Legendary 3-time NHRA Top Fuel champion Shirley Muldowney is grand marshal for this weekend's race at Joliet, Illinois. (Photo courtesy NHRA)

Brittany Force (TF), Robert Hight (FC), Allen Johnson (PS), Eddie Krawiec (PSM) first day NHRA No. 1 qualifiers in Joliet

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John Force Racing held the top spots in both Top Fuel and Funny Car after the first two rounds of qualifying Friday for the O’Reilly Auto Parts Nationals at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Illinois.

Brittany Force was the provisional No. 1 qualifier in Top Fuel, recording a pass of 3.791 seconds at 324.51 mph. Force is seeking to enter Sunday’s final eliminations with her third No. 1 qualifying spot of the season.

“It felt like a quick run,” Force said in a NHRA media release. “I felt it pull me to the center line so I never thought we were going to be No. 1. But we got it down there. When I jumped out at the other end I was excited and just crossing my fingers it would hold.”

Two-time 2014 event winner Spencer Massey was second-quickest at 3.804 seconds at 324.83 mph.

* In Funny Car, JFR president Robert Hight was the provisional No. 1 qualifier (4.026 seconds at 317.64 mph) after overtaking No. 2 qualifier Tommy Johnson Jr. (4.038 seconds at 318.32 mph) in the second run of the day.

“[Crew Chief] Mike Neff was actually very happy with that run,” Hight said. “We were No. 1 after the first session, and No. 1 again tonight, that’s six small points today.

“Tomorrow we’re going to get all over this thing. We’re going to get after it.”

Hight, who leads the NHRA Funny Car points standings, is going for his fifth win in the first 12 races of the 24-race season.

* In Pro Stock, 2012 NHRA world champion Allen Johnson earned the provisional No. 1 with a strong 6.574 second run at 209.43 mph.

“It was perfect, there was nothing left,” Johnson said of his run. “Actually both of the runs I made today were two of the best I’ve made this year, maybe even in my career. We left nothing on the table.”

Points leader Erica Enders-Stevens was No. 2 qualifier (6.594 seconds at 209.65 mph).

* In Pro Stock Motorcycle, three-time champ Eddie Krawiec rode his two-wheeler to the provisional No. 1 spot with a run of 6.872 seconds at 194.86 mph.

Krawiec is in pursuit of his fourth No. 1 qualifier this season, as well as seeking both his first career No. 1 qualifying spot and victory at Route 66.

“The key is that we made two good passes today,” Krawiec said. “On the first run I ran a 6.93, which was good, but we also left a lot on the table. We used that run and came up with a good tune-up for Q2. The track is really good here and we can get after it.”

Hector Arana Jr. was No. 2 qualifier (6.941 seconds at 192.74 mph).

Two final rounds of qualifying take place Saturday in preparation for Sunday’s final eliminations at the track, located 45 miles southwest of Chicago.

 

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Here’s Friday’s results after the first two of four rounds of qualifying for the 17th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals:

Top Fuel — 1. Brittany Force, 3.791 seconds, 324.51 mph; 2. Spencer Massey, 3.804, 324.83; 3. Doug Kalitta, 3.805, 320.13; 4. Antron Brown, 3.808, 319.75; 5. Tony Schumacher, 3.812, 323.81; 6. J.R. Todd, 3.837, 300.86; 7. Steve Torrence, 3.840, 322.65; 8. Bob Vandergriff, 3.840, 316.01; 9. Khalid alBalooshi, 3.844, 316.60; 10. T.J. Zizzo, 3.852, 318.39; 11. Shawn Langdon, 3.865, 315.93; 12. Terry McMillen, 3.868, 321.50.

Not Qualified: 13. Billy Torrence, 3.932, 316.08; 14. Pat Dakin, 3.944, 308.50; 15. Richie Crampton, 4.725, 156.75; 16. Tim Cullinan, 5.082, 133.78; 17. Chris Karamesines, 5.675, 114.29; 18. Clay Millican, 6.722, 86.58; 19. Luigi Novelli, 10.736, 80.24.

Funny Car — 1. Robert Hight, Ford Mustang, 4.026, 317.64; 2. Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 4.038, 318.32; 3. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.040, 312.50; 4. Courtney Force, Mustang, 4.047, 319.75; 5. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.048, 315.64; 6. John Force, Mustang, 4.049, 316.38; 7. Del Worsham, Toyota Camry, 4.051, 315.12; 8. Chad Head, Camry, 4.067, 312.21; 9. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.093, 303.50; 10. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.095, 311.92; 11. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.101, 307.72; 12. Jeff Arend, Charger, 4.146, 307.23.

Not Qualified: 13. Tony Pedregon, 4.264, 260.51; 14. Bob Tasca III, 4.335, 236.09; 15. Brian Stewart, 4.901, 167.88; 16. Bob Bode, 5.360, 135.66; 17. Justin Schriefer, 6.189, 109.97; 18. Dale Creasy Jr., 6.515, 108.75.

Pro Stock — 1. Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.574, 209.82; 2. Erica Enders-Stevens, Chevy Camaro, 6.594, 209.65; 3. Jeg Coughlin, Dart, 6.604, 209.30; 4. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.604, 209.14; 5. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.605, 208.39; 6. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.610, 208.94; 7. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.611, 208.81; 8. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.612, 208.91; 9. Dave Connolly, Camaro, 6.619, 208.01; 10. Shane Tucker, Camaro, 6.628, 209.14; 11. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 6.637, 208.81; 12. V. Gaines, Dart, 6.643, 209.01.

Not Qualified: 13. Mark Martino, 6.647, 207.43; 14. Larry Morgan, 6.674, 207.27; 15. Mark Hogan, 6.750, 205.32; 16. Kevin Lawrence, 6.759, 203.55; 17. Dave River, 6.836, 203.68.

Pro Stock Motorcycle — 1. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.872, 194.86; 2. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.941, 192.74; 3. Scotty Pollacheck, Buell, 6.943, 193.40; 4. Matt Smith, Buell, 6.943, 192.11; 5. Hector Arana, Buell, 6.959, 192.99; 6. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.959, 192.36; 7. John Hall, Buell, 6.991, 190.67; 8. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.996, 190.75; 9. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 7.006, 190.97; 10. Angie Smith, Buell, 7.009, 191.10; 11. Shawn Gann, Buell, 7.010, 191.38; 12. Chaz Kennedy, Buell, 7.021, 189.26.

Not Qualified: 13. Steve Johnson, 7.030, 190.19; 14. Adam Arana, 7.050, 191.35; 15. LE Tonglet, 7.055, 189.20; 16. Justin Finley, 7.057, 189.47; 17. Joe DeSantis, 7.069, 186.36; 18. Redell Harris, 7.089, 189.95; 19. Elvira Karlsson, 7.113, 183.07; 20. Craig Treble, 7.117, 188.52; 21. Michael Ray, 7.137, 183.10; 22. Mike Berry, 7.204, 182.38.

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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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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.

Alonso set for short qualifying after Malaysia power unit penalties

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - SEPTEMBER 30: Fernando Alonso of Spain driving the (14) McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team McLaren MP4-31 Honda RA616H 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 Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Fernando Alonso is preparing to watch the majority of Formula 1 qualifying for the Malaysian Grand Prix on TV after being hit with power unit penalties at Sepang.

Honda confirmed heading into the weekend that it had used some of its remaining development tokens to bring an update power unit to Malaysia for the McLaren team.

While Jenson Button will not take on the upgrades, Alonso will, meaning he must take new power unit components that trigger a grid penalty.

As things stand, Alonso has a 30-place grid drop to his name after taking a complete new power unit, but is expected to receive an additional penalty on Saturday.

Regardless, with the Spaniard all but certain to start Sunday’s race from last place on the grid, his focus on Saturday will be to set a time fast enough to simply qualify for the race, finishing within 107% of the best Q1 lap.

“We completed a good number of laps today and got through all the tests we’d planned to do. We even managed to conduct some experiments aimed at next year’s car, which was really positive,” Alonso said, reflecting on his Friday practice running, where he finished fifth in FP1 and seventh in FP2.

“We still need to see how well we can do tomorrow, especially in FP3, where we’ll be concentrating on long runs.

“For me, qualifying is going to be pretty short because of my penalties: I’ll do a lap to set a time within 107% and then I’ll watch it on TV. Then we’ll try to save as many sets of new tires as possible.”

“Fernando made a positive start to his weekend by immediately dropping into the groove and looking impressively quick at times,” McLaren racing director Eric Boullier added.

“It’s frustrating that he’s facing a significant grid penalty – for introducing new power unit elements – but it’s something we’d already factored into our weekend program, and we’ll work hard to provide him with a car and a strategy to best cope with that setback on Sunday.”

Qualifying for the Malaysian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 5am ET on Saturday.