Wilson, Tagliani make St. Pete weekend strides

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Series veterans Justin Wilson and Alex Tagliani helped spur their teams forward after challenging practice and qualifying sessions to score top-10 finishes in IndyCar’s season opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The combination of Honda’s relative lack of pace, although the top 22 in practice were barely covered by more than one second, and setup issues meant Wilson (13th) and Tagliani (17th) were further down the grid than they may have liked.

A mix of good strategy and avoiding trouble helped move them up the order to ninth and 10th by the finish. Wilson could have ended higher in Dale Coyne’s No. 19 before EJ Viso made a late-race pass. Tagliani’s race was largely uneventful but a positive for his BHA/Barracuda Racing effort, which a year ago raced at St. Petersburg with Lotus engines and has had only one preseason test this year.

We had a pretty good race,” said Wilson. “The Sonny’s Bar-B-Q Honda team called some good strategy and we managed to keep picking our way up there and making improvements.  It was frustrating to lose a couple of spots right at the end – I seemed to get knocked around a little bit and be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  It’s good to get a top 10, but we want to be up there challenging for the win, so we’ll focus on what we can do better next time and try to make a step forward at Barber.”

Wilson’s DCR teammate Ana Beatriz retired with mechanical issues after a frustrating weekend back for the first time since last year’s Indianapolis 500.

NHRA: John Force-like motor explosions get contagious during Sunday’s Gatornationals

Photo and video courtesy NHRA
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John Force is rubbing off on others – but probably not the way they or he would like.

The 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion has had spectacular motor explosions in each of the first three races of the new NHRA season, including during Friday’s qualifying for this weekend’s Gatornationals.

During Sunday’s quarterfinals of eliminations, Force’s teammate (and son-in-law and president of John Force Racing) Robert Hight squared off with fellow Funny Car driver Matt Hagan.

As the duo closed in on the finish line, both cars experienced spectacular motor explosions of their own – virtually side-by-side and nearly at the same time.

Hight’s car was the first to explode, tossing its body high in the air. A split-second later, Hagan’s car exploded, also sending the body flying.

Check out the NHRA video:

Hight wound up losing the race.

Hagan, meanwhile, and his crack pit crew rolled their backup car off the hauler, put in a new motor and went on to race through the semifinals and into the finals, losing to race winner “Fast Jack” Beckman.

“We had a pretty great race day, to be honest,” Hagan said. “I’ve never been to the finals in Gainesville.

“We obviously had a huge blow up in the second round, then to watch these guys pull the other car back out and put it together in the amount of time they had, then turn a win light on against Capps (Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps in the semifinals), then to be able to go to a final, it was huge and it speaks for itself.”

As for Hight, here’s his take on what happened with the motor explosion:

“I couldn’t see (Hagan) over there and it wasn’t like it was hazing the tires or anything else. As it turns out it wasn’t spinning at all. It kicked two rods out when it blacked the bearings in the crank then it hit the valves and blew up.

“The thing gave me no indication at all before that. What really scared me was once I got it under control and I look over and see his body is off his car. I am thinking ‘Oh man, he got gathered up in me.’ Then I stood up and looked and his injector was sideways so I realized he had an explosion as well. We are just lucky we didn’t get into each other.”

As for the guy who has had so much trouble in the motor department, John Force, he lost in the first round of Sunday’s eliminations to daughter Courtney Force.

John Force planned on shutting the motor off on his car at around the 700-foot mark of the 1,000-foot dragstrip, not wanting to risk another motor explosion – even though it meant a likely loss to his daughter.

Now John Force and his entire four-car team, including Courtney Force, Robert Hight and daughter and Top Fuel driver Brittany Force, will be off for extensive testing to try and determine what’s been causing the motor explosions.

“We have to evaluate it and go test,” Force said. “We’ll figure it out.”

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