Rosberg tops FP1 at Suzuka as Verstappen makes F1 debut

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Nico Rosberg has finished fastest in the first free practice session for this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, edging out teammate and championship rival Lewis Hamilton by one-tenth of a second at the top of the timesheets.

The German driver posted a fastest lap time of 1:35.461 to finish 0.151s clear of Hamilton on Friday morning at Suzuka, but the majority of the paddock’s attention lay with 17-year-old Max Verstappen as the Dutch driver made his F1 debut.

In a shock announcement, Verstappen was confirmed as a Toro Rosso driver for the 2015 season back in August, sparking a debate in the paddock about his age and inexperience, and quite whether he was a suitable option.

However, he went a long way to proving his critics wrong by finishing his first ever grand prix weekend session in 12th place ahead of the Force India, Lotus and Sauber drivers, and just four-tenths behind regular Toro Rosso driver Daniil Kvyat.

During the session, Verstappen also broke the record for being the youngest driver to take part in a grand prix weekend, smashing Sebastian Vettel’s previous milestone by over two years.

However, his running took a turn for the worse with just a few minutes remaining when plumes of smoke emerged from the rear of the Toro Rosso car, meaning that the team is facing a possible engine replacement on Jean-Eric Vergne’s car which could hinder his running in FP2. Nevertheless, it was an impressive public debut for the Dutch youngster on Friday.

At the front, Fernando Alonso put the rampant speculation about his future behind him to finish third behind the Mercedes drivers, with Valtteri Bottas finishing fourth for Williams, some half a second down on the Ferrari driver. Kimi Raikkonen finished fifth ahead of McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen and Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo.

Caterham driver Roberto Merhi enjoyed his second run-out in a practice session, and despite an early spin, he ran well to beat both of the Marussia drivers and finish in 20th position.

As we have become accustom to in 2014, the advantage appears to lie with Mercedes once again, setting the stage for a great fight at the front between Hamilton and Rosberg across the course of the weekend at Suzuka.

You can watch FP2 for the Japanese Grand Prix live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 1am ET on Friday morning.

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night
USACRacing.com / DB3 Inc.
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On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.


Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)