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Hildebrand sets unofficial fastest lap at Phoenix on Saturday afternoon

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AVONDALE, Ariz. – JR Hildebrand dropped the hammer in both tow and no-tow speed components during the third of four three-hour test sessions at Phoenix International Raceway, for this weekend’s Verizon IndyCar Series Prix View test.

The driver of the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet has set an unofficial track record at the 1.022-mile oval with a lap of 19.0401 seconds, or 193.234 mph. While that speed was set with a tow, Hildebrand also posted the fastest no-tow speed of 192.844 mph.

Both speeds are quicker than the official track record, last year’s pole run from Helio Castroneves at 192.631 mph and 19.0997 seconds.

Hildebrand’s laps today are unofficial track records because they are set in testing; official track records only come in qualifying and race conditions.

But the 29-year-old who lives in Boulder had a feeling his Ed Carpenter Racing team, which was very fast at Phoenix last year, would be on pace almost from the off.

“We’ve got two whole days here. Honestly for us I think it’s great because it gives us that little bit of extra time to kind of make sure that we’re just hitting our marks along the way,” Hildebrand said Friday. “I had every confidence getting in the car first session that we were going to start in the window. It’s just about I think all of us together being smart about how we approach it, and for me it’s an awesome sort of little change of pace to be back at it full-time.”

Lest Hildebrand have all the fun at the top of the timesheets, his team boss and teammate Carpenter was second in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet with a best speed of 192.404 mph. His best non-tow speed was 191.298 mph.

Team Penske was next up with Josef Newgarden, Helio Castroneves and Will Power respectively before the first of the Hondas, Mikhail Aleshin for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in sixth.

All of the top 11 runners in this session, held under overcast skies with ambient temperatures starting at 77 degrees and track temperatures of 94, were over the 190-mph threshold.

The first incident of the weekend occurred merely a few minutes into the session, as Alexander Rossi got low through Turns 1 and 2 in his No. 98 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda for Andretti-Herta Autosport and backed hard into the Turn 2 wall. Rossi was checked and cleared to drive. However, this marked the first accident for Rossi, the 2016 Indianapolis 500 champion, in an IndyCar.

Rossi only did one lap with his second lap seeing the accident occur on a planned qualifying simulation. Other low runners this session – Ed Jones, the rookie, only did eight laps, Marco Andretti did just 14 and Carpenter just 16.

Prior to the session, Helio Castroneves joined PIR officials for a groundbreaking session for the new construction and improvements for the “New Phoenix Raceway.” We’ll have a separate post on that to come.

Times and speeds are below. The final session of the weekend occurs from 6 to 9 p.m. MT and local time tonight.

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Robert Hight extends Funny Car victory streak to 13 seasons

Photo: Gary Nastase and Auto Imagery
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MORRISON, Colo. (AP) Robert Hight beat Tommy Johnson Jr. on Sunday in the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway to extend his Funny Car victory streak to 13 seasons.

Hight topped Johnson with a 3.995-second pass at 317.57 mph in a Chevrolet Camaro SS for his 38th career victory.

“We definitely struggled through the first few rounds and we were lucky to get those round wins, but I have a great team who figured things out and helped get me to the winner’s circle,” Hight said. “It’s definitely a long-time coming and we hadn’t had much luck, but today we had some luck and we hope this continues throughout the Western Swing.”

Antron Brown won in Top Fuel, Drew Skillman in Pro Stock, and Eddie Krawiec in Pro Stock Motorcycle.

Brown edged teammate and No. 1 qualifier Leah Pritchett with a 3.792 at 319.82. He has three victories this season to push his career total to 64.

Skillman raced to his second straight victory and the fifth of his career, beating points leader Bo Butner with a 6.916 run at 198.15 in a Camaro.

Krawiec topped Matt Smith with a 7.145 at 188.28. The Harley-Davidson rider has two victories this season and 38 overall.

Sauber confirms Matsushita for Hungary test as well

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Honda junior driver Nobuhiro Matsushita will have a run with Sauber F1 Team on the second day of the Hungarian Grand Prix post-race week test, in the team’s C36 chassis.

Sauber’s engine selection for 2018 is up in the air. While the team announced a switch from year old Ferraris to Hondas, this was done under prior team principal Monisha Kaltenborn and rumors have persisted the deal may be off, or wasn’t fully done in the first place.

That Matsushita is running at this test for his first day in an F1 car – Gustav Malja will run on day one – could indicate the Honda switch isn’t yet a dead topic.

“When I was four years old, I was fascinated by Michael Schumacher, watching him racing in Formula 1. Since then my dream was to become a Formula 1 driver,” he said. “I am very excited about my first Formula 1 test and I am really looking forward to driving the Sauber C36-Ferrari at the Hungaroring – it is a great opportunity for me. I hope it will be a productive day for the team as well as for myself, so that I can learn as much as possible. I would like to thank the Sauber F1 Team for making this happen.”

New team boss Frederic Vasseur, formerly of Renault, gave his take on the test.

“I am pleased that Nobuharu has this great opportunity. He deserves the experience of his first test in a Formula 1 car. Ever since his debut in Formula 2 with ART Grand Prix, I have been following his progress closely, and have watched him advance his performance from year to year. With this Formula 1 test, he comes one step closer to his dream of becoming an F1 driver one day.”

Renault confirms Robert Kubica will test in Hungary

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Renault Sport F1 Team has confirmed Robert Kubica will make his return to a current Formula 1 car in the post-Hungarian Grand Prix test, which will only continue to fuel the hype train for a possible race return.

The Pole has undertaken two tests in recent weeks with older cars but this day in the Renault R.S.17 will provide the team a chance to evaluate him in current machinery to gauge his race level fitness.

It’s a story that has got the F1 world buzzing in recent weeks as Kubica, injured in a rally accident before the 2011 season, has made a comeback to restart his racing career.

Poor Nicholas Latifi, also confirmed for the test that runs the Tuesday and Wednesday after the Hungarian Grand Prix, will be undoubtedly overlooked as a result.

Jolyon Palmer will race in Hungary this weekend at least but whether the Brit continues beyond the summer break that follows afterwards remains a question mark.

Haas F1 driver Romain Grosjean to launch cookbook

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Haas Formula 1 driver Romain Grosjean may be one of the sport’s most promising talents on-track, but he also has a burning passion off it: cooking.

Grosjean may have been spent a good part of this year cooking his brakes, but you’ll now be able to cook bakes instead…

F1’s resident foodie is set to release a cookbook alongside wife Marion Jolles in the coming weeks, as announced on his Facebook page.

Grosjean currently sits 13th in the F1 drivers’ championship with 18 points to his name, helping Haas to match the points total from its debut season after just 10 races in 2017.