Ricciardo pounces to win at Spa as Rosberg and Hamilton come to blows

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SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, BELGIUM – Daniel Ricciardo has claimed victory in today’s Belgian Grand Prix after capitalizing on a clash between Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg in the early stages of the race.

The two championship rivals touched on the second lap, leaving Hamilton with a puncture that ultimately forced him to retire from the race. Rosberg tried to catch Ricciardo, but could not deny the Australian driver from claiming his third win of the season at a track which Red Bull expected to struggle.

The start saw Hamilton seize the lead from Rosberg after making a great getaway from second place on the grid, but the Briton was soon coming under pressure from Sebastian Vettel in the Red Bull. The defending world champion tried to pass him around the outside at Les Combes, only to run wide and allow Rosberg back up into second place.

As the German driver closed on Hamilton, the race leader defended from him heading along the Kemmel Straight, only for the Mercedes teammates to touch. Rosberg’s front wing popped Hamilton’s left-rear tire, leaving the Briton with a puncture and costing the championship leader his endplate. He did manage to take the lead, though, but Hamilton’s race was already looking bleak as he pitted for repairs. He emerged down in 19th place and with a lot of work to do.

Meanwhile, Daniel Ricciardo had passed both Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel to rise to second position behind Rosberg, and was soon applying pressure to the German driver.

Rosberg soon had to pit for repairs and a fresh set of tires, but his race took a strange turn when a piece of debris got caught on the front aerial of his car. It was soon removed, and he set about recovering the positions he had lost.

Bottas was now on a charge, passing Alonso to move up into third for Williams. The Finn moved into the lead of the race when both of the Red Bull drivers pitted from the top two positions. An early stop for Kimi Raikkonen allowed him to move up into second place behind Ricciardo once all of the front-runners had made their first pit stop.

Vettel came under pressure for third place from Rosberg and Bottas, with the Mercedes driver taking the harder tire on at his pit stop. However, Rosberg could not find a way past Vettel, and eventually lost a position to Bottas after locking up under braking at the final corner.

In order to avoid losing time behind the duelling duo, Rosberg took to the pits a couple of laps after his teammate. However, with Hamilton down in P17, the Briton’s hopes of cutting the gap at the top of the drivers’ standings looked slim.

Vettel moved back up to second place for Red Bull when Kimi Raikkonen took to the pits for the second time. In the sister Ferrari, Fernando Alonso was having less luck, losing out to McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen for fifth place before dropping behind Rosberg. The Mercedes driver was now ahead of Vettel after both had made their second stop.

Rosberg continued to rally, moving up into the top three behind Ricciardo and Bottas, who were both yet to make their second stop. The German was given the call to push in order to force his rivals into pitting, but when Ricciardo did pit, he emerged ahead of Rosberg on track. With fresher tires, the advantage lay with the Australian with 16 laps to go at Spa, and he re-took the lead when Bottas pitted, coming back out in sixth place.

The Finn soon looked to recover the positions he had lost, doing what Rosberg couldn’t by passing Vettel around the outside of Les Combes. When Rosberg pitted for a third time, he entered battle with Bottas, and was unable to keep him back heading down the Kemmel straight. With fresher tires though, the German was soon able to get back ahead of Bottas before passing Raikkonen to move into second place once again. This left the two Finns to scrap over the final podium position, with Bottas eventually winning out thanks to his fresher set of tires.

With five laps remaining, a frustrated Lewis Hamilton pitted from sixteenth position to retire from the Belgian Grand Prix. After coming into this weekend with so much hope and belief, this DNF will come as a bitter blow to the Briton’s title hopes.

Mercedes told its sole remaining driver, Rosberg, to put the hammer down with seven laps to go, and he responded by posting the fastest lap of the race. He continued to carve into Ricciardo’s lead at a rate of over two seconds per lap, setting the stage for a close finish at Spa.

However, it simply wasn’t enough. After seeing the Mercedes drivers falter, Daniel Ricciardo was once again the man to pick up the pieces. He crossed the line with an advantage of 3.3 seconds at the flag to secure his third win of the season.

Bottas completed the podium for Williams ahead of Kimi Raikkonen, who secured his best result of the year at his favorite circuit. Sebastian Vettel finished fifth for Red Bull ahead of the McLaren duo of Kevin Magnussen and Jenson Button, with Fernando Alonso settling for P8 in the end. Sergio Perez and Daniil Kvyat completed the points.

As Mercedes’ title fight boiled over, Ricciardo once again made the most of it. His victory sees him strengthen his grip on third place in the drivers’ standings ahead of Alonso and Bottas.

At the very top, it is Rosberg who will be the happiest man with a 29-point lead, even if he has some tough questions to answer this evening at Mercedes.

NHRA shocker in Houston: John Force fails to qualify for first time since 2008, snaps 221-race streak

Photo and videos courtesy NHRA
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Sunday’s eliminations in the 31st annual NHRA SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway in suburban Houston  just won’t be the same without John Force.

In one of the most stunning turn of events seen in the last decade-plus in NHRA drag racing, the legendary 16-time Funny Car champion and the sport’s all-time winningest driver on Saturday failed to qualify for Sunday’s main event of the race weekend.

It marks the first time Force, who turns 69 on May 4, failed to qualify for a race since Sept. 13, 2008 in Charlotte race, snapping a string of having made the eliminations in each of the subsequent 221 races until failing to do so Saturday.

“That is hard for me,” Force said after failing to go any faster than 222.29 mph in the four qualifying rounds for the race, two on Friday and the other two on Saturday. “You earn what you get. We didn’t put it in the show. We couldn’t get to half-track.

“We have had a lot of problems all year. At least I got my final shot to get in and I didn’t make it. I will be here tomorrow rooting on Robert, Courtney and Brittany (teammates Robert Hight and daughters Courtney and Brittany Force). I’ll be signing autographs for all the fans. I am sorry to all of you fans that I didn’t make it.”

Saturday’s failure to qualify marked only the 22nd time he’s DNQ’d in his 40-year professional drag racing career. He set a drag racing record by qualifying for 395 consecutive events from 1988 until April 2007.

“I am bummed that the boss didn’t get in. That was quite a streak he had going,” Hight said of hoss and father-in-law. “There is nobody better at rallying a team and leading a comeback than John Force.

“He loves the fight and he will do whatever it takes to get his team back on top. It really isn’t something to worry about because two of our Chevys are No.1 and No. 2 right now.

“We have good combinations and we just have to duplicate one of those set ups for John’s PEAK Funny car. He’ll be back next week in Charlotte.”

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As for the other classes (information courtesy NHRA Media Relations):Leah Pritchett set a new Top Fuel track record during the final qualifying session on Saturday to secure the top spot in Top Fuel heading into Sunday.Hight (Funny Car) and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) are also No. 1 qualifiers in their respective categories at the fifth of 24 events on the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.

Defending event champion Pritchett raced her Mopar Dodge dragster to a pass of 3.680-seconds at 326.00 mph. This is her first No. 1 qualifier of the season and eighth of her career.

“We’ve been developing our confidence the last couple of races,” Pritchett stated. “To be able to put it on the track is phenomenal. We know we need to be exceptional because our competition is exceptional.”

Pritchett will line up against Terry Brian in round one of eliminations on Sunday. Defending world champion Brittany Force locked-in the No. 2 spot after a 3.701 at 313.80 in her Monster Energy dragster. Tony Schumacher is seeded third and will face William Litton.

Hight’s final qualifying pass of 3.894 at 317.27 in his Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro took him to the top of the Funny Car category. This is his first No. 1 qualifier of the season, second at Houston and 58th of his career.

“This is going to be a new ball game tomorrow,” Hight said. “With fresh asphalt and the sun being out; these cars are going to spin. It’s definitely going to be fun. Two of our Chevy’s are one and two (in Funny Car) which shows we have good combinations.”

Hight will face-off against Todd Simpson Sunday morning in the first round. Teammate Courtney Force sits in the No. 2 position with a pass of 3.911 at 295.14 in her Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro and two-time world champion Matt Hagan rounds out the top three.

Anderson, four-time Pro Stock world champion, remained atop the field Saturday with his pass of 6.492 at 213.00 in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro from the first qualifying session on Friday. He notched his third consecutive No. 1 qualifier of the season and is seeking his first victory of the year.

“I haven’t had great Sunday’s yet,” Anderson stated. “I know I’m going to break through one of these days though. The weather is going to be great again tomorrow. I feel good about it, I’m excited and so far it’s just been a great weekend.”

Anderson will race Steve Graham in the first round of eliminations. Jeg Coughlin Jr. qualified in the No. 2 position with a pass of 6.504 at 212.36 in his JEGS.com/Elite Performance Chevrolet Camaro and Tanner Gray is third.

Eliminations at the NHRA SpringNationals begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday at Royal Purple Raceway.

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SUNDAY’S FIRST-ROUND PAIRINGS FOR ELIMINATIONS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Leah Pritchett, 3.680 seconds, 326.00 mph vs. 16. Terry Brian, 4.275, 284.62; 2. Brittany Force, 3.701, 320.20 vs. 15. Terry Haddock, 4.081, 287.17; 3. Tony Schumacher, 3.703, 322.73 vs. 14. Bill Litton, 3.927, 306.60; 4. Billy Torrence, 3.737, 317.87 vs. 13. Kebin Kinsley, 3.819, 313.51; 5. Antron Brown, 3.740, 324.98 vs. 12. Terry McMillen, 3.783, 314.31; 6. Clay Millican, 3.746, 315.78 vs. 11. Mike Salinas, 3.766, 313.73; 7. Doug Kalitta, 3.748, 320.05 vs. 10. Richie Crampton, 3.766, 316.23; 8. Scott Palmer, 3.754, 318.17 vs. 9. Steve Torrence, 3.759, 313.88. Did Not Qualify: 17. Terry Totten, 4.636, 216.34.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.894, 317.27 vs. 16. Todd Simpson, Dodge Charger, 4.318, 288.33; 2. Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.911, 313.58 vs. 15. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Camry, 4.151, 283.49; 3. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.913, 311.85 vs. 14. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.077, 305.77; 4. Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.918, 317.42 vs. 13. Richard Townsend, Camry, 4.026, 308.99; 5. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 3.918, 301.94 vs. 12. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.017, 307.51; 6. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.925, 311.41 vs. 11. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 3.994, 311.34; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.926, 313.00 vs. 10. J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.989, 313.37; 8. Jonnie Lindberg, Camry, 3.927, 316.52 vs. 9. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.938, 314.09. Did Not Qualify: 17. Jim Campbell, 4.341, 273.05; 18. John Force, 4.625, 222.29.

PRO STOCK: 1. Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.492, 213.00 vs. 16. Steve Graham, Camaro, 6.775, 205.60; 2. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.504, 212.36 vs. 15. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.621, 208.65; 3. Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.507, 211.99 vs. 14. John Gaydosh Jr, Chevrolet Camaro, 6.592, 210.93; 4. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.513, 212.29 vs. 13. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.548, 210.67; 5. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.518, 211.99 vs. 12. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.545, 210.50; 6. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.525, 212.79 vs. 11. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.532, 212.73; 7. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.527, 212.29 vs. 10. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.532, 211.79; 8. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.528, 211.93 vs. 9. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.530, 211.33.