NHRA: Kalitta (Top Fuel), Johnson (Funny Car), Line (Pro Stock) lead way in first day of Winternationals qualifying

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After a long off-season, fans looking for speed at the 55th annual and season-opening Circle K NHRA Winternationals sure got what they hoped for during Friday’s first two rounds of qualifying.

Blistering mph and blink-of-an-eye quick elapsed times were certainly the story of the day at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif.

In Top Fuel, after recording a first run of 3.809 seconds at 323.12 mph, Doug Kalitta stepped it up significantly in his second run, posting a field-best 3.733 second pass at 327.59 mph to take the provisional No. 1 qualifying spot.

“We’re real happy with those two runs,” Kalitta said in an NHRA media release. “I’m not sure with the weather, I think it might be a little cooler tomorrow (Saturday). There’s just a lot of good running cars that can run better than we did. So, hopefully I’m hear again tomorrow talking to you guys. We’ll see how it goes.”

Reigning Top Fuel champ Tony Schumacher was the No. 2 provisional qualifier with a run of 3.757 seconds at 320.20 mph. Don Schumacher Racing teammate Spencer Massey qualified third at 3.761 seconds, but with the fastest run of the day of any car at 328.30 mph.

In Funny Car, another DSR driver, Tommy Johnson Jr., set the pace and earned the provisional No. 1 qualifier spot with a 4.018 second, 314.46 run down the 1,000-foot dragstrip.

“The team has just picked up right where we left off and gives me a lot of confidence,” said Johnson, who finished third in the Funny Car standings last season. “I know we have a very competitive team. We can roll it right off of the box at Pomona and pick up right where we left off. I think we’re on the right track to have a great season.”

Chad Head recorded the second-quickest time, 4.060 seconds, at 309.63 mph.

MORE: Multitasking: Drag racer tees up Funny Car and then tees off (video)

Sixteen-time Funny Car champion John Force had a successful debut for both his new sponsor (PEAK Anti-Freeze) and new manufacturer (Chevrolet), with a run of 4.061 seconds at 313.66 mph, good for No. 3 in the provisional qualifying.

Matt Hagan, reigning Funny Car champ, had a stout first run (4.090 seconds at 310.70 mph), but suffered a spectacular engine fire in the second round. Hagan escaped from his car uninjured.

In Pro Stock, three-time Winternationals winner and runner-up in last season’s championship bid, Jason Line, was quickest at 6.523 seconds at 212.76 mph.

“It was a good run,” Line said. “It was a nice run. I know I usually whine and say it wasn’t perfect but it was a nice run. It’s nice to be up here and I’m pretty happy about that. It’s fun to start Day One of the 2015 Mello Yello drag racing season this way.”

Drew Skillman was second quickest (6.527 seconds at 212.09 mph), followed by Greg Anderson (6.535 seconds, 211.99 mph).

One of the biggest surprises of the day involved reigning Pro Stock champ Erica Enders-Stevens, who failed to complete either of her two qualifying passes, losing traction both times.

Enders-Stevens will have two more rounds on Saturday to make Sunday’s final eliminations. There will also be two more rounds of qualifying Saturday for all other drivers in Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock.

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FRIDAY’S RESULTS:

Top Fuel: 1. Doug Kalitta, 3.733 seconds, 327.59 mph; 2. Tony Schumacher, 3.757, 323.35; 3. Spencer Massey, 3.761, 328.30; 4. Richie Crampton, 3.764, 323.97; 5. Larry Dixon, 3.776, 321.35; 6. Brittany Force, 3.779, 323.97; 7. Steve Torrence, 3.788, 325.45; 8. Leah Pritchett, 3.797, 320.81; 9. Shawn Langdon, 3.803, 320.36; 10. Antron Brown, 3.803, 313.73; 11. Troy Buff, 3.815, 310.77; 12. J.R. Todd, 3.914, 242.54.  Not Qualified: 13. Terry McMillen, 3.996, 285.41; 14. Steven Chrisman, 4.338, 221.20; 15. Steve Faria, 4.506, 182.55; 16. Clay Millican, 4.767, 151.97; 17. Dave Connolly, 13.570, 23.48.

Funny Car: 1. Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 4.018, 314.46; 2. Chad Head, Toyota Camry, 4.060, 309.63; 3. John Force, Chevy Camaro, 4.061, 313.66; 4. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.066, 299.73; 5. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.067, 300.93; 6. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.085, 305.84; 7. Robert Hight, Chevrolet Camaro, 4.086, 314.09; 8. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.090, 310.70; 9. Courtney Force, Camaro, 4.097, 302.75; 10. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.102, 311.34; 11. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 4.106, 309.34; 12. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.131, 274.55.  Not Qualified: 13. Gary Densham, 4.182, 306.12; 14. Jeff Arend, 4.223, 263.56; 15. Terry Haddock, 4.286, 293.03; 16. John Hale, 4.440, 224.02; 17. Jack Beckman, 4.485, 204.35; 18. Bob Bode, 12.819, 41.70.

Pro Stock: 1. Jason Line, Chevy Camaro, 6.523, 212.76; 2. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.527, 212.09; 3. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.535, 211.99; 4. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.538, 212.26; 5. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.538, 212.03; 6. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 6.540, 212.43; 7. Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.546, 211.89; 8. Larry Morgan, Camaro, 6.551, 212.69; 9. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.553, 211.93; 10. Jimmy Alund, Pontiac GXP, 6.568, 211.46; 11. Deric Kramer, Dodge Avenger, 6.614, 210.37; 12. V. Gaines, Dart, 6.623, 210.57.  Not Qualified: 13. Joey Grose, 6.625, 209.20; 14. Jeff Isbell, 6.677, 207.78; 15. Matt Hartford, 6.736, 206.92; 16. Vincent Nobile, 7.907, 123.05; 17. Erica Enders-Stevens, 9.708, 113.01.

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Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans
JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images
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LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.