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NHRA: Leah Pritchett goes for third straight Top Fuel win at Phoenix this weekend

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Leah Pritchett is going for three strikes in this weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals in suburban Phoenix.

It’s not a matter of three strikes and Pritchett is out. On the contrary, it’s the complete opposite.

She’s looking to strike again in dominating fashion, seeking her third consecutive Top Fuel victory at the annual late winter race at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler, Arizona.

In addition to going for three in a row, Pritchett three weeks ago set the unofficial fastest run in NHRA Top Fuel history during a preseason test at the same Arizona track, going 334.73 mph at a track-best 3.664 seconds.

To say Pritchett likes racing in the Valley of the Sun, and particularly at Wild Horse Pass, is an understatement.

“(Wild Horse Pass) has actually climbed up the ladder to my No. 1 spot,” Pritchett said of her list of favorite tracks. “Pomona used to be my No. 1 track because it’s my hometown track.

“Given the success I have had at Phoenix, the records that we’ve set both officially and unofficially there, and it’s where I won my first race and have the most wins.

“Every track we go to has an aura of the fan base. It’s no different in Phoenix, where you see a lot of people who have escaped the cold to be out in the sun and they are just as excited as we are to get the season started. It’s heightened excitement all the way around. The fans really bring it and the teams feed off that energy.”

Don’t be surprised if Pritchett – and potentially some of her competitors if weather conditions are ideal – put down speeds that rival her 334.73 mph run earlier in the month.

And since this is a national event, everything will count as a national record.

“The testing we did a few weeks back will certainly help us,” she said. “You know that 3.664 did not come easily. That took three solid days to figure out that combination.

“And we’re happy to have some knowns when we get started Friday. We know the 3.664 solidifies that Phoenix has been good to us and we like to be good to it. However, we were not oblivious to the early numbers our competition was laying down consistently.

“Where our competition had good numbers at half-track, we were right on par with our end numbers. So, yes, it’s a good feeling that we put up a 3.66, but yet we know the competition is close.”

Last year, Pritchett jumped out to a great start, winning the season-opening race at Pomona, including setting a national elapsed time record, and then doubling up with a win two weeks later at Phoenix. Ironically, both of her last two wins at Phoenix have come vs. Brittany Force, who returns this weekend after the hardest crash of her career two weeks ago in the season-opening race at Pomona.

This year, Pritchett is coming off a disappointing first-round elimination following a mechanical failure during her pre-run burnout.

The parachute on her Don Schumacher Racing/Mopar/U.S. Army Top Fuel dragster inexplicably deployed on the burnout, leaving Pritchett disqualified.

“Right now, we are definitely on the offense and defense at the same time,” Pritchett said. “We are much more focused on our own racecar and the mechanics behind it to get to that place where winning for the third consecutive time is possible.

“But that’s not a conversation base for our team, it’s about doing what we know how to do. Come Sunday night, if everything goes right and I have to answer questions about winning three in a row, that would be great.”

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Mercedes: F1 teams need to work together to avoid split

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said Friday that Formula One teams have a responsibility to try to overcome their differences over the future of the sport in the face of a threat by Ferrari to quit because of a number of proposed changes.

Bernie Ecclestone, who ran F1 for 40 years before being replaced by new owners Liberty Media last year, has raised the possibility that Ferrari chairman Sergio Marchionne could walk away from F1 and form a breakaway series over Liberty’s future vision for the sport.

Ferrari is unhappy with Liberty’s proposal to simplify engines and redistribute prize money among F1 teams after the current contract with teams expires at the end of 2020.

Ferrari team boss Maurizio Arrivabene would not comment on the specifics of Marchionne’s previous comments at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix on Friday, but said: “My only suggestion, please take him seriously.”

Wolff is also taking the possibility of Ferrari walking away seriously. He told Britain’s Press Association before the Australian GP that he agreed with Marchionne’s concerns and that Formula One can’t afford to alienate Ferrari or lose the team.

“Don’t mess with Sergio Marchionne,” he said. “Formula One needs Ferrari much more than Ferrari needs Formula One.”

Wolff was more diplomatic on Friday, saying he hopes all sides could come together for the good of the sport.

“I think this as much a battle on track as much as it is a fight off track for an advantage,” he said. “It is clear the current governance and how the rules are being made is not very functional. There’s too much different opinions and agendas on the table and we need to sort it for 2021 for the best interest of the sport.”

Red Bull boss Christian Horner agreed there are too many competing agendas, suggesting that the FIA-Formula One’s governing body-and Liberty Media come together to decide on a set of regulations and financial framework for the next contract and the teams can then decide if they want to accept it or not.

“Trying to get a consensus between teams that have varying objectives, different set-ups, is going to be impossible,” he said. “It’s history repeating itself. It happens every five or six years, every time the Concorde Agreement comes up for renewal.”

Tempers also flared during Friday’s media conference over another issue of contention between the teams – Ferrari’s recent hiring of FIA’s ex-safety director, Laurent Mekies.

Horner believes Ferrari broke an agreement among teams at a recent meeting to institute a 12-month waiting period for any former employee of FIA or FOM (Formula One Management) to be able to start working for one of F1’s teams. The concern is that former FIA staff who go to work for a specific team could share secrets from other teams.

“Certain teams were pushing for that period to be three years, but in the end it was agreed upon being 12 months,” he said. “It almost makes those meetings pointless if we can’t agree on something and action it.”

Arrivabene defended Ferrari’s move, saying Mekies would not join its team until after a six-month “gardening leave” period.

“There is nothing wrong with that because we were absolutely respecting the local law, the Swiss local law where Laurent was hired,” he said.