McRae and others primed for the ultimate Race to the Sky

A lovely piece of road; “a real driver’s road” is how star rally driver Alister McRae describes the Repco Race to the Sky course prior to this weekend’s return of the iconic hillclimb event.

McRae is one of 108 competitors contesting the resurrected Cardrona Valley hillclimb, all of whom spent Friday making reconnaissance runs of the 14.5 km course.

McRae is competing in Race to the Sky for the first time and pilots the Vantage Subaru world rally car that the late Possum Bourne used to win the event in 2001.

“I did have a look at it [the course] from in-car footage from previous years, but I think the condition of the road this year is very good,” says McRae who, as a former Subaru team-mate of Bourne’s, appreciates just how special this car is to Kiwi motorsport fans. “The road is probably wider in places than it looked. I’ve driven plenty of world rally cars, but never one with the horsepower that this has got, so you’ve got to feel your way in a bit, but you also want to be putting good times in to see where you are [against the others]. The final run on Sunday is the one when you want to get it up there as quickly as possible; that’s the one that counts. I think it’s just trying to remember the bad parts and not mix them up with the very fast parts, so I’m looking forward to it.”

Steve Riley, one of three Australian drivers competing in the unlimited category against McRae and eight-time Race to the Sky King of the Mountain champion Nobuhiro ‘Monster’ Tajima, is excited to be back.

“The Race to the Sky is really wonderful event. It combines so many different parts of engineering. It’s a ‘run what you’ve brung’ sort of race with no regulations. So you can be a farmer like myself who built something in the shed or a Formula 1 expert with 28 technicians. It’s encompasses bikes, cars and quads – everyone gets a run here and at the end of the day, it’s the fastest guy who wins so there’s nothing fairer than that and it’s a great event to come and be part of.”

Riley’s assessment of the course is that it’s graded up well. “It’s fast and it’s smooth. It’s a bit wider than what I remember it. It’s going to really suit the aero-package sort of cars.”

Believed to be one of the youngest competitors to ever tackle the event is 14-year-old Jack Hawkeswood. Son of respected rally driver Andrew Hawkeswood, the St Peters’ Collage student has travelled to Race to the Sky with some of his father’s crew while Andrew competes in a national rally championship event in the North Island.

“We bought this car, a BSL Terra off-roader, about five weeks ago so it is quite new, but it’ll be alright,” says Hawkeswood who’s raced trophy kart off-roader category with considerable success. “I thought the course was looking fast and quite slick. The thing will be what the weather does over the weekend.”

Hundreds of fans have already purchased tickets for the return of 18 and 19 April hillclimb and thousands are expected at the Cardrona Valley event village over the weekend.

Melanie Kees, events manager for Highlands Motorsport Park which is bringing the Repco Race to the Sky back to life, says she’s been delighted with the support shown by local business and fans for the event’s return.

“So many people have got in behind the event and are pleased to see it return,” says Ms Kees. “With a full entry list and great support from fans, we’re all looking forward to a spectacular weekend of racing.”

Schatz Wins WoO at Placerville Showdown

Donny Schatz battled past Kyle Hirst and forward from a fifth place starting position at Brad Sweet's Placerville Short Track Outlaw Showdown presented by Riebes Auto Parts Wednesday night to score his fourth World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series victory of the season.

Schatz's win came as the series returned to the track for the first time since 1992.

"The locals are tough here on their own turf, especially at places we've never been," Schatz said of Hirst and his fellow California natives. "We came out, started fifth and bided our time. My Bad Boy Buggies team always make the right decisions and gave me a car that got better and better as the night went on and those other guys faded a bit."

Schatz and his Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing team are just the third repeat winners of the 2015 season.

A crash dominated the middle portion of the feature and brought out a prolonged red flag. The lap 21, chain-reaction incident caught up several drivers including Jason Johnson, Daryn Pittman and Kraig Kinser.

Johnson was taken to an area hospital following the crash. According to Johnson's wife Bobbi, the rookie of the year contender is alert and talking to doctors. Doctors are still evaluating Johnson's injuries and will know more information in the coming days.

Pittman climbed from his car under his own power but was taken to an area hospital for further evaluation.

Kinser was OK and able to finish the feature.

A spectator was also transported to an area hospital for further evaluation following a separate incident the lap before.

Jason Sides and Andy Forsberg initially held the front row for the night's 35-lap feature. When it came time to take the track for the feature however Forsberg was late to staging and was penalized and moved back to the next row. That shifted Kyle Hirst's HAM Construction car to the front row with Sides.

When the green flag flew, Hirst battled past Sides before the two reached the back straight, with a surging Forsberg taking over the second position. For the next five laps, Hirst and Forsberg battled for the lead. A red flag flew on lap five after Tanner Thorson flipped in the middle of turns one and two. Thorson was OK.

Another caution flew on lap eight, with the front of the field largely remaining static. By lap 15, Hirst began catching the back of the field. As Hirst looked for a way around the lapped car of Justyn Cox, Forsberg saw an opportunity. Through the next several laps, Forsberg searched high and low looking for a line around Hirst, with Cox as the pick.

Even after Hirst cleared Cox, the battle between he and Forsberg continued with the two even making contact at one point. Through it all though, Hirst maintained the lead.

Schatz also used the lapped traffic to his advantage, battling past Sides on lap 19 coming out of turn four for the fourth position as the two worked their way through.

Following the open red flag on lap 21, Schatz battled past Forsberg to take over the second position. He then set his sights on Hirst for the lead. Hirst bobbled coming off turn two on lap 27, which gave Schatz an opening. He passed Hirst as the two drivers came off of turn four to complete lap 28.

A red flag and two cautions came late in the race. Ultimately, the final caution setup a green-white-checkered finish. On the final restart, Forsberg fell off and gave up the third position to Sides' East Coast Logistics car. Hirst maintained his second place perch and was unable to catch Schatz. Forsberg ultimately finished the night in seventh.

It was the third win for Schatz during the Outlaws' California swing.

"I haven't typically been very good in California but when you're not good at something you have to work on it and that's what we're doing right now. On the California tour, that's three more than we've had the last couple of years. All we do is build on that, build on the weak spots and see what happens."

It was the first podium finish of the season for both Hirst and Sides.

"We'll take it. Running second to Donny is a privilege so congratulations to him and his team", said Hirst, who finished second. "Had it for a while. I thought Andy (Forsberg) was coming - the next thing I saw was the 15 go by me on the front straightaway."

"Kyle and Forsberg were having really good races," Sides said. "You can never count out Donny. He just sneaks by on the outside of everybody. Just happened to be up here."

Placerville Speedway Notebook

RACE NOTES: Tonight's Brad Sweet's Placerville Short Track Outlaw Showdown presented by Riebes Auto Parts was the first World of Outlaws event at the track since 1992… Tonight's win was the fourth of the season for Donny Schatz… Schatz is one of just three drivers this season to have repeat wins… Kerry Madsen was the night's KSE Hard Charger, advancing 13 positions to finish in 12th… Jonathan Allard scored the night's quicktime… Jason Sides and Kyle Hirst both scored their first podium finishes of the year… Jason Johnson and Daryn Pittman were transported to area hospitals for further evaluation following a crash on lap 21… A spectator was transported to the hospital for further evaluation following a separate incident on lap 20.

CONTINGENCY WINNERS - MSD Ignitions ($25 cash): Tanner Thorson; MSD Ignitions ($50 cash): Donny Schatz; Sweet Manufacturing ($50 cash): Jonathan Allard; Penske Shocks ($50 cash): Craig Dollansky; Mobil 1 ($50 cash): David Gravel; JE Pistons ($50 cash): Jonathan Allard; Lincoln Welders ($50 cash): Paul McMahan; VP Racing Fuels ($50 cash): Craig Dollansky; Edelbrock ($50 cash): Craig Dollansky; Comp Cams ($50 cash): Joey Saldana; Cometic Gasket ($50 cash): Kerry Madsen; Superflow ($50 cash): Bud Kaeding; Sweet Manufacturing ($50 product certificate): David Gravel;KSE Racing Products ($100 product certificate): Kerry Madsen; Comp Cams ($50 product certificate): Donny Schatz; Mobil 1 (20% off Justyn Cox; JE Pistons (Set of Rings): Cory Eliason; JE Pistons (Set of Rings): Jason Johnson.

SEASON WINNERS: Donny Schatz - 4 (Silver Dollar Speedway on March 28, Volusia Speedway Park on Feb. 14, Stockton Dirt Track on March 21); Rico Abreu - 2 (Stockton Dirt Track on March 22, Thunderbowl Raceway on March 14); Daryn Pittman - 2 (Antioch Speedway on March 29, Volusia Speedway Park on Feb. 13); Brian Brown - 1 (USA Raceway on March 7); Tim Kaeding - 1 (Thunderbowl Raceway on March 13); Terry McCarl - 1 (The Dirt Track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 5); Shane Stewart - 1 (The Dirt Track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 5); Brad Sweet - 1 (Volusia Speedway Park on Feb. 15)

A-Main - (35 Laps) - 1. 15-Donny Schatz [5] [$6,000]; 2. 35M-Kyle Hirst [4] [$3,500]; 3. 7S-Jason Sides [1] [$2,000]; 4. 83-David Gravel [3] [$1,800]; 5. 3C-Jonathan Allard [8] [$1,500]; 6. 51-Paul McMahan [10] [$1,400]; 7. 7C-Andy Forsberg [2] [$1,350]; 8. 22K-Shane Golobic [18] [$1,300]; 9. 7-Craig Dollansky [6] [$1,250]; 10. 71M-Joey Saldana [13] [$1,200]; 11. 2-Shane Stewart [14] [$900]; 12. 29-Kerry Madsen [25] [$300]; 13. 83J-Tim Kaeding [9] [$700]; 14. O-Bud Kaeding [24] [$650]; 15. 49-Brad Sweet [22] [$600]; 16. 11K-Kraig Kinser [21] [$550]; 17. OO-Cory Eliason [12] [$500]; 18. 24-Rico Abreu [7] [$500]; 19. 20J-James Sweeney [19] [$500]; 20. 31C-Justyn Cox [23] [$500]; 21. 41-Jason Johnson [20] [$500]; 22. 9-Daryn Pittman [17] [$500]; 23. 1A-Jacob Allen [16] [$500]; 24. 29W-Willie Croft [15] [$500]; 25. 88-Tanner Thorson [11] [$500]. Lap Leaders: Kyle Hirst 1-27, Donny Schatz 28-35. KSE Hard Charger Award: 29-Kerry Madsen [+13]

Qualifying - 1. 3C-Jonathan Allard, 10.582; 2. 24-Rico Abreu, 10.599; 3. 7C-Andy Forsberg, 10.650; 4. 35M-Kyle Hirst, 10.660; 5. 83J-Tim Kaeding, 10.865; 6. 51-Paul McMahan, 10.872; 7. 88-Tanner Thorson, 10.963; 8. OO-Cory Eliason, 10.976; 9. 71M-Joey Saldana, 11.008; 10. 2-Shane Stewart, 11.037; 11. 7S-Jason Sides, 11.055; 12. 83-David Gravel, 11.078; 13. 7-Craig Dollansky, 11.091; 14. 15-Donny Schatz, 11.097; 15. 29W-Willie Croft, 11.104; 16. 1A-Jacob Allen, 11.112; 17. 9-Daryn Pittman, 11.123; 18. 22K-Shane Golobic, 11.161; 19. 20J-James Sweeney, 11.172; 20. 41-Jason Johnson, 11.223; 21. 11K-Kraig Kinser, 11.252; 22. 49-Brad Sweet, 11.257; 23. 5V-Colby Copeland, 11.269; 24. 31C-Justyn Cox, 11.287; 25. 99-Shawn Wright, 11.298; 26. 14-Andy Gregg, 11.326; 27. 1s-Logan Schuchart, 11.330; 28. 44W-Austen Wheatley, 11.340; 29. 22-Mason Moore, 11.385; 30. 68-Chase Johnson, 11.390; 31. O-Bud Kaeding, 11.416; 32. 98-Sean Watts, 11.461; 33. 45-Jake Morgan, 11.611; 34. 12X-Jarrett Soares, 11.674; 35. 29-Kerry Madsen, 11.751; 36. 19-Keith Bloom, 11.782; 37. 7H-Jojo Helberg, 11.982

Heat 1 - (10 Laps - Top 5 finishers transfer to the A-feature) - 1. 7-Craig Dollansky [1]; 2. 83J-Tim Kaeding [3]; 3. 3C-Jonathan Allard [4]; 4. 9-Daryn Pittman [5]; 5. 11K-Kraig Kinser [6]; 6. 71M-Joey Saldana [2]; 7. 22-Mason Moore [8]; 8. 45-Jake Morgan [9]; 9. 7H-Jojo Helberg [10]; 10. 99-Shawn Wright [7]

Heat 2 - (10 Laps - Top 5 finishers transfer to the A-feature) - 1. 15-Donny Schatz [1]; 2. 24-Rico Abreu [4]; 3. 2-Shane Stewart [2]; 4. 22K-Shane Golobic [5]; 5. 49-Brad Sweet [6]; 6. 68-Chase Johnson [8]; 7. 12X-Jarrett Soares [9]; 8. 51-Paul McMahan [3]; 9. 14-Andy Gregg [7]

Heat 3 - (10 Laps - Top 5 finishers transfer to the A-feature) - 1. 7S-Jason Sides [2]; 2. 29W-Willie Croft [1]; 3. 88-Tanner Thorson [3]; 4. 7C-Andy Forsberg [4]; 5. O-Bud Kaeding [8]; 6. 29-Kerry Madsen [9]; 7. 1s-Logan Schuchart [7]; 8. 5V-Colby Copeland [6]; 9. 20J-James Sweeney [5]

Heat 4 - (10 Laps - Top 5 finishers transfer to the A-feature) - 1. 83-David Gravel [2]; 2. 1A-Jacob Allen [1]; 3. 35M-Kyle Hirst [4]; 4. 41-Jason Johnson [5]; 5. 31C-Justyn Cox [6]; 6. OO-Cory Eliason [3]; 7. 44W-Austen Wheatley [7]; 8. 98-Sean Watts [8]; 9. 19-Keith Bloom [9]

Dash - (8 Laps, finishing order determined first 8 starting positions of A-feature) - 1. 7S-Jason Sides [2]; 2. 7C-Andy Forsberg [4]; 3. 83-David Gravel [1]; 4. 35M-Kyle Hirst [3]; 5. 15-Donny Schatz [8]; 6. 7-Craig Dollansky [7]; 7. 24-Rico Abreu [5]; 8. 3C-Jonathan Allard [6]

Last Chance Showdown - (12 Laps - Top 4 finishers transfer to the A-feature) - 1. 51-Paul McMahan [1] [-]; 2. OO-Cory Eliason [2] [-]; 3. 71M-Joey Saldana [3] [-]; 4. 20J-James Sweeney [4] [-]; 5. 5V-Colby Copeland [5] [$300]; 6. 1s-Logan Schuchart [8] [$250]; 7. 44W-Austen Wheatley [9] [$225]; 8. 29-Kerry Madsen [15] [$200]; 9. 98-Sean Watts [12] [$200]; 10. 45-Jake Morgan [13] [$200]; 11. 99-Shawn Wright [6] [$200]; 12. 68-Chase Johnson [11] [$200]; 13. 12X-Jarrett Soares [14] [$200]; 14. 22-Mason Moore [10] [$200]; 15. 19-Keith Bloom [16] [$200]; 16. 7H-Jojo Helberg [17] [$200]; 17. 14-Andy Gregg [7] [$200]

Audi Win WEC Silverstone Thriller

Marcel Fässler, Benoit Tréluyer and Andre Lotterer became the latest names to be added to the impressive roll of honour on the base of the 110 year old Tourist Trophy after Marcel Fässler took the chequered flag in the no7 Audi Sport R18 e-tron quattro to win the 6 Hours of Silverstone.

A 72 second lead for Fässler over fellow Swiss driver Neel Jani in the no18 Porsche 919 was reduced to just 11 with 15 minutes left on the clock when the no7 car was given a Stop-Go penalty for abusing track limits.  This set up a great battle for the final few laps, but Marcel Fässler was able to hold on to the lead and take the win by just 4.6 seconds.

 In LMP2 it was all smiles in the G-Drive Racing pit after the Russian team converted a 1-2 in qualifying into a 1-2 on the podium.  The no26 G-Drive Racing Ligier of Roman Rusinov, Sam Bird and Julien Canal took the win, with the sister no28 car taking second place to score a 1-2 finish for the Russian team. 

The no17 Porsche of Mark Webber led the race for the first 80 minutes but a drive train issue forced the Australian into the pits and into retirement.  The no18 Porsche took over the top spot but had to contend with the Audi R18s which closed up on the twisty parts of the Silverstone track.  However once on the long straights the Porsche would pull away, only to be caught again on the twisty stuff, keeping the fans on the edge of their seats.

By Lap 56 Neel Jani in the Porsche and Marcel Fässler in the Audi were battling hard for position while the two Toyotas of Anthony Davidson and Mike Conway were 3rd and 4th respectively, with Davidson just 3.8 seconds behind the duo at the front of the field.

Davidson pitted on lap 79 followed by Fässler and Jani a lap later, with Davidson leading the race followed by Conway in the no2 Toyota.  Andre Lotterer, now at the wheel of the no7 Audi, caught and passed Conway’s Toyota, the German then began the process of catching the lead car of the reigning world champion.  It took until lap 96 until Lotterer could make the move into Village corner but once he was in front Lotterer set about building an unassailable lead.  With 60-minutes of the race remaining Lotterer pitted to hand over the car to Fässler for the final part of the race.

The Swiss driver had a huge lead over the no18 Porsche of Jani but a late stop-go penalty for abusing track limits upset the plans of the Audi Sport team.  It seemed that the no7 Audi, with a 72 second lead, would be able to pit and come back out still with a healthy lead.  However when Fässler came in, he stopped at his pitbox to refuel the car, which meant he had to come back in for a second stop on the following lap to serve his penalty.  Everyone held their breath to see if the no7 Audi would emerge still in the lead, which it did with an 8 second gap with less than 15 minutes remaining on the clock. 

Jani sensed an opportunity to snatch the victory and the no18 Porsche started to close the gap but there wasn’t enough time to catch the leading Audi.  The no7 Audi took the flag 4.6 seconds ahead of the no18 Porsche with Sebastien Buemi claiming the third spot on the podium just 5.6 seconds behind the Porsche. 

 In LMP2 Nick Tandy in the KCMG Oreca05-Nissan got a great start to take the lead in the LMP2 category but had to fend off the attentions of the two G-Drive Racing Ligiers.  Sam Bird took the lead on lap 6 but Tandy was still able to mount a challenge.  However KCMG’s race came to an end when a holed radiator forced the Oreca into the pits for a long stop. The car did emerge from the garage to finish the race and be classified one place behind the brand new Strakka-Dome of Nick Leventis, Danny Watts and Jonny Kane.  

The no36 Signatech Alpine of Paul Loup Chatin had a big off at Copse, hitting the tyre wall hard.  The French driver was unhurt but his car was too damaged to continue and causing a full course yellow period that slowed the race for a few laps.

The two G-Drive Ligiers continued to battle amongst themselves with Roman Rusinov holding the top spot from Gustavo Yacaman as the clock hit 3 hours remaining.  This is how it remained during the second half of the race and by the chequered flag the no26 Ligier was a lap ahead of the no28 Nissan powered car and Roman Rusinov, Julien Canal and Sam Bird were able to savour the view from the top step of the podium alongside teammates Gustavo Yacaman, Ricardo Gonzalez and Pipo Derani in second. 

The no30 Tequila Patron sponsored Extreme Speed Motorsports HPD-Honda of Scott Sharp, David Heinmeier-Hansson and Ryan Dalziel finished the race in third place in what should be the last race for the older open cockpit ARX03B chassis. However in post race scrutineering the no30 ESM HPD was excluded from the results after the minimum thickness of the front and rear plank was under the 20mm minimum required and was in breach of Article 3.5.6a 3 of the LMP2 Technical Regulations. This promoted the no42 Strakka Racing Strakka Dome into third place.  

 Marcel Fassler – Audi Sport Team Joest:  “I must say this (the battle with Jani) was one of the best fights I have had in my whole career and I really enjoyed this whole race today. I have to say it was pretty fair from Neel who gave space and I think we raced well together. I must say it was a bit annoying him passing me on the straights like that! It was really a nice race to drive and I think what we showed today was great.”

Anthony Davidson – Toyota Racing: “I think we had to double stint the tyres to stay in the fight today. This forced everyone else to give it a go as well. Once the fuel had gone in the car it felt pretty much the same as it had at the end of the first stint and my second one was actually faster than the first stint.

“Hopefully when we get to some circuits where tyre-wear is a bit more critical than here at Silverstone where it is pretty kind on tyres, we can get in to a position where we can have an advantage again. But overall we have always seemed to struggle here at Silverstone.”

Neel Jani – Porsche Team:  “I definitely enjoyed the race with Marcel today, especially as I know we can trust each other driving side-by-side without actually touching. Obviously I couldn’t avoid smiling on the straights each time I went by him!

“I think at the beginning we struggled a little bit with brake temperature issues but we got it back under control and it started to get better and better and I could pick up the pace. For sure it was a great sportscar race and all three manufacturers are all very close. We have to push because it is a six-our sprint race.”

Roman Rusinov – G-Drive Racing:  “Sam (Bird) did the perfect job today so I have to say thank you to him and also to Julien (Canal) who was also very good. We just didn’t take any risks as we know we have a good car. But I had some problems with the Strakka because when I was lapping this car it was touching me and I lost 8-seconds which was not too bad. But the team were excellent again all weekend and we are very happy.”

Marquez pulls off sensational lap to claim pole in Austin

Repsol Honda’s Marc Marquez claimed his 23rd MotoGP™ pole position with an incredible final lap during a tense Q2 in Austin.

The lap was made even more remarkable by the fact the reigning MotoGP™ World Champion had to stop on track with 3 minutes remaining after a technical fault and run back down the pit lane to retrieve his second bike with just seconds to spare.

Not even this could stop the Spaniard as he went back out on track to set the fastest ever time on two-wheels around CoTA, a 2’02.135, over sixth-tenths quicker than his previous lap record set in Qualifying last year. It was a fitting end to a thrilling Q2, which saw the lead change hands a number of times in the dying seconds.

Despite overcast skies, track conditions were actually ideal for the fifteen-minute session, with Marquez finishing an impressive 0.339s ahead of his nearest rival, the pole sitter from Qatar, Andrea Dovizioso on the Ducati Team GP15. The Spaniard explaining: “It was rather different to what we are used to, because when I crossed the line for the first time with the second tyre I saw a warning light on the bike. When that happens, we are normally advised to shut off the engine. I was able to get out again on the second bike and cross the line right at the cut-off point to put in a final lap, which worked out well for us.”

Dovizioso will start from 2nd place after just missing out on his second pole of the season in the dying moments of the session: “I am so happy to be on the front row, as I knew it would be hard. I was able to push really hard during qualifying, and I am very happy at how much we have improved the feeling over the weekend.”

Movistar Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo (+0.405s) took the final front row spot after completing a remarkable comeback from a bout of bronchitis that saw him down in 11th after FP2: “The antibiotics are doing their job, but I need to be in a perfect condition for tomorrow.”

The double MotoGP™ World Champion seemed pleased with how he had turned things around: “I was really satisfied with this time and position, I didn‘t expect to make the top five. Let‘s see what the weather is like tomorrow. Personally I prefer a dry race, but a wet race would be better for my physical condition. I am very happy that the Yamaha is becoming better in this track.”

Lorenzo's teammate and winner in Qatar Valentino Rossi (+0.428s) will start from the front of the second row and feels it will be a close race: “Last year there was a bigger difference to Marc‘s pace, this is very positive, but he remains the favourite for the race tomorrow. After him there‘s me, Jorge and Dovi very close in terms of rhythm.”

The leading Satellite rider was once again Cal Crutchlow (+0.478s) in 5th place on the CWM LCR Honda, who has impressed throughout the weekend. His compatriot Scott Redding (+0.539s) seems to be making rapid progress on his Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Racing Honda RC213V and will start from 6th: “Finally we’re finding our way with this bike. We struggled a lot in Qatar, but at least we left there with an idea of which direction we needed to go in and I think the lap times here show that it’s the right one. Each session we’ve improved, gone a little bit faster and closed the gap just a little bit more to the guys in front, while my race pace over the longer runs has also been good.”

The second factory Ducati of Andrea Iannone will start from 7th with the Team Suzuki Ecstar of Aleix Espargaro (8th) finishing ahead of his brother Pol (Monster Tech 3 Yamaha) in 9th. Pol admitting that he was frustrated afterwards: “I made a mistake on my fast lap and ran straight on. After that, I was able to improve my lap time but the tyre wasn't fresh anymore and that unfortunately makes a huge difference at this track. I have nobody to blame as it was my own fault, but for sure starting from the back of the third row won't make things any easier tomorrow.”

Pol’s teammate Bradley Smith was disappointed to be starting from 10th on the grid after more bad luck for the British rider: “We had some technical troubles during FP4 and we couldn't fix them in time for QP2. Unfortunately, this meant that I had to stop to change the bike, which is far from ideal in a 15-minute session on such a long circuit. Furthermore, we didn’t have time to swap the front tyre on the second bike, so I did my laps with a used one. It was a session where nothing went our way, so it’s disappointing to start from the fourth row.”

Danilo Petrucci on the Pramac Racing Ducati and the second Team Suzuki Ecstar GSX-RR of Maverick Viñales will complete the 4th row on the grid for Sundays race.

Earlier on, it was Andrea Iannone and Maverick Viñales who made it through from Q1. Hector Barbera missed out on taking part in Q2 by less than five-hundredths of a second, but won the battle of the Open class riders and will start from the front of the 5th row in 13th place, ahead of Athina Forward Racing’s Stefan Bradl and Yonny Hernandez on the second Pramac Racing Ducati.

Tussle of champions: Jimmie Johnson outduels Kevin Harvick

Jimmie Johnson continued his recent domination of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Texas Motor Speedway Saturday night, rallying after a late pit stop for a victory in the 19th annual Duck Commander 500.

Johnson, the six-time NSCS champion, took the lead on Lap 321 of 334 when he drove under and past Jamie McMurray and Kevin Harvick exiting the dogleg of Texas' high-banked, 1.5-mile quad-oval. The final 14 laps featured a battle between Johnson and Harvick, the reigning series champion, who finished second despite scraping the Turn 4 wall on Lap 331.

Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Pro Services Chevrolet SS, finished 1.107 seconds ahead of Harvick and his No. 4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS. Johnson, of Hendrick Motorsports, posted his 72nd career victory in 478 NSCS starts.

"The end of the race was nutty," said Johnson, who said he woke up sick Saturday morning and addressed the media post-race through a scratchy voice. "Those last three pit stops with the varied tire strategies, our car wasn't handling like it did when we were leading. The third one (on Lap 310), our car was really, really good and I was able to work our way forward. The No. 4 was having trouble with the No. 1 (of McMurray) and slid up…and I thought I had it under control. Just a lot of great racing; the (worn-out) surface of this racetrack allows that to happen."

Johnson scored his fifth win at TMS and third in his last six starts, but his first victory in the spring event. Johnson earned his first win of the season at Atlanta Motor Speedway, a sister 1.5-mile layout to TMS, in the second race on the schedule.

"I think the tracks with high-wear and bumps…I think the surface fits my style and Chad's style and what we do together," Johnson said in reference to crew chief Chad Knaus.

"This is a racetrack that falls into Jimmie's liking," said Knaus, still sporting his Victory Circle Stetson. "Do we always race at night (here) in the spring? We've run very, very well here in the spring race so I think it was just circumstances that we hadn't been able to pull it off previously. Nothing specific."

Johnson pitted with most of the lead pack during the race's eighth and final caution period on Lap 310, when Knaus played it safe with a call for four Goodyear tires. Four drivers—McMurray, Kyle Larson, four-time series champion Jeff Gordon and Martin Truex Jr.—opted for right side tires only. Johnson exited pit road in seventh after Larson was penalized for driving through too many pit boxes.

Johnson moved into third on Lap 317, behind leader McMurray and Harvick. Johnson completed his charge to the front on Lap 321, with Harvick taking second and Dale Earnhardt Jr. also passing McMurray. Earnhardt moved around Harvick on Lap 326 for second before Harvick returned the favor on Lap 329. Harvick then lost momentum on Lap 331 when he slid and scraped the wall in Turn 4 but still managed to maintain second. By then, Johnson was headed to the white flag.

Earnhardt, Johnson's Hendrick Motorsports teammate, finished third in his No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet SS. Joey Logano, last year's Texas spring race winner and the reigning Daytona 500 champion, finished fourth in the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford Fusion. Brad Keselowski, the 2012 NSCS champion and Logano's Team Penske shopmate, finished fifth in the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford.

"I had the car I anticipated I would have," said Earnhardt, who scored his 15th top-10 finish in 26 races at TMS. "We made some good adjustments. We seemed to have a good pattern of what was working for us and I think by the end of the race we had our car as good as we had it all night.

"I like racing here. I think it was a good show. It was raining debris out there for a while and we needed some green-flag runs to get some of the track position back that we were having trouble keeping. Finally the rain shower of debris ended and we were able to finish the race."

Johnson led on nine occasions for a race-high 128 laps to become the third driver to record wins in the spring and fall races at Texas, joining Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards, both of Joe Gibbs Racing. Harvick, a two-time winner this season for Stewart-Haas Racing, led nine times for 96 laps.

Harvick's desire to get his first win at TMS in 25 starts was evident on Lap 314, when he nudged the rear bumper of Logano's car and moved him out of the way while battling for third.

"Yeah, it’s fine," said Harvick. "Like the No. 22, you knock them out of the way and that’s the chance you take when you block." Harvick setted for his 13th top-10 finish in those 25 TMS starts and his seventh top 10 in 2015.

Logano classified Harvick’s move as "hard racing," then admitted he was blocking. "It's the end of the race. I blocked him and he got into me," Logano said. "I get it. Early in the race that's not acceptable. End of the race, we're racing for the win. I'd do the same thing."

Harvick exited Texas with a 25-point (306-280) lead over Logano in the points standings, with Truex, driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet SS, third and 40 points out of the lead after a ninth-place result.

Porsche and G-Drive Take 1-2 in Qualifying for 6 Hours of Silverstone WEC

The no17 Porsche of Mark Webber and Brendon Hartley took pole position and underlined their pre-season testing pace when the 1m39.721 average lap time was three second faster than the 2014 pole time. 

The no18 919 of Neel Jani and  Romain Dumas completed a Porsche front row lockout for tomorrow’s 6 Hours of Silverstone, pushing the no8 Audi R18 e-tron quattro of Lucas Di Grassi and Oliver Jarvis  onto the second row by just 0.012 seconds. Reigning world champions Toyota will start 4th and 6th with the no1 TS040 of Anthony Davidson and Kazuki Nakajima just 0.030 seconds behind the no8 Audi and 0.661 behind the leading Porsche.

In LMP2 G-Drive Racing also scored a 1-2 in qualifying for tomorrow’s race, a great achievement for the Russian team who are running two cars for the first time in the World Endurance Championship.  The no28 Ligier JS P2-Nissan of Ricardo Gonzalez and Luis Felipe Derani beat their teammates Roman Rusinov and Sam Bird in the no26 Ligier to the top spot by just 0.062 seconds.  The 1m48.021 average time was over one second faster than last year’s pole time, set by Rusinov and Olivier Pla in the G-Drive Racing Morgan.

The brand new KCMG Oreca 05 was third fastest, finishing one tenth of a second ahead of the 2014 ELMS Champions Signatech Alpine, the French team making their WEC qualifying debut.