Max Verstappen fastest in Formula One practice for season-opening Bahrain GP

Bahrain opening practice
GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP via Getty Images
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SAKHIR, Bahrain — Max Verstappen started the Formula One season on the front foot Friday by clocking the fastest times in the opening two practice sessions at the Bahrain Grand Prix.

The Red Bull driver was 0.095 seconds ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris and 0.235 clear of world champion Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes under the floodlights at the desert track in Sakhir.

“Now we have to show what we can do in qualifying,” said Verstappen, who has taken only three career pole positions because of Mercedes’ dominance since 2014. “I think it’s going to be even more windy (on Saturday) so it will be even more difficult to drive.”

Ferrari’s new driver Carlos Sainz Jr. finished the day fourth quickest ahead of Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas and Daniel Ricciardo, the Australian driver who replaced Sainz Jr. at McLaren.

“It felt like we’re still not quite there with the car’s balance,” Bottas said. “(We have) work to do if we want to fight for the pole and the win.”

Fernando Alonso, who came out retirement to replace Ricciardo at the Alpine team, had a tricky evening and managed only the 15th best time in the second practice.

Veteran Kimi Raikkonen spun his Alfa Romeo and hit a wall early in the evening session, but the 41-year-old Finn managed to get the car back to the team garage without too much damage.

Verstappen, 23, won the final race last season with a commanding drive at the Abu Dhabi GP. The Dutch driver also did well in preseason testing this month, offering hope that Red Bull can challenge Mercedes much more strongly this year.

“We have a hill to climb, but we’re staying positive,” Hamilton said. “We thought Red Bull would be as fast as they are … they are leading at the moment. McLaren are looking great and it’s great to see them taking a step.”

There is a third and final practice session on Saturday ahead of qualifying.

DRIVING DIVERSITYLewis Hamilton focused on trying to win eighth championship

Bahrain is the first of a record 23-race season.

In Friday’s first practice, Verstappen was .298 seconds ahead of Bottas and .503 clear of Norris, with Hamilton just behind Norris in fourth spot.

Hamilton is looking to win a record eighth F1 title to move one ahead of Michael Schumacher, whose 22-year-old son Mick Schumacher is making his F1 debut with Haas.

He finished 18th in the second session and 19th in the first.

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)