Life’s a drag: NHRA kicks off 2014 season with this weekend’s Winternationals

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Like the swallows that return to nearby Capistrano every year, the early bird will likely catch the worm as the NHRA Mello Yello Series kicks off its 24-race 2014 season this weekend.

The Circle K Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif., have traditionally been where championships begin.

Defending Top Fuel champ Shawn Langdon is the perfect example of that: he began his quest for his first NHRA pro title by winning last year’s Winternationals.

And then, as if to add emphasis – if not to clinch the championship – Langdon returned to his home track (he grew up about 20 miles away in Mira Loma) last November to win the season-ending finals.

Judging by preseason testing, Langdon is prepared to maintain his stranglehold on that championship trophy in 2014, as well. Once you get a taste of being the best of the best, it grows on you, and that’s certainly the case with Langdon.

Even if you’ve won a record 16 championships, as Funny Car legend John Force has done, the hunger for No. 17 hasn’t changed one iota. If anything, Force may be more determined than ever to win yet another Funny Car crown for several different reasons.

First, he’ll turn 65 in May. He became the NHRA’s oldest champion across all pro classes when he won the Funny Car title last season, his first since 2010, but also his 16th in 24 seasons.

Even though he’s a senior citizen, Force is still driving like a 20-something. And that should be no different this season, which leads to the second reason why this year will be one of the most significant and poignant of his career.

Force will part ways at the end of the season with long-time sponsor Castrol GTX motor oil, as well as car manufacturer Ford. Both companies announced in the offseason that they would be ending sponsorship of Force’s car and will likely allocate those resources in other areas.

Given his fierce loyalty to Castrol and Ford, Force would like nothing better than to have them go out in style with yet another championship.

And, who knows, if his bid to find a new primary sponsor and new manufacturer doesn’t go as smoothly as he hopes – he said in a recent NHRA teleconference that his yearly racing budget for all the teams under the John Force Racing umbrella is $24 million – it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility to think Force may also end his relationships with Ford and Castrol by also going out as a champion.

In other words, 2014 could potentially be Force’s last season as arguably the greatest drag racer the NHRA has ever known. He’s at a point in his life that watching daughters Brittany and Courtney build their own respective drag racing careers has become his top priority.

Brittany Force is coming off a Rookie of the Year season in Top Fuel.

There’s also a chance that John Force may switch rides with daughter Brittany next season: she would drive a Funny Car and he would compete in a Top Fuel dragster for the first time in his career.

It wouldn’t be the first time a driver has switched classes. Don “Snake” Prudhomme, Kenny Bernstein, Gary Scelzi and Tommy Johnson Jr. (who returns to a full-time ride this season in Funny Car for the first time in five seasons) are among only 15 drivers that have won national events in both fuel categories.

Of all the things he’s done in his career, that’s one thing Force has not achieved, and could provide incentive – not to mention possibly start him writing yet another chapter of his life story – if business reasons (i.e., sponsorship) dictate such.

If Force foregoes a possible switch to Top Fuel – which he’s thought about off and on for more than 15 years – there is also the possibility (dare we even think it, let alone say it) that Force may not be at the 2015 Winternationals … as a participant, that is.

In the Pro Stock ranks, defending champ Jeg Coughlin Jr., is already on the hunt for his sixth championship. Winning two races in last year’s Countdown to the Championship clinched the title for the Ohio native, who amassed four wins overall in the season.

One driver Coughlin won’t have to worry about, at least early in the season, is four-time Pro Stock champ Greg Anderson, who surprised the sport earlier this week when he announced he would miss the first three months of the season (likely six events) to undergo and recuperate from non-life threatening heart surgery.

The Winternationals kicked off Thursday and will continue with two rounds of qualifying for pro drivers on Friday and Saturday, with final eliminations set for Sunday.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

NASCAR America: Scott Speed’s quest for Red Bull GRC three-peat

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Red Bull Global Rallycross points leader Scott Speed is going for his third consecutive championship next month (Saturday, October 14, 4:30 p.m. ET, NBC from Los Angeles) for the Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross team.

Prior to that, he joined Thursday’s edition of NBCSN’s NASCAR America, checking in with his former Red Bull Racing teammate Brian Vickers, show host Carolyn Manno and analyst Steve Letarte.

Speed talked teammate dynamics – he and Tanner Foust have been the class of the Red Bull GRC field for several years – and what it takes to succeed in the diverse championship that features racing on both pavement and dirt.

“Tanner comes from more of a more rally background and I come from more of an open-wheel, road course background,” Speed explained. “You have to meet in the middle and often times that creates success. Our personalties are polar opposites and that’s a good thing.”

One other thing Speed addressed was Austin Cindric’s couple notable incidents in the last month or so. Going for his maiden NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win, Cindric hit Kaz Grala at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park to move for the lead and ultimately the win.

Cindric then made his GRC Supercars debut at the most recent weekend in Seattle and the two collided after a miscommunication in a preliminary race, prior to the Joker section of the course.

“He’s a young kid with not a lot of experience. He’s made a couple big mistakes. He came in like a wrecking ball,” Speed laughed.

“I was more mad because the car couldn’t restart at first. But it did, and we got going.”

Public clashes over future of Detroit Grand Prix

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DETROIT (AP) State officials are deciding whether to continue hosting the Detroit Grand Prix on Belle Isle, a state park and island that opponents say is negatively impacted by the annual event.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is considering whether to allow the race to continue after its current five-year contract expires after the 2018 race.

The department held a public meeting Wednesday at the Belle Isle Nature Center to gather feedback. Dozens of residents attended.

Opponents voiced concerns about the race’s environmental impact. Several conservation groups have requested a third-party environmental impact study on how the race affects island habitat.

But supporters say the race shines a spotlight on Detroit and stimulates the economy.

The Grand Prix has occurred on Belle Isle periodically since 1992 and annually since 2012.

FIA confirms Halo crash test details, International F3 plans and more

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Following the latest meeting of the FIA World Motor Sport Council in Paris, France, a number of updates concerning the championships under the governing body’s umbrella for 2018 had been confirmed.

The stand-out news was the confirmation of a Formula E race in Zurich for June 2018, marking motorsport’s return to Switzerland after being outlawed back in 1955.

A number of tweaks have also been made to the FIA Super Licence points allocation from next year, placing a greater onus on drivers to race in Formula 2 before stepping up to Formula 1.

Here’s a run-down of all the other news from the WMSC’s meeting in Paris.

FORMULA 1

Following the F1 Strategy Group’s approval of ‘Halo’ cockpit protection being introduced to F1 from 2018, the WMSC gave its approval to the required updates in the technical regulations to allow its implementation.

The various technical details can be found in the regulations by clicking here (under Article 17), but the key point is that teams will now be able to finalize their chassis designs for 2018 now they know the crash test details.

The WMSC also confirmed that Sentronics will be the exclusive supplier of fuel flow meters in F1 for 2018 and 2019.

There is also a clampdown on oil burn in F1 for 2018 following the controversy with Mercedes and Ferrari in 2017, as well as continued plans to ban the ‘shark fin’ from next year’s regulations.

One point we already knew but is nevertheless of interest is the reduction in power unit elements permitted to each driver per season. As of 2018, each driver will be limited to just three internal combustion engines, three MGU-Hs, three turbochargers, two control electronics and two MGU-Ks per season, down from four for each element in 2017.

No updates were made to the F1 calendar for 2018, but Bahrain and China are tipped to switch places, the latter becoming the third round of the season.

INTERNATIONAL FORMULA 3

The WMSC confirmed plans to form an International Formula 3 series in 2019 in a bid to complete the pyramid from Formula 4 to F1.

Both the FIA European F3 and GP3 Series co-exist as the third rung on the single-seater ladder at the moment, with the international championship tipped to replace the latter.

The WMSC called for expressions of interest for chassis and engine suppliers for an international series, as well as a promoter.

Loose regulations have also been formed that are similar to GP3’s current rules, with a 24-car grid desired over a nine-to-10 round season featuring single-make chassis, engines and tires.

The FIA is also pushing to create more regional F3 series in the future to bridge the gap between F4 and International F3.

FIA WORLD ENDURANCE CHAMPIONSHIP

Following confirmation of Silverstone’s return to the 2018/19 ‘super season’ calendar last week, the WMSC ratified the schedule for the next WEC campaign that will last 13 months.

The technical regulation amendments for 2018 were also approved as part of the WEC’s bid to attract more manufacturers to the LMP1 class following Porsche’s shock exit.

“The FIA Endurance Commission was also encouraged to pursue a number of exciting and innovative proposals that it is currently working on, with the aim of enticing new manufacturers to the Championship,” part of the WMSC’s release reads.

FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP

The FIA confirmed its calendar for the 2018 WRC season, with the addition of a rally in Turkey being announced in place of Poland.

1. Rally Monte Carlo – January 28
2. Rally Sweden – February 18
3. Rally Mexico – March 11
4. Tour de Corse – April 8
5. Rally Argentina – April 29
6. Rally de Portugal – May 20
7. Rally Italia – June 10
8. Rally Finland – July 29
9. Rally Germany – August 19
10. Rally Turkey – September 16
11. Rally Great Britain – October 7
12. Rally Spain – October 28
13. Rally Australia – November 18

To see the full release from the WMSC, click here.

FIA tweaks Super Licence points allocation for 2018

FIA Formula 2
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The FIA has tweaked its points allocation for the Super Licence required to race in Formula 1 for 2018, placing a greater onus on Formula 2 as being the final step on the single-seater ladder.

In a bid to tighten up on the route drivers took to reach F1, the FIA introduced a new points system for the Super Licence from 2016.

Drivers require a score of 40 points in a three-year period to be granted an FIA Super Licence, with different scores being awarded for success across a variety of categories.

Previously, drivers scored the full 40 points required for a top-two finish in GP2 (now F2) or winning the title in IndyCar, FIA Formula 3, Formula E or the FIA World Endurance Championship’s LMP1 class.

As of 2018, 40 points will only be awarded for a top-three finish in F2 or winning the IndyCar drivers’ title, with the other series facing points reductions.

One of the most devalued championships is Formula V8 3.5, formerly seen as being equivalent to GP2, with a title win previously worth 35 points now worth just 20.

Here are the points breakdowns for the most valuable championships, running from P1 in the final standings to P10.

FIA Super Licence Points Allocations

Formula 2: 40-40-40-30-20-10-8-6-4-3
IndyCar: 40-30-20-10-8-6-4-3-2-1
FIA F3: 30-25-20-10-8-6-4-3-2-1
Formula E: 30-25-20-10-8-6-4-3-2-1
WEC LMP1: 30-24-20-16-12-10-8-6-4-2
GP3: 25-20-15-10-7-5-3-2-1-0
Formula V8 3.5: 20-15-10-8-6-4-3-2-1-0
Super Formula: 20-15-10-8-6-4-3-2-1-0

You can see the full breakdown by clicking here.