Hamilton happier than he’s been “for a long, long time” in F1

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MONTMELO – Lewis Hamilton has said that he feels happier than he has been “for a long, long time” in Formula 1 following a near-perfect start to the 2015 season.

The defending world champion has won three of the opening four races of the year, scoring 93 of a possible 100 points to move into a 27-point lead at the top of the championship standings.

For this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix, most of the teams are expected to bring a number of updates for their cars.

Although Mercedes is not making widespread changes, Hamilton is confident that the team can retain its advantage at the front of the field.

“I feel confident that the team have done everything we could to be as strong as we can this weekend, and to improve,” Hamilton said.

“I think others will have improved as well. We’ve not come with a ton of upgrades. Lots of the teams just pile on lots of different things. We’ve come with the quality upgrades rather than quantity, so hopefully it’ll be good.”

Hamilton admitted that he is feeling very comfortable in F1 at the moment, believing that he is in even better shape than he was during his 2014 championship campaign.

“I feel very happy with how it’s gone,” Hamilton said. “I left the last race, sitting on the plane, thinking ‘wow, it’s been a great couple of weeks’.

“When you had a year like last year, to continue with it was not easy, to repeat what you’ve done before or even do better, it’s not easy. So far, I think it’s been better than last year, so I’m really happy with it.”

Hamilton has spent some time in the United States over the past few weeks, and was spotted at the fight between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao in Las Vegas last weekend.

The Briton admitted that he enjoyed being able to do things such as go to the fight and remain at the peak of his powers for racing on track.

“I’m probably the happiest I’ve been for a long, long time career-wise,” Hamilton said. “Outside, it’s great when you can do things that you want to do which are not distractions, and then you can perform.

“I’m very careful with the things I choose to do, and they don’t come in the way of ultimately preparing for my racing.”

With his contract set to expire at the end of the 2015 season, Hamilton has been engaged in contract negotiations with Mercedes for many months now, but had little new information to give on it.

“There’s nothing really to comment on at the moment,” he said. “However, I have read it several times, so I’m fluent in lawyer jargon.

“It’s been good in that sense because I think when I retire I could write some contracts… so if any of you guys need a manager, I think I could do a good job for you!”

Road to the 2023 Daytona 500 is unpaved for Travis Pastrana, who’ll try DIRTcar Nationals

Pastrana DIRTcar Nationals
Jacy Norgaard / World of Outlaws
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Travis Pastrana will attempt to make his first NASCAR Cup series race on February 19 with the grandaddy of them all, the Daytona 500, but his road to get there will not be paved and his car will have only two fenders as he tackles Florida Speedweeks and the DIRTcar Nationals.

In mid-January, it was announced Pastrana will attempt to qualify a third car from 23XI Racing that fields fulltime entries for Bubba Wallace and Tyler Reddick. Sponsorship will come from Black Rifle Coffee, who approached him during the offseason to ask what kind of “really cool stuff” he would like to do. Pastrana replied, “the Daytona 500” with a characteristic laugh in his voice.

“It’s good,” Pastrana said in a release. “We’re going to go down, we’re going to go hangout with [NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion] Matt Crafton, one of [Black Rifle’s] drivers, we’ll go to Modified races and watch all the Late Models. We’ll watch the racing, and we’ll bring [United States military] veterans down and hangout with [Steve] Arpin.”

But there is a saying among dirt track fans that goes, ‘asphalt is for getting to the track; dirt is for racing’ – and Pastrana is taking that to heart.

After racing on the snow in Nitro Rallycross February 4-5 in Calgary, Alberta, the original plan was to head to Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Florida to watch the modified and late model races. Until Crafton called him out for not racing.

Pastrana relayed the conversation: “I told Crafton [I was coming to watch] and he goes, ‘Ah, too much of a sissy to drive?’ I called Arpin, and said, ‘So, Longhorn, I heard you guys have vehicles that can kick the crap out of Crafton’s vehicle.’ [Arpin] said, ‘Yeah, if you don’t suck, you can beat him.’ I said, ‘Alright, I’m in.’”

The DIRTcar Nationals run from February 6-18. The first week features six UMP Modified Mains each night they run, on Monday (Feb. 6), Friday (Feb. 10), and then the prestigious Gator Championship race on Saturday (Feb. 11). Pastrana hopes to run every night in one of Arpin’s cars, also with sponsorship from Black Riffle Coffee.

And this is not just for bragging rights; there is money on the line. Pastrana and Crafton have a $1 bet on who has the best finish.

While Pastrana is accustomed pitching his car sideways on a combination of left and right turns in a rally car – he won the Nitro Rallycross race at ERX Motorsports Park in Minneapolis, Minnesota last October and became the first two-time winner in the 2022/23 season at Wild Horse Pass in Phoenix, Arizona in November – the DIRTcar Nationals will be an entirely different proposition.

It took a day for Pastrana to get comfortable in the modified. And it took a little coaching from Arpin, who has experience in both dirt modifieds and rally cars to make him fast.

“[Arpin] showed up the second day after hearing how bad the first day was,” Pastrana said, which is confirmed in the Instagram post embedded above. “But he just told me, until you commit, it’s not going to work. Once I committed, it started making a lot of sense. But coming in, if you’re lifting off the gas while trying to turn, it just doesn’t turn and all your natural instincts say, ‘Don’t get on the gas.’ So, yeah, I feel like it should suit my driving style because I’m more of an aggressive sideways type of driver, but it was very difficult. Turning and sliding, I’m fine. Getting it there is not the easiest.”

Pastrana has one previous start in a dirt late model that came in the 2010 Prelude to the Dream. He finished 23rd in the 27-car field and was three laps off the pace. He wasn’t the only driver having difficulty getting a feel for the car that night; Jeff Gordon finished on the same lap, only one position ahead of him.

Travis Pastrana will race one of Steve Arpin’s dirt modifieds during Florida Speedweeks as he prepares for the 2023 Daytona 500. – Jacy Norgaard, World Racing Group

The price of the weekend could well exceed the dollar he may lose to Crafton.

“It’s going to be an expensive weekend,” Pastrana said. “Not everything is covered. If I crash anything, it is going to be all on me. This is one of those things where I want to come down and have fun. I want to hang out with the crowd, I want to sign autographs and give high fives. Especially for the Modified crew, that’s the grassroots racing that I love and some of my friends are involved with. We’ll be camping down there with Arpin and all the Longhorn guys, just hanging out. I feel like that’s a great opportunity for us to bring a lot of [US] veterans and bring people that are into racing and aren’t into racing, friends and family, and just have an awesome time.”

And it’s not out of the question that Pastrana could add another top-10 to his record book in the DIRTcar Nationals. After the rocky first day, Pastrana gained speed. Enough so that Arpin’s confidence was raised.

“We’re pretty confident Crafton is going to have to run hard to keep his dollar,” Arpin said.