A high-flying drag race for UAE in Denver

Fuller ambitious for Abu Dhabi/ Yas team at the Colorado's Mile High Nationals today with 100 professional drag race starts.

Rod Fuller was qualifying at altitude in Denver yesterday.
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Abu Dhabi's ambitious Yas Marina Circuit Top Fuel team might be the new kid on the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) block, but the same cannot be said of their driver, Rod Fuller. Fuller goes into Colorado's Mile High Nationals today with 100 professional drag race starts. The Denver event is an NHRA rarity in that the family-owned track lies at altitude, 1,600 metres above sea level. The Abu Dhabi/Yas Marina team are making their second start after their mixed series debut last weekend at the Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California.

Fuller qualified third in the Abu Dhabi car's first foray at the pinnacle of drag racing, causing a stir in the NHRA garages. Technical problems, perhaps caused by Fuller's over-exuberance, curtailed the Yas Marina Circuit crew's progress in the eliminations last Sunday. Fuller was eliminated in the round of 16. "I aim to win every time," Fuller said after Sonoma. "I never put on my helmet and get strapped into the car if I don't have a shot at winning. I think a lot of people at Sonoma thought we were crazy when I said we had a top-five car. But we surprised those people when we qualified third."

After that notable opening qualifying session success, Fuller was optimistic about maintaining momentum in Denver, a track where he topped the podium in 2007. "Denver gives us our best shot at winning because of its mile-high elevation," said Fuller, before Friday's qualifying stint. "It is unique on the drag-racing circuit because none of the teams get to test and prepare for this race the way they do for all the others. It is a level playing field for everyone."

Fuller's performance, however, did not match his pre-race optimism. In his opening qualifying run, Fuller lost traction on the scorching Bandimere Speedway track and recorded a disappointing lap of 4.801secs at 258.203kph to place 11th in the 16-car order. The second run went better, a pass of 4.113 at 451.678kph elevated Fuller to ninth overall. "It's tough racing up here with this altitude," said Fuller, a Chicago native. "You saw a lot of cars struggle with the heat and conditions. The track will get better and I think you'll see a lot of movement in [yesterday's] second round of qualifying. It's supposed to cool off, so I expect us to run much better and get into the top half of the field."

Regardless of results at Bandimere though, the Yas Marina Circuit team - dovetailing competition duties with a destination awareness agenda that is backed by the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority - have successfully raised eyebrows among the US drag racing fraternity. "This tour has already been a success because it has proved that we are a legitimate drag racing team and not just an interesting sideshow," said Richard Cregan, Yas Marina Circuit's chief executive. "Rod's qualifying time in Sonoma has already proven that and I hope this tour will pave the way for the team to race in more US events next year and also possibly in Europe and even Australia."

After Denver, Fuller's squad will spend August fine-tuning issues identified from the first two outings before gearing up for September's back-to-back Top Fuel rounds in Indianapolis and Charlotte, North Carolina. Again, expectations will be high. "Indy is the biggest race on the drag calendar," Fuller said. "Many top drivers would rather win the Nationals there than the world championship. The Concord track [in Charlotte] is the opposite of Sonoma. It's the newest and most modern venue, kind of similar in that way to Yas Marina Circuit."

Casey Stoner was instantly fast at the Red Bull US Grand Prix as he set the best time of the opening practice session, just ahead of MotoGP championship leader Jorge Lorenzo. Stoner, the 24-year-old Australian who is fourth in this year's championship race, won at the Monterey, California, racetrack in 2007 and looked comfortable on the short and highly technical Mazda Raceway on Friday, posting a best lap of 1min 21.699secs.

Lorenzo, however, was just behind at 1:21.932. His Fiat Yamaha teammate, Valentino Rossi, struggled to keep pace, posting the sixth-fastest lap. Rossi, who came back last week from a broken leg, said he had to battle pain as well as the track. Last weekend he finished fourth at the German GP. * With agencies