Legendary Dodge Hemi celebrates 50th anniversary, eyes 2014 championships in NHRA

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Like fine wine, some things just get better with age. And such is the case with Dodge’s legendary Hemi engine, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2014.

Who can forget the highly popular “Got a Hemi?” ad campaign from 2007? If you don’t remember it, or want to be entertained again, watch it below.

While Dodge pulled out of NASCAR after winning the 2012 Sprint Cup championship, the Hemi is still quite popular in street cars (including the Charger and Challenger) and pickup trucks.

The iconic 426 cubic inch Hemi will be a significant player in the National Hot Rod Association’s professional ranks as the drag racing season begins this weekend in Pomona, Calif.

Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Allen Johnson will be flying the Hemi colors after respectively earning back-to-back Pro Stock championships for the Mopar brand in 2012 and 2013.

“We are really jacked up,” said Coughlin, driver of the JEGS.com Mopar Dodge. “We’re ready to start the fight, and for sure it’s going to be a fight, just like every season. We’re looking at the Winternationals as Step 1 of the many steps it will take to win our sixth Pro Stock championship.”

Coughlin’s and Johnson’s cars will be the only Hemi-powered rides in the Pro Stock class, both tuned by master tuner Roy Johnson.

“We’re down to two cars now, so the focus will be even more intense, which should be good all the way around,” Coughlin said. “It’s our job now to go out there and win them a third straight (Hemi-powered Pro Stock) title.”

Added Allen Johnson, who finished second to Coughlin last season, “Mopar is celebrating 50 years of the Hemi and we aim to add some more Wallys (race win trophies) and battle hard for another Championship as our contribution to the festivities. We’re focused and excited and ready to go. Ideally we’ll be shooting to finish 1-2 again but it would be nice to do it in reverse order this time.”

In Funny Car, the Hemi will be looking to pick up where it left off last season, with Matt Hagan and Jack Beckman both back in pursuit of their second career FC championships after finishing second and third, respectively, in 2013.

There will be four Hemi-powered cars in the Funny Car ranks, all owned by the largest and most successful team in drag racing today, Don Schumacher Racing.

“2013 was a great year of us and we finished really strong with a win at Pomona in the end,” said Hagan, who although winning the most races last season (five), fell short of beating John Force, who won his 16th championship. “We won more than anyone in the class, but it’s just the way the cards fell in the Countdown (to the Championship).”

Other Funny Car pilots that will have Hemi power under the hood include Ron Capps, who will be celebrating his 20th season in NHRA’s pro ranks and hopes to finally win his first national championship after finishing runner-up in four prior seasons.

The season will also mark the return to fulltime racing and also driving a Hemi by nine-time national event winner Tommy Johnson Jr., who will replace Johnny Gray, who won four races last season.

Fans will play a big part of the year-long Hemi anniversary, as Dodge will display a historical heritage wall at all national events, telling the five-decade story of the Hemi. There will also be Hemi-branded merchandise to purchase for fans, and gifts to win, as well.

For those who may think the Hemi isn’t as relevant in racing as it was when it first made its celebrated debut in 1964, think again. Four world championship titles in various forms of motorsports have been earned with a Hemi under the hood in the last three years.

For those of you who may be a bit young to remember the earth-shattering noise the Hemi made when it burst upon the racing scene in 1964, it was built to do one thing and one thing only: win races. It didn’t make a difference if it was in stock car racing ranks (using the so-called “Circuit” or “Track” versions) or in drag racing (using the “Acceleration” or “Drag” versions), the Hemi was designed to go faster than its counterparts from General Motors and Ford.

It was fast – and successful – literally right out of the box, winning the 1964 Daytona 500 with Richard Petty behind the wheel, just weeks before legendary “Big Daddy” Don Garlits became the first racer to break the 200-mph drag racing quarter-mile barrier with a Hemi in his Top Fuel dragster (201.34 mph at 7.78 seconds). Garlits would also kick off a run of eight career victories at the Super Bowl of drag racing, the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis that same season.

Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski

IMSA: Dramatic finishes, popular winners at Mazda Raceway

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The penultimate round of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca featured three first-time winners this year in the Prototype, GT Le Mans and GT Daytona classes – all of whom boast fascinating stories.

In Prototype and overall, Renger van der Zande and Marc Goossens delivered the first overall win of the year for an LMP2-spec car versus a Daytona Prototype international (DPi), and after a dramatic week for the Troy Flis-led VISIT FLORIDA Racing team.

Van der Zande and Goossens were only in their second race start with the team’s new No. 90 Ligier JS P217 Gibson, which replaced the troublesome Riley Multimatic Mk. 30 chassis run through Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in July.

Running second into the final few minutes of the two-hour, 40-minute race, van der Zande unleashed his inner Alex Zanardi at Mazda Raceway’s iconic corner, the Corkscrew, going down the inside of Penske Acura-bound Dane Cameron in his second-to-last race with Action Express Racing aboard its No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R.

Cameron left the door open just enough for van der Zande to slide through, with his momentum carrying through the inside of the left-handed downhill apex and then back onto the right-handed second portion of the corner in line.

He pulled away from there en route to the team’s first victory of the year at a track where it had won before, as recently as two years ago with Richard Westbrook and Michael Valiante in a Corvette DP.

The win comes after a week when the Florida-based team, with the likelihood of change to its partner portfolio if VISIT FLORIDA support doesn’t continue into 2018, incurred damage at its shop from Hurricane Irma. Van der Zande joked on the FOX Sports broadcast after the race he might get a tattoo of the Corkscrew after the win.

With third place in their No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R, Jordan and Ricky Taylor built their points lead to an unofficial gap of 29 points over Cameron and Eric Curran, the defending champions, with one race remaining. The Taylors will be set to clinch the Prototype title at Motul Petit Le Mans by starting the race, on October 7.

The GT classes featured two other cool stories and maiden 2017 winners.

In GT Le Mans, John Edwards broke a long winless drought sharing his No. 24 BMW M6 GTLM with Martin Tomczyk, in the revised black livery for the BMW Team RLL car. Edwards held off Toni Vilander in the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE at the flag, on a fuel save run.

The No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR was third ahead of the No. 3 Corvette C7.R, with points leaders Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen set to carry a 19-point lead over Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe in their No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT heading to Motul Petit Le Mans.

GT Daytona points leaders Alessandro Balzan and Christina Nielsen, in their anticipated second-to-last race together in the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 this year (Nielsen told RACER over the weekend she’ll leave the team at year’s end, following the end of her two-year contract), finally got on the board this year after a wealth of podiums but no wins.

Balzan moved into the lead following Colin Braun’s late splash for fuel, which denied the No. 54 CORE autosport Porsche 911 GT3 R lineup of Braun and Jon Bennett a potential first win in class.

Balzan and Nielsen have a 25-point lead over Jeroen Bleekemolen in GTD – Bleekemolen and Ben Keating finished eighth today in their No. 33 Riley Motorsports-Team AMG Mercedes AMG-GT3 – and are poised to wrap their second straight class title at Motul Petit Le Mans.

RESULTS

Gasly takes Sugo podium to stay in Super Formula title hunt

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Red Bull junior Pierre Gasly will head into the final round of the 2017 Super Formula season just half a point off the lead after finishing second at Sugo on Sunday.

Gasly, 21, was placed in the Japanese Super Formula series for this season after winning the GP2 title last year, and vaulted into contention for the title with back-to-back wins at Motegi and Autopolis.

Gasly continued his good form by taking P2 at Sugo on Sunday, having narrowly lost out to Yuhi Sekiguchi following a race-long battle.

Gasly trailed Sekiguchi through the early part of the race before extending his opening stint longer than his rival in a bid to jump ahead, only to emerge from the pits second again.

Fresher tires allowed Gasly to make serious inroads through the closing stages, but Sekiguchi held on to take his second victory of the year by just 0.2 seconds.

Kazuki Nakajima completed the podium ahead of Yuji Kunimoto, while Formula E racer Felix Rosenqvist took P5 from Hiroaki Ishiura.

Ishiura heads into the season-ending double-header at Suzuka leading Gasly by just half a point in the drivers’ standings, with Rosenqvist sitting a further 4.5 points behind.

The Super Formula season rounds out on October 22 at Suzuka.

Norris made to wait for F3 title after final lap crash in Austria

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Rising British racer Lando Norris has been made to wait to secure the FIA European Formula 3 title after a crash on the final lap of Sunday’s race at the Red Bull Ring ensured the championship battle will go to the final round of the season.

Norris, 17, became part of Formula 1 team McLaren’s junior program earlier this year, and enjoyed his maiden test in a grand prix racer in Hungary over the summer, putting in an impressive display.

Norris has been racing in the highly-competitive FIA F3 series in Europe this year, a championship that has proved crucial in the careers for drivers such as Max Verstappen, Esteban Ocon and Antonio Giovinazzi.

After finishing second earlier on Sunday, Norris needed to simply finish ahead of chief title rival Maximilian Günther in the final race of the weekend to clinch the championship with three races to spare.

Norris started second and retained his position throughout the race, only to come under pressure from Ralf Aron in the closing stages, the two drivers making contact on the last lap.

Norris was sent off the track and into the gravel, forcing him to retire from the race, and with Günther finishing fifth, the points gap was reduced to 72 with three races remaining at Hockenheim in three weeks’ time.

While a title win is still likely for Norris given just 75 are on offer, to have come so close to sealing it early will nevertheless come as a blow to the talented youngster.

Norris is set to be placed in Formula 2 by McLaren in 2018, but is poised to be a name that is spoken about for many years to come in F1.

Marquez fights to Aragon MotoGP win, opens up points lead

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Marc Marquez fought through to his fifth win of the 2017 MotoGP season in Sunday’s Aragon Grand Prix, extending his lead in the riders’ championship to 16 points over Andrea Dovizioso.

A fall in qualifying meant Marquez started only fifth at Motorland Aragon, and failed to make any inroads at the start of the race, running only fourth in the early stages as Ducati’s Jorge Lorenzo hit the front.

Marquez was able to slowly rise up the order, passing title rival Dovizioso, Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi and finally Lorenzo, taking the lead of the race on Lap 16.

Marquez ultimately crossed the line less than one second clear of teammate Dani Pedrosa, who continued his good record at Motorland Aragon to complete a one-two finish for Repsol Honda.

Lorenzo held on to take his second podium in Ducati colors in third, finishing ahead of Yamaha pole-sitter Maverick Viñales, who dropped to fifth on the opening lap and never recovered.

Rossi’s remarkable return to racing a little over three weeks since suffering a double leg break ended with a run to fifth at the checkered flag, having spent the early part of the race battling at the front before dropping back.

Aleix Espargaro finished sixth ahead of Dovizioso, who slipped to 16 points behind Marquez in the title race by only finishing seventh for Ducati.

Alvaro Bautista crossed the line eighth ahead of Tech3’s Johann Zarco, while Pol Espargaro completed the top 10.

MotoGP returns in three weeks’ time with the Japanese Grand Prix at Twin Ring Motegi.