Brittany Force (Photo courtesy of NHRA)

Brittany Force (Top Fuel), Del Worsham (Funny Car), Shane Gray (Pro Stock) all No. 1 qualifiers for Bristol finals

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Brittany Force (Top Fuel), Del Worsham (Funny Car) and Shane Gray (Pro Stock) will go into Sunday’s final eliminations of the Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol (Tenn.) Dragway as top qualifiers in their respective classes.

In pursuit of her first career win in Top Fuel, Force qualified No. 1 on Friday’s rain-shortened session, and then came back on Saturday to earn her second No. 1 qualifying spot in 2014 with a 3.828-second pass at 317.94 mph.

The daughter of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force, Brittany Force is in just her second season in Top Fuel, but knows what a win Sunday would mean not only for her career but also her father.

She’ll face 82-year-old drag racing legend Chris Karamesines in the first round of Sunday’s Top Fuel eliminations.

“(Winning) would be the ultimate Father’s Day present to my dad,” Brittany Force said in a NHRA media release. “I love coming here to Bristol. It’s one of my favorite tracks by far.”

Force added, “I’m excited for race day, and I would love to end up in the winner’s circle. I think it’s pretty awesome to be running alongside the legendary Greek (Karamesines’ nickname).”

J.R. Todd is the No. 2 qualifier (3.835 seconds at 315.12 mph), while seven-time Top Fuel champ and five-time Bristol winner Tony Schumacher qualified third (3.854 seconds at 330.47 mph).

In Funny Car, Worsham broke track records for both elapsed time (3.992 seconds) and speed (319.45 mph) on Friday and retained his No. 1 spot Saurday, the 15th of his NHRA career and the second straight year he has qualified No. 1 at Bristol, where he’s a two-time winner.

Every race seems like we’ve gotten stronger and stronger,” Worsham said. “Hopefully (Sunday) we can maintain that strength. It should be a great race against my good friend Jeff Arend (in the first round of eliminations).”

Tim Wilkerson qualified No. 2 (career-best elapsed time of 4.013 seconds at 317.72 mph) and three-time Bristol winner Ron Capps qualified third (4.024 seconds at 316.38 mph).

In the hunt for his first win of the season, Gray also set new Bristol track ET (6.621 seconds) and speed (208.78 mph) records in Pro Stock. He’ll face Curt Steinbach in Sunday’s first round of eliminations.

“I wouldn’t be sitting here if it wasn’t for my crew,” Gray said. “We definitely have the equipment to do what we did today. I’m not going to worry too much until (Sunday) and have some fun.”

Reigning Pro Stock champ Jeg Coughlin qualified No. 2, while points leader Erica Enders-Stevens qualified No. 3.

 

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Here’s the first-round pairings for Sunday’s final eliminations of the 14th annual Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway:

Top Fuel — 1. Brittany Force, 3.828 seconds, 317.94 mph  vs. 16. Chris Karamesines, 4.485, 190.08; 2. J.R. Todd, 3.835, 315.12  vs. 15. Terry McMillen, 4.444, 238.93; 3. Tony Schumacher, 3.854, 330.47  vs. 14. Billy Torrence, 4.161, 240.25; 4. Antron Brown, 3.873, 313.07  vs. 13. Richie Crampton, 3.939, 266.58; 5. Spencer Massey, 3.876, 312.93  vs. 12. Clay Millican, 3.909, 261.42; 6. Steve Torrence, 3.879, 317.34  vs. 11. Bob Vandergriff, 3.904, 321.12; 7. Shawn Langdon, 3.880, 316.75  vs. 10. Khalid alBalooshi, 3.900, 315.42; 8. Doug Kalitta, 3.890, 318.32  vs. 9. Leah Pritchett, 3.898, 309.13.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Pat Dakin, 5.489, 246.48.

 

Funny Car — 1. Del Worsham, Toyota Camry, 3.992, 319.45  vs. 16. Jeff Arend, Dodge Charger, 6.460, 100.70; 2. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 4.013, 317.72  vs. 15. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 5.349, 306.81; 3. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.024, 316.38  vs. 14. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.621, 192.66; 4. Robert Hight, Mustang, 4.074, 315.27  vs. 13. Justin Schriefer, Chevy Camaro, 4.333, 285.17; 5. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.074, 306.60  vs. 12. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.127, 299.86; 6. Courtney Force, Mustang, 4.077, 313.07  vs. 11. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.123, 308.99; 7. John Force, Mustang, 4.099, 306.81  vs. 10. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.121, 305.29; 8. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.111, 308.99  vs. 9. Chad Head, Camry, 4.118, 313.22.

 

Pro Stock — 1. Shane Gray, Chevy Camaro, 6.621, 208.78  vs. 16. Curt Steinbach, Camaro, 6.848, 200.80; 2. Jeg Coughlin, Dodge Dart, 6.621, 208.62  vs. 15. Kenny Delco, Chevy Cobalt, 6.843, 201.82; 3. Erica Enders-Stevens, Camaro, 6.631, 208.17  vs. 14. Larry Morgan, Ford Mustang, 6.822, 205.22; 4. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.636, 208.55  vs. 13. V. Gaines, Dart, 6.690, 207.30; 5. Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.636, 207.85  vs. 12. Dave Connolly, Camaro, 6.681, 206.35; 6. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.643, 207.94  vs. 11. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.678, 207.53; 7. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.644, 207.53  vs. 10. Shane Tucker, Cobalt, 6.669, 206.86; 8. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 6.659, 207.85  vs. 9. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.669, 207.43.

Did Not Qualify: 17. John Gaydosh Jr, 6.883, 201.22.

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Wolff doubts Ferrari’s Sochi struggles will continue

SOCHI, RUSSIA - MAY 01: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo ahead of Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP) on track  during the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on May 1, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Mercedes Formula 1 chief Toto Wolff thinks that Ferrari’s lack of pace in last weekend’s Russian Grand Prix was specific to the Sochi Autodrom circuit and not a sign of things to come in 2016.

Ferrari entered 2016 hopeful of mounting a serious challenge to Mercedes after a strong showing in pre-season, only to struggle to keep up with the German marque in the first four races of the season.

The deficit was particularly worrying for Ferrari in Russia last weekend when Kimi Raikkonen finished as Ferrari’s lead driver but over 30 seconds down on race winner Nico Rosberg.

Talking to reporters after the race, Wolff refused to read too much into Ferrari’s pace, believing the deficit to be largely down to the nature of the track in Sochi.

“The track is very different with a very smooth surface, and we saw that the pace of many teams was different to the races before,” Wolff said.

“Williams was very strong, Red Bull weren’t, and Ferrari weren’t as good as expected. This is a circuit where you have to get it right in terms of mechanical grip and aerodynamic downforce – and engine power plays a role.

“I would say that the dent in the Ferrari performance is Sochi-specific. But that is only my guess.”

Mercedes’ advantage was perhaps even bigger than the 30-second gap between Rosberg and Raikkonen suggested, considering that the race winner was hindered by an issue on his power unit in the second half of the race.

Ferrari’s main problem so far this season has been with the reliability of its cars, as both Raikkonen and teammate Sebastian Vettel have hit trouble in the opening four races.

A James Hinchcliffe tattoo exists, and it is glorious (VIDEO)

AVONDALE, AZ - APRIL 02:  James Hinchcliffe of Canada, driver of the #5 Schmidt Peterson Motosports Honda IndyCar is introduced before the Phoenix Grand Prix at Phoenix International Raceway on April 2, 2016 in Avondale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Only fitting that on Cinco de Mayo – 5/5 – we do a post about the driver of the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda in James Hinchcliffe.

And given Hinchcliffe’s proclivity for humour (the Canadian spelling is intentional here), we thought it appropriate to show off this gem of an advert produced by Honda Canada.

Apparently such a thing as a James Hinchcliffe tattoo exists, and it’s featured within the ad.

Hinchcliffe rocks up in a new 2016 Honda Civic Coupe. Problem is, the superfan played by Hinchcliffe’s countryman and Canadian actor Justin G Landry has the right tattoo, but no longer the right car to match his racing hero.

You can see the full video below, as well as a couple tweets to go along with it:

RGR Sport by Morand keen to build on debut WEC victory in Spa

Car # 43 / RGR SPORT BY MORAND / MEX / Ligier JS P2 - Nissan / Ricardo Gonzalez (MEX) / Filipe Albuquerque (PRT) / Bruno Senna (BRA) - WEC 6 Hours of Silverstone - Silverstone Circuit - Towcester, Northamptonshire - UK
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After claiming an impressive victory in its debut FIA World Endurance Championship race at Silverstone three weeks ago, the RGR Sport by Morand team heads to this weekend’s 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps with high hopes of a repeat result.

RGR Sport by Morand became the first Mexican team to enter the WEC earlier this year when it entered the LMP2 class, signing ex-Formula 1 driver Bruno Senna and former Audi racer Filipe Albuquerque to race alongside team owner Ricardo Gonzalez.

The iconic Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps plays host to its annual six-hour race this Saturday, and with the addition of the no. 38 G-Drive entry, the LMP2 class is now up to 12 cars, the biggest on the grid.

However, Gonzalez is unconcerned, instead relishing the challenge of racing at such a famous circuit as he bids to make it two wins from two races.

“Spa has always been one of my favorite tracks so to go there with our own team is going to be great,” Gonzalez said.

“We’re coming in off a win and as the championship leaders so it’s important to carry the momentum forward.

“The team has done a lot of work back at the shop to give us an even better car for Spa, so there’s no reason why we can’t go out and fight for another win.”

Senna hopes to follow in the footsteps of his uncle this weekend by claiming a first win at Spa. Ayrton Senna won the Belgian Grand Prix five times in F1, including four-in-a-row for McLaren between 1988 and 1991.

“After great success during the team’s first race at the 6 Hours of Silverstone, I’m looking even more forward to racing with Ricardo and Filipe and the RGR Sport by Morand team,” Senna said.

“Nothing has changed in terms of our approach for this weekend in Spa, but efforts have not been spared since Silverstone and lots of analysis and developments are ongoing to make sure we keep improving and get more competitive as the championship progresses.

“Spa is one of my favorite tracks and I’ve qualified on pole and front-row there many times, but I’m still yet to win it. Will push very hard for it!”

The 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps takes place on Saturday May 7.

How Kvyat performs now will determine whether his F1 career lives on

during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 29, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.
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It’s going to be hard for Daniil Kvyat to find a bright side in the wake of his demotion to Scuderia Toro Rosso – because let’s face it, that’s what it is.

And his antics in Sochi have thus provided the opportunity for Max Verstappen to replace him at Red Bull Racing.

But, even though he’s only 22 years old and now thrust into a second major transition in his two-plus year Formula 1 career, Kvyat has been given something most Red Bull junior drivers haven’t: a second chance.

Toro Rosso, nee Minardi, has been on the grid 10 years now since debuting in 2006.

In pop culture terms, Toro Rosso is basically the F1 equivalent of Erlich Bachman’s incubator if you watch the HBO series “Silicon Valley.”

At Toro Rosso, one of two things happen: you either move up to Red Bull, or you don’t, and you almost never return to F1 again.

And that’s where Kvyat has a rare chance as the first driver to get a race seat reprieve since Vitantonio Liuzzi, and, if his head can be right, a shot at motivation.

Let’s take a look first at Toro Rosso’s driver lineups to date, and their post-Toro Rosso careers:

  • Scott Speed (2006-mid-2007); no further F1 starts after Toro Rosso; now, 2015 Red Bull GRC champion
  • Vitantonio Liuzzi (2006-2007); 41 further F1 starts after Toro Rosso from 2009-2011 with Force India, HRT
  • Sebastian Vettel (Mid-2007-2008); promoted to Red Bull; 4-time World Champion… things worked out fine
  • Sebastien Bourdais (2008-mid-2009); no further F1 starts after Toro Rosso; back in IndyCar since 2011
  • Jaime Alguersuari (Mid-2009-2011); no further F1 starts after Toro Rosso; some FIA Formula E, now retired
  • Sebastien Buemi (2009-2011); no further F1 starts after Toro Rosso; 2014 FIA World Endurance Championship World Champion with Toyota; also regular race winner in Formula E
  • Daniel Ricciardo (2012-2013); promoted to Red Bull; 3-time Grand Prix winner
  • Jean-Eric Vergne (2012-2014); no further F1 starts after Toro Rosso; Ferrari test driver and Formula E driver
  • Daniil Kvyat (2014, mid-2016-present); promoted to Red Bull, now, sent back to Toro Rosso
  • Max Verstappen (2015-mid-2016); promoted to Red Bull
  • Carlos Sainz Jr. (2015-present); future TBD beyond Toro Rosso career

So there you have it: 11 drivers in Toro Rosso’s history, none lasting longer than three years, four promoted to Red Bull, and only one – Liuzzi, in 2009 – ever returning to the grid after their post-Toro Rosso career ended.

Note, I’m not including Christian Klien here – the Austrian graduated into F1 with Jaguar in 2004 before Red Bull launched in 2005 – he never drove for Toro Rosso. Liuzzi, additionally, drove a handful of Grands Prix for Red Bull in 2005 but was never in with a shout at returning once Red Bull kept Klien alongside David Coulthard for 2006.

And that’s before you get to the countless others who Red Bull had in their “incubator” at one point or another, but never had a sniff of F1.

That includes the likes of Antonio Felix da Costa, Robert Wickens, Brendon Hartley, Neel Jani, Filipe Albuquerque, Alex Lynn, Daniel Juncadella among others (a more exhaustive list is found here).

Toro Rosso differs from its predecessor in obvious reasons. Many of the 37 drivers in Minardi’s history used the venerable Italian team as a springboard to move higher up the grid – you got your start at Minardi, you went forward from there, and you remained grateful to Faenza for giving you that first chance.

Toro Rosso? It’s a case of go big, or go home. Red Bull makes no apologies for how cutthroat its way of finding talent is, but it is interesting to note that with such short lifespans, it doesn’t give its own talent enough time to find itself before tossing them out for whomever the next flavor of the month driver may be.

That’s evident when you look around the world and see the number of ex-Red Bull folk who’ve gone on to greater things and championships in other disciplines, notably in sports car racing.

Say in a hypothetical situation that Romain Grosjean was under the Red Bull umbrella for his formative years, when he struggled in a part-time fill-in role in 2009, then drew ire from Mark Webber in 2012 with Webber’s infamous “first-lap nutcase” branding of the Franco Swiss driver. What would have happened to Grosjean’s career had he been tossed aside after a year or at most, two?

This is the precipice at which Kvyat now stands. Lewis Hamilton made the comment after Sochi that he has 17 races left, and 17 races to give Mercedes AMG Petronas teammate Nico Rosberg hell.

The same is true for Kvyat, who while offered a rare shot to continue having been the first Toro Rosso graduate to fail at Red Bull, likely only has one season left to save his F1 career… which again, seems really weird to type considering he’s only 22 years old.

But if he thrives in the now-lesser expectations bestowed on him at Toro Rosso, there could be landing places for him in 2017. It’s up to him now to seize this second chance.