing so for a couple laps, the mechanical issues intensified and pitted.

Photo courtesy of IMSA
Photo courtesy of IMSA

That ensured Pumpelly and Galante had enough to secure the title for Justin Bellinzoni’s Rennsport One team, driving the No. 17 Porsche Cayman.

Pumpelly’s teammate in Pirelli World Challenge, Ryan Eversley, brought the No. 93 HART Honda Civic Si second in the car started by teammate Chad Gilsinger.

The No. 73 MINI JCW run by LAP Motorsports and driven by Derek Jones and Mat Pombo looked set to end third, back on the podium as they were this race last year, but fell off in the final couple laps.

It promoted Connor Bloum and Greg Strelzoff to a welcome podium in another RS1 Cayman, the No. 19 car, in third.

Eric Foss looked set to bring the No. 56 Murillo Racing Porsche Cayman home with a podium after starting from the rear of the field with co-driver Jeff Mosing, after Mosing was caught up in a qualifying accident on Thursday. But he fell down the order in the final laps, down to sixth.