(Photo courtesy NHRA)

Tommy Johnson Jr. (FC), Shawn Langdon (TF), Erica Enders-Stevens (PS) are winners at Bristol

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Tommy Johnson Jr. was patient while waiting on the sideline for several years for a new ride that would contend.

Returning to the NHRA Funny Car class earlier this season, Johnson’s patience paid off in Sunday’s final round of the Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol (Tenn.) Dragway.

Johnson won his first NHRA national event since 2007 and his 10th career win overall, with a final round time of 4.156 seconds at 302.14 mph, defeating Tim Wilkerson.

“I’m thrilled that we were able to get it done and all that work paid off,” Johnson Jr. said. “The guys did a great job today. We’ve qualified great, we just couldn’t get it to go our way on race day.

“We’ve been competitive and we just couldn’t close the deal. It’s tough out here. I wanted to prove that we’re not in a slump and we needed to step it up a little bit and we did.”

In Top Fuel, 2013 NHRA champ Shawn Langdon finally broke through for his first win of the 2014 season.

Langdon also earned his first career win at Bristol and his ninth overall victory with a final round run of 3.819 seconds at 320.51 mph, defeating Doug Kalitta.

“With the stiff competition in Top Fuel, one thing you have to learn is patience and not to take anything for granted,” Langdon said. “We knew it was going to be tough. We’re still learning. Fortunately, we got this win and most importantly, we hope to continue earning those Mello Yello points.”

In Pro Stock, points leader Erica Enders-Stevens earned her series-high third win of the season and first-ever triumph at Bristol with a final round run of 6.698 seconds at 207.15 mph, defeating rookie Jonathan Gray.

“We had to dig deeper this weekend,” Enders-Stevens said. “Everybody out here is hungry. As a driver, I knew I had to step up to the plate and get up on the wheel.

“Momentum is huge in this sport and we just need to continue to carry it. To get it done today meant the world to me and my team gave me a car to drive to the winner’s circle.”

The circuit moves to the northeast part of the country this coming weekend (June 19-22) with the second annual Auto-Plus NHRA New England Nationals at New England Dragway in Epping, N.H.

Results information and quotes provided by NHRA media release.

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Here’s the final finishing order order (1-16) in Sunday’s final eliminations of the 14th annual Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway:

TOP FUEL: 1.  Shawn Langdon; 2.  Doug Kalitta; 3.  Antron Brown; 4.  Bob Vandergriff; 5.  Chris Karamesines; 6.  Tony Schumacher; 7.  Terry McMillen; 8.  Spencer Massey; 9.  Steve Torrence; 10.  Billy Torrence; 11.  Richie Crampton; 12.  Leah Pritchett; 13.  J.R. Todd; 14.  Khalid alBalooshi; 15.  Brittany Force; 16.  Clay Millican.

FUNNY CAR: 1.  Tommy Johnson Jr.; 2.  Tim Wilkerson; 3.  Matt Hagan; 4.  Tony Pedregon; 5.  Del Worsham; 6.  Courtney Force; 7.  Robert Hight; 8.  Alexis DeJoria; 9.  John Force; 10.  Cruz Pedregon; 11.  Jack Beckman; 12.  Bob Tasca III; 13.  Justin Schriefer; 14.  Ron Capps; 15.  Chad Head; 16.  Jeff Arend.

PRO STOCK: 1.  Erica Enders-Stevens; 2.  Jonathan Gray; 3.  Jeg Coughlin; 4.  Jason Line; 5.  Vincent Nobile; 6.  Shane Gray; 7.  Greg Anderson; 8.  Dave Connolly; 9.  Rodger Brogdon; 10.  Chris McGaha; 11.  V. Gaines; 12.  Larry Morgan; 13.  Kenny Delco; 14.  Curt Steinbach; 15.  Shane Tucker; 16.  Allen Johnson.

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Here’s Sunday’s final results in the top three professional series:

Top Fuel — Shawn Langdon, 3.902 seconds, 316.08 mph  def. Doug Kalitta, 4.128 seconds, 260.97 mph.

Funny Car — Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 4.156, 302.14  def. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 4.423, 227.34.

Pro Stock — Erica Enders-Stevens, Chevy Camaro, 6.698, 207.15  def. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 13.480, 64.40.

Pro Modified — Pete Farber, Dodge Daytona, 6.087, 240.51  def. Steve Matusek, Chevy Camaro, 6.971, 152.61.

Top Fuel Harley — Tommy Grimes, Harley, 6.413, 221.45  def. Damian Cownden, Harley, 6.454, 214.04.

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Here’s the final round-by-round results from Sunday’s final eliminations:

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Doug Kalitta, 3.838, 321.58 def. Leah Pritchett, 4.862, 161.42; Shawn Langdon, 3.895, 310.20 def. Khalid alBalooshi, 5.041, 147.96; Tony Schumacher, 3.857, 323.89 def. Billy Torrence, 4.008, 305.84; Chris Karamesines, 5.215, 118.87 def. Brittany Force, 5.558, 122.66; Terry McMillen, 4.038, 304.39 def. J.R. Todd, 4.902, 183.47; Antron Brown, 3.829, 318.39 def. Richie Crampton, 4.398, 196.79; Spencer Massey, 3.892, 317.05 def. Clay Millican, broke; Bob Vandergriff, 4.456, 212.83 def. Steve Torrence, foul;

QUARTERFINALS — Langdon, 5.338, 289.14 def. McMillen, 5.603, 210.70; Vandergriff, 4.453, 289.88 def. Schumacher, 5.027, 171.45; Kalitta, 4.171, 296.76 def. Karamesines, 4.977, 145.00; Brown, 3.883, 315.19 def. Massey, 10.460, 76.70;

SEMIFINALS — Langdon, 5.110, 149.85 def. Vandergriff, foul; Kalitta, 3.905, 312.64 def. Brown, 3.952, 304.74;

FINAL — Langdon, 3.902, 316.08 def. Kalitta, 4.128, 260.97.

 

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 4.148, 303.78 def. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.890, 169.55; Tony Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 4.355, 256.21 def. Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 5.330, 142.06; Del Worsham, Camry, 4.191, 299.13 def. Jeff Arend, Charger, 12.726, 59.78; Robert Hight, Mustang, 4.746, 223.91 def. Justin Schriefer, Chevy Camaro, 5.082, 155.33; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.147, 309.20 def. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.613, 188.49; Courtney Force, Mustang, 4.199, 302.35 def. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.787, 181.64; Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.216, 292.14 def. John Force, Mustang, 4.437, 229.78; Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.166, 300.00 def. Chad Head, Camry, 5.498, 143.90;

QUARTERFINALS — Wilkerson, 4.220, 294.95 def. DeJoria, 6.019, 112.71; Johnson Jr., 4.175, 305.84 def. Hight, 6.009, 114.01; Hagan, 4.216, 287.66 def. Worsham, 4.209, 299.53; T. Pedregon, 4.380, 252.14 def. C. Force, 4.770, 211.69;

SEMIFINALS — Wilkerson, 4.240, 293.60 def. T. Pedregon, 4.533, 218.19; Johnson Jr., 4.201, 299.46 def. Hagan, 4.207, 293.54;

FINAL — Johnson Jr., 4.156, 302.14 def. Wilkerson, 4.423, 227.34.

 

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Jonathan Gray, Chevy Camaro, 6.706, 207.18 def. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.709, 207.37; Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.686, 207.15 def. Shane Tucker, Chevy Cobalt, 7.471, 141.02; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.712, 206.13 def. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.702, 206.67; Dave Connolly, Camaro, 6.690, 205.41 def. Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, DQ; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.673, 207.53 def. V. Gaines, Dart, 6.709, 206.99; Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.663, 207.40 def. Curt Steinbach, Camaro, 6.871, 201.52; Jeg Coughlin, Dart, 6.651, 207.78 def. Kenny Delco, Cobalt, 6.869, 202.15; Erica Enders-Stevens, Camaro, 6.665, 207.46 def. Larry Morgan, Ford Mustang, 6.770, 205.04;

QUARTERFINALS — Line, 6.707, 206.95 def. Connolly, 17.884, 43.65; Enders-Stevens, 6.697, 207.15 def. Anderson, foul; J. Gray, 6.703, 206.80 def. S. Gray, 6.703, 207.40; Coughlin, 6.671, 207.05 def. Nobile, 6.702, 207.05;

SEMIFINALS — J. Gray, 6.730, 206.23 def. Line, 6.726, 206.39; Enders-Stevens, 6.703, 207.11 def. Coughlin, foul;

FINAL — Enders-Stevens, 6.698, 207.15 def. J. Gray, 13.480, 64.40.

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Here’s the updated points standings after Sunday’s race at Bristol:

Top Fuel: 1.  Doug Kalitta, 902; 2.  Antron Brown, 782; 3.  Shawn Langdon, 751; 4.  Spencer Massey, 652; 5.  Steve Torrence, 617; 6.  Tony Schumacher, 557; 7.  Khalid alBalooshi, 535; 8.  Brittany Force, 502; 9.  Richie Crampton, 464; 10.  J.R. Todd, 429.

Funny Car: 1.  Robert Hight, 905; 2.  John Force, 640; 3.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 627; 4.  Alexis DeJoria, 619; 5.  Del Worsham, 593; 6.  Courtney Force, 581; 7.  Ron Capps, 571; 8.  Cruz Pedregon, 538; 9.  Tim Wilkerson, 533; 10.  Matt Hagan, 527.

Pro Stock: 1.  Erica Enders-Stevens, 908; 2.  Jeg Coughlin, 753; 3.  Allen Johnson, 704; 4.  Jason Line, 698; 5.  Shane Gray, 651; 6.  Vincent Nobile, 617; 7.  Dave Connolly, 587; 8.  V. Gaines, 487; 9.  Chris McGaha, 459; 10.  Rodger Brogdon, 390.

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Flavio Briatore: Fernando Alonso won’t take vacant Mercedes F1 seat

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 24:  Flavio Briatore, his wife Elisabetta Gregoraci and their son Falco Nathan attend the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 24, 2015 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Flavio Briatore has dismissed speculation suggesting that Fernando Alonso could replace Nico Rosberg at Mercedes for the 2017 Formula 1 season.

Briatore previously managed Alonso and remains a close friend of the Spaniard, who currently races for McLaren.

Rosberg announced just five days after winning his maiden F1 title that he would be retiring from racing with immediate effect, freeing up the most coveted seat on the grid.

Alonso is known to be desperate for a third world championship, having not claimed a title since 2006, leading to speculation that he could push for a move to Mercedes for 2017.

Mercedes F1 chief Toto Wolff said that Alonso was a driver that officials at the German marque “have to consider”, but was quick to acknowledge the contract in place with McLaren.

Briatore has become the latest figure to dismiss the idea, also making light of the fact that Alonso is linked to every free seat of note in F1.

“How is it that whenever there is a seat, you always think of Fernando?” Briatore told Italian publication La Gazzetta dello Sport.

“But there is a contract and we respect it.”

Alonso broke out of his Ferrari deal early at the end of 2014 to move to McLaren, but Briatore insisted that this was due to an escape clause in his contract.

“The situation was different. We had a pact with [Ferrari president Luca] di Montezemolo,” Briatore said.

“If we didn’t win the championship in 2014, we would be free, and Luca kept that promise.

“[Ferrari team principal Marco] Mattiacci offered a three-year renewal, but we refused.”

F1 2016 Review: Stories of the season

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 27: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo leads Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF16- Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP), Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer and the rest of the field at the start during the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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The 2016 Formula 1 season may have ended a little under two weeks ago now, but it was perhaps right that we let the dust settle before kicking off our series of year reviews on MotorSportsTalk.

Last Friday saw Nico Rosberg perform the ultimate mic drop by announcing his immediate retirement from racing just five days after winning his first F1 World Championship.

We’ll get to that in a bit when looking back on the stories of the season – but through the rest of the year, F1 offered a number of intriguing and notable moments.

Here’s a look back at the biggest stories of the 2016 F1 season.

MERCEDES MAKES IT THREE

Mercedes winning a third straight championship double may not seem like a big story at face value, but it really, really is. Given we are now three years in to the V6 turbo era of F1 and the field has noticeable converged, for Mercedes to have racked up a record number of wins, points and poles is an astonishing achievement.

Very rarely have we seen a true threat to Mercedes’ surpremacy, either. In 2015, Sebastian Vettel’s three victories came on weekends where Mercedes was simply second best. This time around? The two blots on Mercedes’ record book – Spain and Malaysia – were due to mitigating circumstances.

Red Bull and Ferrari may have lurked at times, but in reality, the gap at the front only grew bigger in 2016.

HAMILTON/ROSBERG RIVALRY GETS ANOTHER (FINAL) CHAPTER

The rivalry between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg reached a fiery crescendo in 2016. On-track clashes in Spain and Austria stoked the fire nicely, forcing Mercedes to revise its “terms of engagement” with both drivers to prevent recurrences.

While we failed to see any titanic on-track battles between the duo, this was certainly the bitterest year yet in Hamilton/Rosberg relations. The lengths that Hamilton went to in the title decider to stop his teammate winning was evidence of how sour relations had become, yet he was gracious in defeat once Rosberg had clinched the title.

Following Rosberg’s retirement, it looks like we’ve seen the last chapter of one of F1’s most intense rivalries. While it may have been messy at times, it has at least ensured that Mercedes’ spell of dominance was not a complete procession.

ROSBERG DROPS THE MIC

The last F1 story of the year was the biggest. Nico Rosberg’s sensational decision to retire from racing just five days after winning his maiden world championship shocked the entire F1 paddock (well, except Lewis Hamilton) and the sporting world in general.

Everything about the story was a surprise: the decision itself; the nature in which it happened; the ‘OK-ness’ about it all, as well. F1 will be without its champion next year despite him being perfectly fit and well, young, and coming off the best season of his career. It’s a weird situation…

It also brings into question the legacy that Rosberg will leave behind. Will he be remembered as the driver who defeated one of F1’s all-time greats in Hamilton? Or as the man who was ‘one and done’? Time will tell.

HAAS HITS THE GRID

The star-spangled banner returned to the F1 grid full-time in 2016 as NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas saw his eponymous operation make its debut. Most were unsure what to expect from Haas F1 Team during its debut season, making Romain Grosjean’s charge to sixth on debut in Australia a surprise for most.

Grosjean went one better at the next race in Bahrain, finishing fifth, but it proved to be the high point of the season. The strategic mastery we saw early on disappeared, and the teething problems that come with any new project began to crop up time and time again. The team scored just one point in the second half of the season.

Nevertheless, it was a strong start to life in F1 from Haas. Let’s see what more it can do in 2017.

FERRARI STRUGGLES, RED BULL EXCELS

When Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen vaulted to the front of the pack on the opening lap of the season in Australia, it seemed our prayers had been answered: finally, there would be some resistance to Mercedes’ steam-roller act we’d seen for the previous two years in F1.

It was about as good as things got for the Scuderia though. Come the end of the year, both Vettel and Raikkonen ended up winless, with Ferrari slipping behind Red Bull to third in the constructors’ championship. It was a big come-down after the hope that ran through the 2015 campaign and off-season.

As for Red Bull? 2016’s success was a big surprise. Renault finally got its act together on the engine side of things, giving Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo the tools with which to win one race each, and even light the fire under the Mercedes boys later in the year.

VERSTAPPEN STEPS UP, STEALS THE SHOW

Max Verstappen’s promotion into a Red Bull seat just four races in to the new season was a major story, with the crest-fallen Daniil Kvyat moving back down to Toro Rosso. We knew this teen protege was going to be special, but few could have predicted just how special he would be through 2016.

From victory on debut (albeit a fortunate one) to his defence of Hamilton in Japan, and, most impressive of all, his magic in the rain at Interlagos, this was a memorable year for Verstappen.

Don’t go thinking this is the finished product yet. Verstappen’s qualifying form remains a bit patchy, lacking the ouright pace over one lap of teammate Daniel Ricciardo, and there were costly errors through the year (the start at Spa being one).

But boy, if this is Verstappen as a sophomore, we can’t wait to see what’s to come in his twenties.

TALKING ‘BOUT MY GENERATION

2016 was a year for the next generation of F1 to come to the fore. Besides Verstappen’s growing stardom, we saw his ex-teammate, Carlos Sainz Jr., lead Toro Rosso and mark himself as one of the best up-and-comers on the grid.

Mercedes youngsters Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon both enjoyed impressive campaigns, the latter making his debut at Spa, with both now being linked to the vacant Mercedes seat.

We also saw Stoffel Vandoorne make his race debut, replacing the injured Fernando Alonso in Bahrain ahead of his full-time bow with McLaren next year, and had GP3 champion Charles Leclerc run in practice for Haas.

With Lance Stroll also poised to join the grid next year, we’re talking more and more about a younger generation in F1.

CHANGING OF THE GUARD

Tying in with that theme, 2016 saw the last hurrahs in F1 for Felipe Massa and Jenson Button, two of the sport’s veterans. Although Button could yet return in 2018, it’s highly unlikely.

Both ended their careers gracefully, bowing out with class in Abu Dhabi, although it’s hard to play their seasons up as being overly impressive given their form compared to teammates Valtteri Bottas and Fernando Alonso.

With Rosberg now also out of the picture, the F1 grid is becoming more and more unrecognizable to the one we had 10 years ago.

Some of the other big stories were:

  • Force India’s best-ever finish in the constructors’ championship, beating Williams to fourth.
  • Liberty Media’s plan to buy F1, announced back in September.
  • F1’s first race in Baku, Azerbaijan, which proved to be a pleasant surprise.
  • McLaren’s continued revival as Honda makes progress.
  • The reliability of Lewis Hamilton’s car (or lack of) through the season.
  • The power struggle at McLaren that led to Ron Dennis’ exit.
  • Continued efforts to improve safety in F1 with the Halo device.
  • After a damp 2015, the roaring, record-breaking USGP in Austin in October (with a hat-tip to Taylor Swift).

And it is with a T-Swift lyric we shall close things out in our stories of the season. 2016 may have been a bit of a rough year for the world, but the F1 season acted as a kind of escape; a way to shake it off.

John Force Racing will ‘Advance’ with new sponsorship for Courtney Force

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BROWNSBURG, Indiana — John Force likes to use the word “advance” in discussing the long-term future of his four-car race team.

Friday morning, Force literally put “advance” into action, as he announced daughter Courtney Force’s Funny Car will be sponsored during the 2017 24-race NHRA schedule by Advance Auto Parts stores, beginning with the season-opening Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California. The deal is for multiple seasons.

“This is all about building John Force Racing for the future,” Force told MotorSportsTalk. “We had a great run with Traxxas, they’ll be staying in the sport, which is great. And now we’re partnering with Advance Auto Parts, which we’re very excited about.”

Advance Auto Parts replaces Traxxas, which produces radio-controlled race cars, and which had sponsored Courtney Force for the past five seasons. Traxxas will remain involved in the sport as sponsor of the Traxxas Shootout, a special race-within-a-race for both Funny Cars and Top Fuel dragsters contested during the annual U.S. Nationals in Brownsburg.

Advance Auto Parts, which has nearly 5,400 retail stores across the country, is no stranger to John Force Racing. The auto parts supplier sponsored John Force’s PEAK Chevrolet Camaro at several events during the 2016 season, including a victory in the NHRA Carolina Nationals, which kicked off the six-race NHRA Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

“The opportunity came to grow the deal and they were interested in Courtney so it was a perfect match,” John Force said. “I have done shows with Advance Auto Parts in the past and am looking forward to working with them again.”

Both John and Courtney Force will be featured in several upcoming advertising and marketing campaigns for the company.

 

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Gustav Malja joins Racing Engineering for 2017 GP2 season

2016 GP2 Series Test 3
Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Wednesday 30 November 2016.
Gustav Malja (SWE, Racing Engineering) 
Photo: Sam Bloxham/GP2 Series Media Service.
ref: Digital Image _SLB2993_1
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Racing Engineering has announced the signing of Gustav Malja for the 2017 GP2 Series season following the Swede’s rookie campaign.

Malja, 21, made his GP2 debut in 2015 before embarking on his first full campaign in the Formula 1 support series with Rapax.

Malja scored points in the opening round of the year in Spain, finishing ninth, before highlighting his season with a run of top-10 finishes from Hockenheim to Sepang.

The run saw Malja finish second in the Spa sprint race and third at Monza in the feature event, enough to give him 13th in the final standings.

Malja will now move up to Racing Engineering for 2017, the team having worked with Norman Nato and Jordan King for the past season.

“I’m excited to join Racing Engineering for the 2017 GP2 season. We began getting to know each other in Abu Dhabi last week, and I immediately felt very much at home,” Malja said.

“It’s a team with a long and successful history in GP2, and I’m convinced it’s the ideal place for my continued development as a driver.

“I’m also very pleased to have everything in place at such an early stage. It will ease preparations this winter and give us all some peace of mind.”

Malja is the fourth driver to confirm his entry to GP2 for 2017, joining Sergio Sette Camara (MP Motorsport), Charles Leclerc and Antonio Fuoco (both Prema Racing) on the grid.