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NHRA: Top Fuel leader Leah Pritchett goes for 3-straight in Gainesville

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Over the last 20 years or so, it’s been very common to see a Don Schumacher Racing car atop the NHRA Top Fuel ranks.

After all, Antron Brown has won the last two Top Fuel championships and three of the last five. And then there’s teammate and Don’s son, Tony, an eight-time Top Fuel champion.

But if you look at what has taken place in the first two races of the 2017 national event season, there’s a potential new DSR champ in the making.

Leah Pritchett won both races (Pomona, California and Phoenix) and goes for three in a row in this weekend’s Amalie Motor Oil Gatornationals in Gainesville, Florida.

In terms of status and importance among NHRA national events, the Gatornationals is considered among the top four or five races in the 24-race season.

And like Brown, Schumacher and her other teammates at DSR, Pritchett is ready to prove that she’s for real and that she will be a force to be dealt with in the remainder of the 2017 season.

“What we did in the first two races wasn’t a fluke,” Pritchett said. “We want to prove it to ourselves and everyone else.”

Pritchett has been on fire thus far this season. And with the significance of the Gatornationals at this early point of the season, she’s determined to keep things going and continue doing what she’s been doing thus far.

“We’ll have the same routine at Gainesville that we had at Pomona and Phoenix,” she said. “We’ll keep our noses to the grindstone and show we are worthy of what we have accomplished so far this year.”

Even though she earned her first career Top Fuel win, Pritchett still had somewhat of a rough season early on in 2016. She began the season driving for Bob Vandergriff Jr. Racing, only to have the team unexpectedly fold out from under her. She raced for a couple of other teams before Schumacher signed her.

That’s when things started to get a lot better. That she made the Countdown to the Championship was a testament to Pritchett’s never-give-up attitude.

Of course, having arguably the best overall team in drag racing behind her didn’t hurt. And now that she has full sponsorship for 2017 from Papa John’s Pizza, along with the best minds in the sport at DSR, Pritchett isn’t letting her chance in the sun go to waste.

“My mindset is the same as when we went to Pomona after we ran the quickest time and fastest speed ever (3.654 seconds at 331.85 mph) in testing the week before (at Phoenix),” she said. “We had a nice test session and felt we had to do something to prove that our 3.65 was real.”

Pritchett comes into this weekend’s race holding a hefty 92-point lead in the Top Fuel standings over her teammate, Tony Schumacher. Brittany Force, who won her first career Top Fuel race at Gainesville last year, is 94 points behind Force, while Brown is 102 points back and Doug Kalitta is 105 points behind in fifth place in the Top Fuel standings.

Knowing the significance of Gainesville, as well as to keep on the roll that began at Pomona, Pritchett is ready to go for the jugular in the first qualifying session on Friday. There are four qualifying sessions this weekend, two on Friday and two more on Saturday.

“Qualifying is still important,” Pritchett said. “Being No. 1 at the first two races enabled us to have bye runs in the first round because we only had 15 cars.

“I’m sure we’ll have 16 this weekend but qualifying always is our top priority. Our focus is extending the gap (her points lead) over the field.”

Not surprisingly, success on the drag strip has kept the 28-year-old Pritchett equally as busy off-track over the last month and during her current winning streak, with heightened media attention and fan outreach.

“I’ve been busier this week and this month than I’ve ever been before,” she said. “I was on the road for 31 days before I finally got home to (Indianapolis) last week.”

But that’s okay, Pritchett said. She’s having the ride of her life both in her dragster and with the fans. And given how she’s started, don’t look for things to drop off anytime soon.

“I don’t know how to stop,” Pritchett said.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

 

VIDEO: A unique look at Mexico’s famous Carrera Panamericana

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Since returning to the Formula 1 calendar in 2015, the Mexican Grand Prix has already established itself as one of the sport’s most exciting and vibrant races, with hundreds of thousands of fans flocking to the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City.

In order to get a flavor of Mexico’s rich racing heritage, NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton took time out of his summer break to explore Mexico City and also take part in the famous Carrera Panamericana road race.

The Carrea Panamericana is Mexico’s equivalent of the Mille Miglia, initially acting as a border-to-border sportscar event before being cancelled in 1955.

The race was revived in the 1980s, and continues to this day, offering drivers a gruelling, week-long challenge against the clock at high speed on public highways through the mountains of central Mexico.

2017’s Formula 1 race is set to be a poignant one for Mexico following the devastating 7.1 magnitude earthquake that struck earlier this week, claiming the lives of over 200 people.

With the race set to go ahead as planned, it will be an important statement of unity from Mexico when it welcomes F1 at the end of October, the grand prix taking place on October 29 and acting as another chapter in the nation’s steeped motorsport history.

Mexico’s only F1 driver, Sergio Perez, has set up a fund through which donations can be made to help those affected by the earthquake with full details below.

Donations can also be made via PayPal by clicking here.

F1/IndyCar clashes frequent for 2018 as schedules shape up

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The latest meeting of the World Motor Sport Council may not have yielded much in the way of groundbreaking news, but the confirmation of Formula E and the World Endurance Championship’s 2018 schedules did help us get a grip on next year’s racing calendar.

Perhaps the most notable thing with next year’s schedules is the heavy reduction in clashes between the FIA’s three premier track championships – F1, Formula E and WEC – next year, making good on its plans for calendar harmonization moving forward.

WEC confirmed its ‘super season’ schedule earlier this month, stretching 13 months from May 2018 to June 2019, and added Silverstone last week, with the calendar gaining FIA approval in Paris.

Of the 2018 WEC rounds, there is just one clash with another FIA track championship: between the 6 Hours of Fuji and the F1 United States Grand Prix on the October 21 weekend.

While the more pressing worry for drivers is between WEC and Formula E after the July 16 debacle this year, no WEC and F1 clashes is good news for Fernando Alonso, who could well appear at Le Mans next year as part of his Triple Crown bid.

Formula E does have a number of F1 clashes, albeit not until the sixth event of its season, with the Rome race being held on the April 15 weekend where the Bahrain Grand Prix also sits (for now – China is due to swap dates).

Other Formula E and F1 clashes come on April 29 (Paris/Azerbaijan), June 10 (Zurich/Canada) and July 29 (Montreal/Hungary), although by shifting the New York City ePrix back one week to July 14-15, a gap has been found in the schedule.

For those operating across all three series (including yours truly), there is now a busy run between the start of the F1 season in Australia and the start of the summer break in Hungary with just three empty weekends.

As for IndyCar clashes? The condensed nature of the series’ schedule and the expansion of F1’s calendar to 21 races means they are inevitable. That said, as IndyCar is outside of the FIA’s realm of control, it was never really in the mix for its harmonization plans.

Yet again there is a clash between the Indianapolis 500 and the Monaco Grand Prix, sadly something we have become accustomed to in recent years, but over half the IndyCar calendar faces an F1 clash next year. There may be further ones to come when a couple other race dates get announced.

Here’s a full run-down of the F1/IndyCar double dip weekends thus far:

April 7-8: Chinese GP, Phoenix Grand Prix
April 14-15: Bahrain GP, Grand Prix of Long Beach
May 12-13: Spanish GP, Indianapolis GP
May 26-27: Monaco GP, Indianapolis 500
June 9-10: Canadian GP, Texas 600
June 23-24: French GP, Road America GP
July 7-8: British GP, Iowa Corn 300
August 25-26: Belgian GP, Gateway 500
September 15-16: Singapore GP, Sonoma GP

Bahrain, China ‘on-track’ to swap F1 race dates for 2018

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Next year’s Formula 1 races in China and Bahrain are “on-track” to swap dates in order to maximize their local exposure, according to the sport’s commercial chief, Sean Bratches.

The provisional F1 schedule for 2018 lists the Chinese Grand Prix as the second round of the season, taking place on April 8, with the Bahrain Grand Prix taking place one week later on April 15.

However, plans are afoot to swap the races around due to the Qingming national holiday that is set to take place in China on the April 8 weekend, potentially having a negative impact on crowd numbers at the Shanghai International Circuit.

“We’re trying to take into account global events, local events, religious holidays and things to ensure we’re maximizing the opportunity for fans to attend the grands prix,” Bratches told Reuters.

“We’re talking to both of them to that end and if we can reach a mutually agreed upon solution, which appears to be on-track to happen, you’ll probably see that,” he said.

No updates were made to the F1 schedule for 2018 at the latest meeting of the World Motor Sport Council in Paris this week, meaning no switch between Bahrain and China will be ratified until the start of December at the earliest.

NASCAR America: Scott Speed’s quest for Red Bull GRC three-peat

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Red Bull Global Rallycross points leader Scott Speed is going for his third consecutive championship next month (Saturday, October 14, 4:30 p.m. ET, NBC from Los Angeles) for the Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross team.

Prior to that, he joined Thursday’s edition of NBCSN’s NASCAR America, checking in with his former Red Bull Racing teammate Brian Vickers, show host Carolyn Manno and analyst Steve Letarte.

Speed talked teammate dynamics – he and Tanner Foust have been the class of the Red Bull GRC field for several years – and what it takes to succeed in the diverse championship that features racing on both pavement and dirt.

“Tanner comes from more of a more rally background and I come from more of an open-wheel, road course background,” Speed explained. “You have to meet in the middle and often times that creates success. Our personalties are polar opposites and that’s a good thing.”

One other thing Speed addressed was Austin Cindric’s couple notable incidents in the last month or so. Going for his maiden NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win, Cindric hit Kaz Grala at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park to move for the lead and ultimately the win.

Cindric then made his GRC Supercars debut at the most recent weekend in Seattle and the two collided after a miscommunication in a preliminary race, prior to the Joker section of the course.

“He’s a young kid with not a lot of experience. He’s made a couple big mistakes. He came in like a wrecking ball,” Speed laughed.

“I was more mad because the car couldn’t restart at first. But it did, and we got going.”