Lewis Hamilton leads first practice for inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

Hamilton practice Saudi Arabia
GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP via Getty Images
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JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia — Seven-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton posted the fastest time Friday in the first practice for the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

The British veteran was 0.056 seconds ahead of championship leader Max Verstappen of Red Bull and 0.223 ahead of Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas.

Verstappen led for the first forty minutes of the hour-long session on the 6.2-kilometer (3.8-mile) street circuit, which sits on a 30-kilometer (18.6-mile) coastal resort area in Jeddah.

Hamilton initially struggled to adapt to the track while Verstappen twice improved his best time before Hamilton found some extra speed.

Hamilton led Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas in the Friday evening session, which was ended about three minutes early because Charles LeClerc brought out the red flag with a high-speed crash in Turn 22.

Verstappen leads Hamilton by eight points – with nine wins to seven – in a closely fought duel that will see a champion crowned next weekend in Abu Dhabi. Hamilton won the most recent race in Qatar.

Verstappen can mathematically win the championship in Saudi Arabia, but Hamilton also has the ability to leave the circuit tied with the Dutchman in the standings.

Hamilton said there are differences in this title fight from his previous battles, but the British driver said he’s never been more relaxed.

“It’s different in one sense because we’ve got two incredibly close teams,” Hamilton said. “It’s different because as a team we’re fighting for uncharted territory. No one has ever won eight titles, team or driver, so that’s quite fresh and new. And then on the other side, I’m more relaxed than I’ve ever been because I’ve been around a long time. It’s not my first.”

Hamilton has shaved 11 points off Verstappen’s lead in the last two races.

Supercross reveals 2023 Daytona track designed by Ricky Carmichael for 16th time

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For the 16th consecutive year, Ricky Carmichael has designed a signature course for the Daytona Supercross race, which will be March 4, 2023.

Eli Tomac took advantage of a last lap mistake by Cooper Webb last year to win a record setting sixth Daytona race – and with that win, he broke out of a tie Carmichael.

Construction on the course will begin two days after the completion of the 65th running of NASCAR’s Daytona 500 when haulers start to unload 7,200 tons of dirt onto the grassy infield in order to create a course 3,300 feet long.

“Ricky has designed yet another incredible course for this year’s Daytona Supercross,” said Daytona International Speedway President Frank Kelleher in a press release. “We’re thrilled to unveil it to the fans, and we can’t wait for them to come out to the track and see it in person.”

MORE: Designs for SuperMotocross finals at zMax Raceway and Chicagoland Speedway

Carmichael’s Daytona course will take center stage for Round 8 of the 17-race Supercross season and the 31-race SuperMotocross season.

The Supercross race coincides with Daytona’s Bike Week, which runs from March 3-12 and includes races from the American Flat Track series and the legendary Daytona 200 speedway race that is contested on the infield road course.

Last year’s course was reported to have 57 obstacles including the return of an over-under bridge. For 2023 the number of obstacles listed in 42, but that will not keep this from being one of the toughest tracks on which the Monster Energy Supercross series will race.

Many of the same elements from last year will be present including sharp turns, vaulted jumps, sand sections and a finish line that aligns with the oval tracks’ start/finish line.

“This year’s Daytona Supercross design is one of the best,” Carmichael said. “It races great for the riders – it’s safe yet challenging and it’s very similar to last year with the split lanes. Daytona is the toughest, gnarliest race on the Supercross circuit, but it’s the most special to win.

“This track is going to produce great racing and I think the riders are going to put on a fantastic display for all our fans.”

While Tomac has dominated this race during his career, Daytona has also been the site of some other dramatic victories. In 2021 Aaron Plessinger scored his first career Supercross podium in 35 starts with a win there and reversed a three-year streak of bad luck on the track.

The Daytona Supercross race is the first of two the series will contest on speedway infield courses. A little more than one month later, Atlanta Motor Speedway will enter their third season as a supercross venue. These two courses will serve as an early test for the SuperMotocross three-race finale that begins September 9, 2023 at zMax Dragway in Charlotte, North Carolina. The three playoff races will each be held on courses that contain elements of Supercross and Motocross, much like Daytona and Atlanta.