NHRA Auto Racing

Kalitta, Force and Nobile all qualify No. 1 for NHRA season-opening Winternationals

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Calling conditions “perfect,” Doug Kalitta set a Auto Club Raceway track record Saturday to earn the No. 1 qualifying spot for Top Fuel heading into Sunday’s final eliminations of the NHRA Mello Yellow Series’ season-opening Circle K Winternationals in Pomona, Calif.

Kalitta covered the drag strip in his Mac Tools dragster in 3.713 seconds at 327.98 mph for the 37th top qualifying spot of his career and the fourth time he’s been No. 1 at the Winternationals over the years.

“We came out of the box strong,” Kalitta said. “It’s great to have four strong runs in qualifying at the start of the year. We’re really looking forward to seeing what we can do with it tomorrow.”

Behind the wheel of his signature Castrol GTX Ford Mustang, defending Funny Car champion John Force grabbed the No. 1 spot in his category for Sunday’s eliminations by virtue of Friday’s national record-setting run of 3.966 seconds at 324.12 mph.

It was the 147th career No. 1 and 10th top spot at the Winternationals for Force, at 64 the oldest pro champion in NHRA history.

“We pushed it hard,” Force said. “We got the record, it’s points, and that’s all we can say.”

While Force was happy with his effort, it was not a good day for one of Force’s former drivers, Tony Pedregon. A former two-time Funny Car champ and two-time Winternationals winner, Pedregon failed to qualify for the final 16-driver field in his four attempts.

Also of note, Alexis DeJoria became the first female Funny Car driver in NHRA history to run a sub-4.0 second time, covering the track in 3.997 seconds at 318.32 mph.

Rounding out the top three pro categories, Vincent Nobile and his Mountain View Tire Chevrolet Camaro earned the No. 1 spot atop the Pro Stock ladder for Sunday’s eliminations at 6.510 seconds at 212.73 mph. Nobile is going for a second consecutive Winternationals title, having won last year’s event, as well.

“It’s definitely a great start to the season, we put four great runs together,” Nobile said. “Tomorrow’s a new day though and we need to put together another four good runs and hopefully come home with a trophy.”

Pro eliminations begin Sunday at 11 am PT. The first round pairings for all three classes are:

Top Fuel — 1. Doug Kalitta, 3.713 seconds, 328.86 mph vs. 16. Sidnei Frigo, 3.872, 313.58; 2. Shawn Langdon, 3.715, 328.70 vs. 15. Troy Buff, 3.850, 309.34; 3. Antron Brown, 3.731, 326.00 vs. 14. Clay Millican, 3.843, 307.86; 4. Bob Vandergriff, 3.743, 328.14 vs. 13. David Grubnic, 3.830, 321.96; 5. Spencer Massey, 3.768, 324.51 vs. 12. Leah Pritchett, 3.817, 320.05; 6. Steve Torrence, 3.773, 329.02 vs. 11. Terry McMillen, 3.806, 323.66; 7. Khalid alBalooshi, 3.774, 324.59 vs. 10. Tony Schumacher, 3.793, 322.73; 8. Brittany Force, 3.778, 326.24 vs. 9. Richie Crampton, 3.786, 320.28. Did Not Qualify: 17. Steven Chrisman, 4.093, 286.44; 18. Steve Faria, 4.154, 225.41; 19. Scott Palmer, 9.507, 94.55.

Funny Car — 1. John Force, Ford Mustang, 3.966, 324.12 vs. 16. Paul Lee, Dodge Charger, 4.162, 271.41; 2. Robert Hight, Mustang, 3.996, 319.67 vs. 15. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.150, 316.23; 3. Alexis DeJoria, Toyota Camry, 3.997, 318.32 vs. 14. Gary Densham, Charger, 4.147, 301.67; 4. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.001, 311.49 vs. 13. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.132, 311.20; 5. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.014, 304.67 vs. 12. Jeff Arend, Charger, 4.097, 309.06; 6. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.040, 317.27 vs. 11. Chad Head, Camry, 4.079, 303.23; 7. Courtney Force, Mustang, 4.046, 320.13 vs. 10. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.077, 316.01; 8. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.049, 312.86 vs. 9. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.069, 316.82. Did Not Qualify: 17. Terry Haddock, 4.213, 253.04; 18. Bob Bode, 4.241, 264.29; 19. Tony Pedregon, 4.258, 245.58; 20. Phil Burkart, 5.523, 139.76; 21. Jeff Diehl, 6.064, 182.85.

Pro Stock — 1. Vincent Nobile, Chevy Camaro, 6.510, 212.73 vs. 16. Shane Tucker, Chevy Cobalt, 6.594, 210.50; 2. Allen Johnson, Dodge Avenger, 6.512, 212.96 vs. 15. Larry Morgan, Ford Mustang, 6.589, 210.73; 3. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.514, 212.63 vs. 14. Matt Hartford, Avenger, 6.574, 210.14; 4. V. Gaines, Avenger, 6.515, 212.83 vs. 13. Greg Stanfield, Camaro, 6.567, 210.97; 5. Erica Enders-Stevens, Camaro, 6.516, 212.53 vs. 12. Deric Kramer, Avenger, 6.566, 211.20; 6. Dave Connolly, Camaro, 6.519, 211.86 vs. 11. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.552, 211.69; 7. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.528, 211.89 vs. 10. Jimmy Alund, Camaro, 6.546, 211.86; 8. Jeg Coughlin, Avenger, 6.531, 212.39 vs. 9. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.541, 211.79. Did Not Qualify: 17. Paul Pittman, 6.676, 208.10.

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IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Luca Filippi

Josef Newgarden, Luca Filippi
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MotorSportsTalk continues its look through the Verizon IndyCar Series field, driver-by-driver, in 2015. Luca Filippi ended 21st in the No. 20 car, running the road and street course races for CFH Racing.

Luca Filippi, No. 20 CFH Racing Chevrolet

  • 2014: 28th Place, 4 starts
  • 2015: 21st Place (10 starts), Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 6th, 1 Podium, 1 Top-5, 4 Top-10, 2 Laps Led, 12.4 Avg. Start, 13.9 Avg. Finish

After part-time runs with Bryan Herta Autosport and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in 2013 and 2014, likable Italian Luca Filippi finally got his first full part-time season as the road and street course replacement at CFH Racing, replacing Mike Conway. Having won twice last year, Conway left some decently big shoes to fill and Filippi did a fair job throughout the year more often than not.

Filippi had a slightly better grid position average than did Conway, 12.4 to 13, and was slightly better overall in the races. In 10 races (including one with double points), Filippi scored 182 points and four top-10 finishes (including one top-five). A year ago, Conway scored 252 points from 12 starts, but only two top-10 finishes (both were wins). Broken down, Conway averaged 21 points per race (about a 10th place result) and Filippi 18.2 (about 12th).

Thing was last year, Conway didn’t have a measuring stick as ECR was a single-car team. In the combined two-car CFH Racing organization, Filippi had Josef Newgarden as a teammate, and that provided a more accurate measuring stick. In their 10 races together, Newgarden finished ahead 7-3, and also qualified ahead 7-3.

Filippi felt more comfortable as the year progressed – keep in mind this was the first time he’d seen most of the tracks – and at places like Toronto and Mid-Ohio where had had past track experience, he shone brightest. It was no coincidence his lone Firestone Fast Six appearance and first career podium came at Toronto, and at Mid-Ohio he was also very quick but caught out by strategy in the race.

During the year, Filippi also had two other key moments of note, one personal and one professional. He became a dad prior to Mid-Ohio, and was embracing his newborn shortly after the race not long after. Professionally speaking, he made his oval test debut at Iowa, which was important to note in case CFH wants to continue on with him next year, as seems possible. It was a good year that planted the seed for further success in the future, provided he continues in North America.

Marcos Ambrose will retire from racing full time

Marcos Ambrose

Former NASCAR winner Marcos Ambrose’s full-time racing career appears to have reached the finish line.

DJR Team Penske announced Monday an expansion to two cars in the V8 Supercars Championship next season with Fabian Coulthard and Scott Pye running Ford Falcons on the Australian-based circuit, leaving Ambrose on the sidelines.

Ambrose, a two-time V8 Supercars champion, left NASCAR to return to his home country this season and help lead Team Penske’s international foray. But the Tasmanian stepped out of the car after the season opener and said he would focus solely on endurance racing the rest of the year.

“I fully support the team with the exciting announcements here today,” Ambrose said in a team release announcing Coulthard and Pye. “My number one priority since stepping out of the car full time was helping the team with that transition and in Fabian and Scotty, the team has a great future ahead for 2016 and beyond.”

In an interview with the Melbourne Herald Sun, Ambrose said he was mulling co-driving in endurance races next year.

“I do not intend to drive full time anymore,” Ambrose, 39, said. “I elected not to be a part of it. It’s absolutely my choice. There is no sadness. I’ve had a great run, a great career. I have my own personal reasons. I’ve got other priorities now.”

After 28 wins in V8 Supercars from 2002-05 and consecutive titles in 2003-04, Ambrose moved to the United States in 2006 and began a nine-season run in NASCAR. He started in the Camping World Truck and Xfinity series before moving full time into Sprint Cup in 2009.

All seven of his wins (five in Xfinity, two in Cup) were on road or street  courses – six at Watkins Glen International, one at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal).

In an interview earlier this season, Ambrose said he struggled to re-acclimate to the cars while dealing with the news media scrutiny of his comeback.

“I want to enjoy my racing and I certainly don’t want to be in the tabloids week in and week out,” he told V8Supercars.com. “That’s not what I come back for. It’s just a very difficult thing to come back to because just the opportunity to learn without being on the front page of every national newspaper is just impossible. So I didn’t want to be that guy everyone is looking at because he is running 25th and they don’t understand that you have no practice time in the car, you don’t have any tires to practice on even when you get there.

“I didn’t want to let the team down that way. So when I came down and saw the landscape and what I was facing, for me it became untenable to keep going the way I was.”