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Kubica closer to an F1 return as Williams ponders decision

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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) After nearly losing his right hand, Robert Kubica could be steering a Formula One car with it next year.

If he returns it will complete a remarkable comeback for the 32-year-old Polish driver, rated as one of the quickest in F1 before a gruesome rally accident left him needing seven hours of surgery on a partially severed right hand, and numerous subsequent operations.

Kubica did F1 testing for Renault earlier this season and recently with the Williams team, and is consideration for an F1 seat in 2018.

No announcement is planned during this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Williams says. But in what appears to be a boost for his ambitions, Williams announced Wednesday that Kubica will take part in Pirelli tire testing after the race.

Those tests are aimed at evaluating tires, but it gives driver further time behind the wheel before Williams decides.

It was his love of all racing that pushed Kubica into trying rallying six years ago, and it almost ended his career. After crashing at a little-known Italian rally in February, 2011, he was trapped in the wreckage of his battered Skoda for more than an hour and also sustained arm and leg fractures.

“The accident turned my life upside down, but I’m aware that a few centimeters more and I wouldn’t be here talking about it,” Kubica said. “The biggest job I had to do was in my own head. There were some terrible times when I no longer felt up to it. It was worse than a physical pain.”

Initially, he cut all ties with F1.

“I never wanted to visit a Grand Prix paddock or attend a test, despite being invited,” Kubica said.

Stark realization was setting in.

“Life had given me so much and then in an instant, it (almost) took it all away,” Kubica recently told the official magazine of the FIA, the governing body for auto racing. “They say that time is a healer but that wasn’t the case for me – it made me suffer more.”

That was until he accepted his situation.

“The brain can develop the ability to compensate, at least partly, for one’s physical limits,” he said. “It’s difficult to explain something like this – only those who have experienced it can really understand.”

A popular driver in F1 from 2006-10, Kubica earned 12 F1 podium finishes and was considered among the brightest talents.

“Not a lot of great, great drivers come through,” four-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton said. “Then you have real special drivers like him.”

Kubica won the Canadian GP driving for BMW Sauber in 2008, after placing second at the Monaco GP. He was reportedly close to joining Ferrari in a move that would have offered him a better title shot.

Even if he never races in F1 again, his comeback from that crash is already impressive. Two years later, he won the WRC2 title – rally’s second-tier championship.

This year he has edged closer to F1.

When he tested for Renault on Valencia’s Ricardo Tormo circuit in June, albeit in an older and lighter F1 car, he was overwhelmed.

“I don’t get emotional easily but that day I really did,” he said. “I realized that driving a Formula One car was the thing that made me happy and I finally felt at peace.”

When he tested in the 2017 car at the Hungaroring for Renault in late July, just outside of Budapest, he was fourth quickest and completed 142 laps. It proved his fitness was OK and that he retained some speed from his F1 days.

It wasn’t quite enough to convince Renault, which has since signed promising Spanish driver Carlos Sainz Jr.

But Williams needs a replacement for 36-year-old Brazilian driver Felipe Massa, who is retiring after Sunday’s season-ending race.

One of the main problems is that the weight of the 2017 F1 car – heavier than in recent years – puts greater strain on Kubica’s fragile right arm.

Williams is not giving anything away, saying only that “although conversations are ongoing with Kubica, it is still yet to be finally decided who will replace Massa.”

British driver Paul Di Resta, who previously raced in 59 GPs with Force India, is also being considered.

Kubica has good backing, since he is being managed by 2016 F1 champion Nico Rosberg, and is highly regarded.

“Robert is one of the quickest drivers I’ve ever raced against,” Hamilton said. “Raw, natural talent. If he was still racing today he’d been in contention for a world title.”

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.