(Photos courtesy NHRA)

Birthday girl Brittany Force roars to 4th quickest run in NHRA history; Kalitta hits 330.55 mph

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JOLIET, Illinois — During Thursday’s pre-race media day, several NHRA drivers promised that speeds would be record-setting high and elapsed times also record-setting low in this weekend’s K&N Filters Route 66 NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway.

They weren’t kidding, based upon Friday’s two rounds of qualifying. A total of five Route 66 track records fell, with the promise that some new national records may be in the offing during Saturday’s final two rounds of qualifying or during Sunday’s four rounds of final eliminations.

In Top Fuel, Brittany Force gave herself a very memorable 30th birthday present, annihilating the track mark with a run of 3.692 seconds — the fourth-quickest pass in Top Fuel history — at 325.69 mph.

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“I was shocked that we ran that just because it was such a big jump from our first run,” Force said. “Absolutely the best birthday present ever. It couldn’t have made this day any better.”

MORE: 15-time champ Alan Johnson paying quick dividends for Brittany Force

MORE: Is 2016 finally going to be Doug Kalitta’s year?

The third of four daughters of 16-time Funny Car champion John Force now owns two of the four quickest runs in Top Fuel history: She ran a national record 3.676 second effort in May at Heartland Park Topeka in Kansas.

This has definitely been a breakout season for the birthday girl, who has already been tuned to two wins — and potentially a third on Sunday — by legendary tuner and 15-time champion team owner Alan Johnson.

Meanwhile, reigning points leader Doug Kalitta set a Top Fuel track speed record with a pass of 330.55 mph.

In Funny Car, Ron Capps set a track ET mark (3.888 seconds), while Tim Wilkerson roared to a track speed record of 330.23 mph. In addition, there were four other drivers that ran 3.95 seconds or under, while former Funny Car champ Matt Hagan also exceeded 330 mph (330.07 mph), followed by Courtney Force (328.06).

“Man I am loving this right now, it is so much fun,” said Capps, the series points leader. “I am so proud of [crew chief] Rahn Tobler and what we’ve done. When we left Topeka we were close, but Rahn and the guys worked so hard between races to give us what we’ve needed and in New Hampshire it just showed and we’ve been able to keep it going from there.”

In Pro Stock, there were no track records set, but ET’s and MPH’s were stout nonetheless. Shane Gray took the provisional No. 1 qualifier spot with a 6.578 second ET at 209.43 mph. Bo Butner qualified No. 2 (6.596 seconds) with a field best speed of 210.21 mph, the only driver to break the 210 mph mark.

“I think we are catching up, we just need to find the consistency to go and repeat what we did tonight (on Saturday),” Gray said. “It showed tonight that we’ve got it. We’re capable. … Everything is starting to come around and it’s actually fun to be at the race track.”

And in Pro Stock Motorcycle, Matt Smith set a new ET track record (6.842 seconds) at 195.51 mph. Chip Ellis had the fastest speed at 196.39 mph, with Hector Arana right behind at 196.36 mph, and three other drivers over 195 mph: LE Tonglet (195.82 mph), Steve Johnson (195.76 mph) and Michael Phillips (195.22).

“We’ve had a lot of gremlins and bugs that have bit us this year,” Smith said. “When we qualify, we are fast. We’ve been very, very good when we’ve gone down the track and hopefully it will stand up and be No. 1 (Saturday).”

Qualifying resumes Saturday at 4:15 p.m. ET with two final rounds scheduled for all four pro classes.

Lewis Hamilton takes F1 pole in dramatic Russian GP qualifying

Russian pole Lewis Hamilton
Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images
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SOCHI, Russia — Lewis Hamilton took a step closer to equaling the Formula One win record Saturday by clinching pole position at the Russian Grand Prix, after narrowly avoiding early elimination when Sebastian Vettel crashed.

Hamilton charged to a track-record time of 1 minute, 31.304 seconds, beating the Red Bull of Max Verstappen by 0.563 for his fifth straight pole position. Hamilton can achieve his 91st career win in the race on Sunday, matching the record held by Michael Schumacher.

Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate, Valtteri Bottas, was beaten into third by Verstappen’s fast run at the end of the session and was .652 off Hamilton’s time.

The long run from the grid to the first significant turn means Bottas could yet threaten to overtake Hamilton at the start Sunday using the slipstream from his teammate’s car.

“It’s nice being on pole but here is probably the worst place to be on pole,” Hamilton said.

“This year you’re seeing that our cars are more draggy and there’s more tow this year than we’ve seen in other years. So I generally expect one of (Verstappen and Bottas) to come flying by at some point. I think I’m just going to focus on my race and run the fastest race I can.”

Bottas earned his first win at the 2017 race in Russia after starting third and overtaking the two Ferraris ahead of him at the start.

Verstappen and Bottas both start the race on medium tires, which could give them an edge in terms of pit strategy over Hamilton, who is on soft tires, which wear much faster.

“I’m just going to have to nurse those tires for as far as I can. These guys, if they get by, they’re going to be pulling away,” Hamilton said.

Verstappen said he was delighted to start second.

“I wasn’t expecting that and of course it’s great for us. If we can get a good start tomorrow you never know what can happen,” he said.

Vettel lost control of his car over the kerb on the inside of the 90-degree, right-hand turn four and spun into the wall, before the Ferrari bounced back onto the track. Teammate Charles Leclerc was following closely behind and narrowly missed the wrecked car, driving over its discarded front wing.

“Oh my God, that was very, very close,” Leclerc told his team over the radio. Leclerc qualified 11th and Vettel 15th as Ferrari failed to reach the top-10 shootout with either car for the third time in four races.

Vettel’s crash meant the red flag was waved while Hamilton was trying to set his first valid lap time to make the third session – after his first attempt was earlier ruled out for going off the track.

After the track was cleared and the session restarted, Hamilton had to rush his out-lap to make it over the line in time for another flying lap with just a second to spare.

“It was horrible,” Hamilton said. “Heart in the mouth.”

Hamilton was also asked to report to race stewards over another incident in which he went off the track in the first part of qualifying. No further action was taken. It was found Hamilton didn’t gain an advantage because the lap time wasn’t counted.

Hamilton is the runaway championship leader with a 55-point advantage over second-place Bottas and 80 over Verstappen. If he can earn four more pole positions in the last seven races, he would be the first driver to 100 in F1 history.

Earlier in the third and final practice Saturday morning, Hamilton set the pace with a time of 1 minute, 33.279 seconds that was 0.776 better than his Mercedes teammate Bottas, who had been quickest in the first two sessions.