Rahal’s reboot will take more time

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The engineering reboot at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing didn’t immediately pay dividends at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course this weekend.

As part of a team restructuring effort, Graham Rahal’s engineer Gerry Hughes was reassigned to be the team’s Head of Development, with ex-Dragon Racing hand Neil Fife brought in to help stem the tide of a frustrating season.

Initial signs from the weekend weren’t promising. Rahal lost a day of testing on Wednesday due to fuel issues, his second lost test day this year (Barber open test). He qualified only 22nd and finished only 18th in the No. 15 Midas/Big-O Tires Honda on a day he and his home fans in Columbus would rather forget.

“It was a struggle all day. The car was loose from the get-go, really loose.  Here, where you have these high commitment corners when you are loose it’s a struggle and unfortunately we never really came to grips with that,”  he said. “Obviously I’m disappointed. We wanted to show better at my home race but unfortunately this is all we had today. We’ve just got to keep soldiering on. Nothing is coming easy to us right now. We’re just not competitive so we have to just keep working hard. We are looking forward to the test day in Sonoma, without a doubt. Hopefully we can get out there and get a lot done.”

James Jakes continues to punch above his weight in the second RLL car, the No. 16 Acorn Stairlifts Honda. The affable Englishman outqualified Rahal for the eighth time in the last 10 races, with a respectable 10th place effort. That said, 13th wasn’t a result to write home about on his 26th birthday.

“It was a pretty frustrating race really,” said Jakes. “We started tenth, lost a spot on the start. Everyone else was on red tires and the three guys that were on blacks in front of us Marco, Pagenaud and ourselves all caught up to each other and I thought we were in a good position.  We had pretty good laps going and I was quite happy with the balance of the car but then we just got stuck behind the guys that were doing the two stop race and that just killed us. It was difficult to overtake and we struggled from then on.”

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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