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F1: Verstappen from fast to furious in Mexico, Ricciardo questions racing

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MEXICO CITY (AP) Red Bull’s Max Verstappen went from fast to furious to winner. Daniel Ricciardo went from pole position to yet another disaster as engine failure doomed his car yet again.

The Mexican Grand Prix was a wild ride for Red Bull.

The team came to the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez expecting to challenge Mercedes and Ferrari for the win in the high altitude of Mexico City.

The 21-year-old Verstappen had dominated practice and looked set to become the youngest driver in Formula One history to win pole position until Ricciardo snatched it away on his final lap. Infuriated, Verstappen returned to the track determined to get the win and defend his 2017 race victory.

“Amazing,” said Verstappen. “To be honest with you, I didn’t sleep very well last night.”

The Dutch driver has two wins this season and five podium finishes in the last seven races. It’s strong run in a season that began with mistakes that cost him potential victories and drew a reprimand for dangerous driving moves.

He slammed the door on the victory in Mexico at the start. A furious jump off the line beat Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton to the first corner, and Verstappen was off and running toward an easy race for his fifth career victory.

Lewis Hamilton secured his fifth career championship with a fourth-place finish. He’d said before the race he likely couldn’t beat the Red Bulls.

A poor start and another round of engine failure beat Ricciardo, who has endured a frustrating season. Engine failure has killed his car in six of the last 11 races with two left on the season in Brazil and Abu Dhabi.

Race day began with such promise for Ricciardo.

Red Bull’s 1-2 start was their first front-row lockout since the start of the hybrid engine era in 2014. Ricciardo’s brilliant qualifying lap earned his third career pole position and the first since his victory in Monaco.

But he got left behind at the starting line and quickly dropped to third. He was in a furious fight to hold off Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel for second until smoke billowed from the back of his car with nine laps to go and he surrendered.

Ricciardo is leaving Red Bull’s Renault engines for the Renault team in 2019. Red Bull will be switching to Honda engines. Pierre Gasly will be taking Ricciardo’s place in a promotion from Red Bull’s junior team Toro Rosso.

“This car’s cursed,” Ricciardo said. “There’s two more races. I honestly don’t see the point of coming.”

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Don’t know the Rolex 24? You should. Here’s why.

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Hello, America. It’s time to go racing again.

Yes, Supercross is now three weeks into its season, and the Chili Bowl Nationals is now effectively the Christopher Bell Invitational after the young NASCAR star won his 3rd consecutive Golden Driller last weekend.

But the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway is the first marquee event on the American racing calendar – an event that just happens to have international prestige.

It’s also the start of Daytona Speedweeks, which culminates with NASCAR’s Daytona 500 on Feb. 17. But this is no mere opening act just warming up the crowd for the headliner.

In case you’re new to this event, here are a few reasons why it stands out:

Twice around the clock: Are you the kind of person that appreciates a challenge? Well, challenges don’t get much bigger in motorsports than a 24-hour endurance race where drivers, crews, machines, and strategies must work together flawlessly. For those behind the wheel in the Rolex 24, the obstacles are numerous: Punishing G-forces, extreme mental focus, lack of sleep, and staying on top of hydration and nutrition.

Star power: Speaking of those behind the wheel, the Rolex 24 traditionally draws top drivers from other disciplines such as IndyCar, Formula 1 and NASCAR to join sports car regulars from North America and around the world. As a result, the winners’ list is a Who’s Who of Motorsports.

This year’s field includes a clutch of NTT IndyCar Series drivers, highlighted by 5-time series champion and past Rolex 24 winner Scott Dixon. But pre-race buzz has centered on two particular interlopers: Alex Zanardi, the former CART champion making his first North American start since losing his legs in a 2001 crash, and Fernando Alonso, the two-time F1 champion looking to add another endurance triumph alongside his win with Toyota in last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Cool cars: If you’re a gearhead, the Rolex 24 is a 200-mile-per-hour candy store. Across the four separate classes of competition, 13 of the world’s premier car manufacturers are represented.

The majority of those manufacturers are found in the Grand Touring classes that feature vehicles based on road-going production models. Chevy and Ford’s eternal rivalry rages on in the factory-backed GT Le Mans, but the class also boasts efforts from BMW, Porsche, and Ferrari. It’s even more diverse in the pro-am GT Daytona, where Porsche is joined by Audi, Lamborghini, Lexus and Mercedes.

As for the exotic, purpose-built Daytona Prototypes, they are powered by engines from Cadillac, Acura, Mazda and Nissan.

Nifty fifty: This year’s Rolex 24 begins the 50th anniversary season for IMSA, the sanctioning body for North American sports car racing. A select group of teams will mark the occasion at the Rolex 24 by running historic IMSA paint schemes on their machines. You may not be familiar with these looks, but it’s worth discovering the history behind them.

Here’s an example. The Starworks Motorsports team (GT Daytona) will carry a scheme based on Audi of America’s 90 Quattro from the 1989 IMSA GTO season. Boasting sports car legends Hurley Haywood and Hans-Joachim Stuck in the driver lineup, the 90 Quattro captured 7 GTO wins that season.

Audi’s performance led one competitor to create a “no passing” sticker with Stuck’s face on it. Stuck’s response: A doll fixed to his car’s rear window that dropped its pants to moon anyone Stuck put behind him.

Status symbol: Last but not least, the Rolex 24 has a unique prize – a trophy you can wear.

Winners get a standard cup, but what they’re really after are the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona watches, which include a special engraving to commemorate their victory. A standard version of this watch retails for tens of thousands of dollars, but you can’t put a price on the ones awarded at the Rolex 24.

This year’s grand marshal, 5-time Rolex 24 winner Scott Pruett, sums it up as “the ultimate reward.”

“To be presented a watch engraved with the word ‘Winner’ after 24 hours of intense racing is a moment that lives with you forever,” he added. “Your Rolex is a constant reminder of the perseverance and hard work that goes into succeeding at the highest level.”