Robert Hight (Photo courtesy NHRA)

Hight (FC), Brown (TF), Gray (PS), Arana Jr. (PSM) provisional No. 1 qualifiers for NHRA race in New Hampshire

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Robert Hight is back at it again, recording the first sub-four second Funny Car run in New England Dragway history during Friday’s first two rounds of qualifying for the NHRA Auto-Plus New England Nationals in Epping, N.H.

In the hunt for his fifth win of the season, Hight  powered down the 1,000-foot dragstrip at 3.988 seconds and 321.58 mph to become the early No. 1 qualifier in the Funny Car class. There are two more qualifying rounds on Saturday prior to Sunday’s final eliminations.

Ironically, even though he has four wins thus far in 2014 and leads the NHRA Mello Yello Funny Car points standings, Hight has not earned a No. 1 qualifying position yet this season. Coming into this season, he’s been No. 1 45 times.

“That was pretty awesome,” Hight said. “We made a nice run the first run. Mike Neff told me going up there we’re not going to be cowards tonight. We’re going to get after this thing. He honestly figured there were going to be others in the threes.”

Cruz Pedregon was second-quickest in Friday’s qualifying rounds with a top run of 4.026 seconds at 307.44 mph. Courtney Force is qualified No. 3 heading into Saturday’s two final rounds of qualifying.

Force recorded the fifth-fastest speed for a Funny Car run in HRA history with a clocking of 323.45 mph.

In other categories, Antron Brown was the No. 1 qualifier in Top Fuel, Shane Gray was No. 1 in Pro Stock and Hector Arana Jr. was No. 1 in Pro Stock Motorcycle.

Brown drove his dragster to a time of 3.770 seconds at 323.58 mph.

“The track definitely had some teeth in it,” Brown said. “The first session we were actually on a good run, and we came back and just wanted to improve upon it. We definitely wanted to run lower than a .77. We wanted to run a low 3.7, but the track was so good. It had such great teeth on it that it sucked some of the tune-up out of the race car on the starting line.”

Brown, who is looking for his second NHRA Top Fuel championship in the last three seasons, is also looking for his fourth win and second No. 1 qualifying position this season. Points leader Doug Kalitta was No. 2 qualifier (3.773 seconds at 323.89), while Brittany Force reset the track record in speed at 323.35 mph and qualified fourth.

Gray sat atop the Pro Stock ladder with a track record time of 6.485 seconds at 212.79 mph.

“I’m not really used to this,” Gray said of qualifying No. 1 for only the second time in his career (he also was No. 1 last weekend at Bristol, Tennessee). “But, I’m real proud of [crew chief] Justin Elks, Paul Hoskins, and all the boys at the shop. Obviously, they’ve done their work and my job is easy.”

All told, all eight track records — elapsed time and speed — were set in the four pro categories on Friday, with a potential for even more track records on Saturday or in Sunday’s eliminations.

Erica Enders-Stevens has continued her momentum from her win in Bristol by posting a performance of 6.489 at 213.98 in her Elite Motorsports Camaro to claim the second spot. Defending world champ Jeg Coughlin is fifth, having set the track record speed at 214.25 mph in his JEGS.com/Mopar Dodge Dart.

Arana led PSM with a top qualifying run of 6.807 seconds at 195.05 mph and is seeking his first No. 1 qualifying effort of the season.

“This Lucas Oil Buell has been amazing,” said Arana Jr, who also set the track speed record at 197.57 mph on his first qualifying attempt. “We won the crank lotto. There are issues with cranks right now, and every once and a while you find a good one. Luckily, we found a good one.”

Reigning PSM champ Matt Smith was second-quickest in Friday’s qualifying with a time of 6.816 seconds at 194.49 mph.

 

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Here’s Friday’s results after two of four rounds of qualifying for the Second annual Auto-Plus NHRA New England Nationals at New England Dragway and Motorsports Park:

Top Fuel — 1. Antron Brown, 3.770 seconds, 323.58 mph; 2. Doug Kalitta, 3.773, 323.89; 3. Richie Crampton, 3.774, 69.61; 4. Brittany Force, 3.776, 325.45; 5. J.R. Todd, 3.778, 324.83; 6. Spencer Massey, 3.796, 319.90; 7. Leah Pritchett, 3.812, 318.77; 8. Steve Torrence, 3.817, 81.21; 9. Khalid alBalooshi, 3.819, 320.81; 10. Tony Schumacher, 3.820, 322.50; 11. Bob Vandergriff, 3.877, 76.43; 12. Dom Lagana, 3.915, 319.29.  Not Qualified: 13. Clay Millican, 6.300, 77.40; 14. Todd Paton, 8.040, 76.28; 15. Shawn Langdon, 8.129, 83.32; 16. Terry McMillen, 8.215, 90.00.

Funny Car — 1. Robert Hight, Ford Mustang, 3.988, 321.58; 2. Cruz Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 4.026, 307.44; 3. Courtney Force, Mustang, 4.031, 323.35; 4. Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 4.033, 318.24; 5. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.053, 315.27; 6. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.061, 313.80; 7. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.083, 297.61; 8. John Force, Mustang, 4.092, 311.70; 9. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.102, 77.81; 10. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.110, 84.75; 11. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.134, 68.27; 12. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.221, 278.92.  Not Qualified: 13. Jeff Arend, 4.537, 193.65; 14. Dave Richards, 4.653, 158.07; 15. Mike Smith, 7.535, 89.57; 16. Tony Pedregon, 9.552, 80.10.

Pro Stock — 1. Shane Gray, Chevy Camaro, 6.485, 213.03; 2. Erica Enders-Stevens, Camaro, 6.489, 213.98; 3. Dave Connolly, Camaro, 6.493, 212.96; 4. Shane Tucker, Chevy Cobalt, 6.496, 213.94; 5. Jeg Coughlin, Dodge Dart, 6.497, 214.25; 6. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.503, 213.40; 7. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.512, 213.10; 8. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 6.519, 213.77; 9. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.523, 213.70; 10. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.525, 212.86; 11. Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.538, 212.79; 12. V. Gaines, Dart, 6.551, 212.49.  Not Qualified: 13. John Gaydosh Jr, 6.697, 206.57; 14. Larry Morgan, 6.939, 207.40; 15. Val Smeland, 6.998, 198.23; 16. Kenny Delco, 8.198, 115.42.

Pro Stock Motorcycle — 1. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.807, 197.57; 2. Matt Smith, Buell, 6.816, 194.49; 3. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.852, 193.65; 4. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.858, 194.07; 5. John Hall, Buell, 6.876, 193.90; 6. Michael Ray, Buell, 6.895, 192.47; 7. Adam Arana, Buell, 6.901, 194.77; 8. Angie Smith, Buell, 6.901, 194.27; 9. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 6.908, 195.68; 10. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.938, 194.04; 11. Chaz Kennedy, Buell, 6.942, 190.94; 12. Shawn Gann, Buell, 6.970, 193.29.

Not Qualified: 13. Jerry Savoie, 6.973, 194.86; 14. Scotty Pollacheck, 7.025, 191.70; 15. Justin Finley, 7.064, 188.15; 16. Hector Arana, 7.328, 144.00; 17. Sam Hurwitz, 7.888, 178.76; 18. Brian Pretzel, broke.

F1 Paddock Pass: Mercedes W08 Launch (VIDEO)

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Winter storm Doris hit the U.K. on Thursday but filming of Paddock Pass pressed on regardless, as the latest installment of the NBC Sports Group original digital series captured yet another video – this time the launch of the Mercedes F1 W08 EQ Power+, the latest challenger for the Mercedes AMG Petronas.

Mercedes’ launch differed from the first three this week, Sauber, Renault and Force India, in that it was both a filming day and launch at the Silverstone Circuit for drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas. Both drivers had time in the car.

NBCSN pit reporter and insider Will Buxton catches up with the key stakeholders in this edition of Paddock Pass.

Previous Paddock Pass editions from this week are below:

Stay tuned to more on NBCSports.com as the week continues in the buildup to testing next week in Barcelona.

Scuderia Ferrari reveals its 2017 Formula 1 challenger

170008_sf70h
Photos: Ferrari
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Scuderia Ferrari has taken the wraps off its 2017 chassis as the launch week continues for this year’s Formula 1 cars.

Despite the loss of technical director James Allison to Mercedes and after going through an underwhelming, winless 2016 season – at least by Ferrari standards – the team looks for a bounce back this year to coincide with the new regulations.

The renamed SF70H, which follows on last year’s SF16-H, was revealed online in a quick video without any buildup or dialogue from any of the key team stakeholders.

Photo: Ferrari
Photo: Ferrari
Photo: Ferrari
Photo: Ferrari

Noticeable on this car is the shark fin element, again with a winglet on the top of it. The team’s reveal of the chassis reveals the differences for this project, code named the 668 internally:

There are several differences between the 668 project and Ferraris from the recent past: the lengthened nose and the arrow-shaped wing are a consequence of the regulations, as is the obvious fin on the engine cover and the more complex aero appendages ahead of the air intakes on the sidepods, whose unusual shape was designed in harmony with the front crash structure. Visible at the front is a duct that has an aerodynamic role, while behind the driver, the roll-hoop, which incorporates the engine air intake has been completely redesigned. Also updated is the suspension layout, which still retains a push rod design at the front with pull rods at the rear. The hubs and wheel nuts have been redesigned to facilitate the work of the mechanics when changing wheels during the pit stops. Finally, also as a function of the expected increase in performance this year, the power-steering and braking systems have been upsized.

A couple screen caps from the launch video are below:

newferrari2

Photo: Ferrari
Photos: Ferrari

The launch is the first of two today, with McLaren’s reveal of the MCL32 coming in a couple hours.

Ricky Taylor makes his IndyCar test debut today at Homestead

BRASELTON, GA - OCTOBER 03:  Ricky Taylor, C, sits with member of his crew before qualifying for Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta on October 3, 2014 in Braselton, Georgia.  (Photo by Brian Cleary/Getty Images)
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It seems to be the winter of all-stars from other racing disciplines testing in IndyCar.

Today Ricky Taylor joined the list of those stars from the closed-top sports car or touring car world on the winter IndyCar test list, with a one-off guest test for Team Penske in defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion Simon Pagenaud’s No. 1 PPG Chevrolet.

The older of two Taylor brothers, who completed a star turn at this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona en route to delivering the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R an overall win with brother Jordan, Max Angelelli and Jeff Gordon, made his maiden laps at the Homestead-Miami Speedway road course.

Chevrolet and General Motors extended the test offer to Ricky Taylor for this opportunity. Fittingly for Pagenaud, it’s the second time in not even a year he’s given up his seat to another member of either the GM or Penske family; Brad Keselowski made a similar out-of-nowhere one-off test at Road America last year.

“Every driver dreams to be an Indy car driver,” Taylor said, via IndyCar.com. It can’t hurt to be involved with (Team Penske); there are no negatives to that. To get to know all the guys and get to drive the car and get an actual feel for it in a low-pressure environment is a great opportunity for me. Even if it doesn’t lead to anything, it’s a big learning opportunity.”

With Ricky Taylor completing this test and with Robert Wickens and Pipo Derani set to test next week at Sebring’s short course, there’s been a sudden series of additional interest in the final few runs before the IndyCar season opens on March 12.

And with Ricky Taylor in Homestead today, it was left to Jordan Taylor and the Konica Minolta team’s new third driver, Englishman Alex Lynn, to run solo today as part of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship February test at Sebring’s full course. Lynn will make his U.S. race debut in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, to be held March 18. Ricky Taylor will be back at Sebring for the second day of the IMSA test, held Friday.

Great to see @simonpagenaud and @rickytaylor_10 today good job both!!

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Alexander Albon moves up to GP2 with ART Grand Prix

2016 GP2 Series Test 3
Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Friday 2 December 2016.
Alexander Albon (THA, ART Grand Prix) 
Photo: Zak Mauger/GP2 Series Media Service.
ref: Digital Image _X0W3990
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2016 GP3 Series runner-up Alexander Albon has announced that he will move into GP2 for 2017 with ART Grand Prix, completing the team’s line-up.

Albon, 20, finished second behind Ferrari junior Charles Leclerc in GP3 last year with ART, racking up four race wins through his rookie campaign.

The Thai youngster will now continue with ART in GP2, partnering McLaren youngster Nobuharu Matsushita through 2017.

“I am really excited to be working with ART Grand Prix for a second year. I learnt a huge amount last year and we have become one big close family,” Albon said.

“Moving up to the GP2 series is an important step in anyone’s career and I am extremely fortunate to be with a top team who already understand me.

“There’s a lot to learn coming from GP3, and the experience and method of working at ART Grand Prix is the reason they have won so many titles. I hope I will continue to proudly wear Thailand’s colours and those of my faithful Thai partners.

“I look forward to the new challenge and cannot wait for the season to begin!”

The new GP2 season will begin in Bahrain on April 15.