John Force riding high after Pomona; seeks first Phoenix win since 2005

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John Force popped out of the roof hatch of his Castrol Ford Mustang at Pomona two weeks ago, after taking down rival Matt Hagan in the finals to the NHRA season opener.

The emotion that followed was vintage Force, fueled by the fact he had denied Hagan the chance to sweep all three John Force Racing Funny Cars in the elimination rounds.

“It’s an adrenaline rush, it’s a runaway freight train, and you’re just hanging on, and you just scream what you feel,” Force told MotorSportsTalk earlier this week.

“When you see your daughter (Courtney) get spanked first round, and then you see Robert Hight get beat, and then he’s gonna take you out? No-no. Different ballgame.”

The 16-time champion, Force has more than 100 final round victories. But this one at Pomona, no doubt, ranks near the top of the all-time list because of what it means as Force continues to search for sponsorship to replace Castrol and Ford at year’s end.

It also came after Hagan beat him in the final round season finale, also at Pomona, last November. So all Force did this year was go out, set a national ET record (3.965 seconds) and national speed record (324.12) at the 1,000-foot distance.

“Without a doubt it’s one of the best weekends we’ve ever had,” Force said. “My crew chief Jimmy Prock was on a roll. He works with the braintrust, that’s what makes our team win. We know how to work with each other and we know how to trust each other. And me, I was on my game.”

Heading into Phoenix this weekend, it’s a slightly different world than it has been for years on the NHRA circuit.

The track formerly known as Firebird Raceway is now Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, and it’s been completely resurfaced. Force is the all-time winningest driver in Phoenix with eight wins, although none since 2005.

“My guys will be watching the weather,” Force explained, since ambient temperatures this week have already hovered in the 80-plus degree range.

“I probably won more races at Phoenix than anyone. I match raced before going on the NHRA circuit, I was coming up and I was 24 years old. Over all those years of racing, Phoenix, I got a handle on it so when we got to the nationals, we knew the track.

“What’s different this year is all the data we have in the computer, all I know about the dips, and that gives me that edge over the kid who’s coming up who doesn’t know the race track. They’ve spent a ton of money rebuilding the race track. Not only the lighting, the bathrooms, but they rebuilt the surface of the race track and that is big. That’s gonna be either a real aggressive race track or it could have problems. We don’t know until we run on it.”

Much of my 30-minute chat with Force this week was spent on his crusade for safety and pursuit of sponsorship, and he provided an interesting look at all that that entails. The team has agreed to a major associate deal with PEAK Antifreeze, announced at Pomona. More on the safety and business of racing side with JFR will follow in separate posts.

As for this week, it’s a chance for the 64-year-old to start two-for-two in his quest for a 17th championship.

“You the hear the jokes, and they’re always respectful, like, ‘Oh, ‘ol John Force can still win at his age, when he oughta be at Marie Callender’s, getting the discount for being older.’

“And you bounce back and say, ‘Hey, you’re right, I ain’t arguing.’ But in this firesuit, I’m 24. I’m a kid. I become Superman when you give me a hot rod like that.”

F1 drivers split on new ‘shield’ protection

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) Formula One drivers are split over plans to test a new “shield” device to protect against flying debris.

The FIA will trial the transparent screen in the coming months for a potential introduction in 2018, as it pushes for greater head protection for drivers. Recent years have seen major head injuries in several motorsport series.

“I wouldn’t mind trying out the shield, seeing how is the visibility,” Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas said on Thursday. “In terms of safety it would be a good step compared to what we have now.”

Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo was another supporter, saying “we’ve still got to see a bit more, but first impressions seem OK.”

The FIA previously seemed to favor a metal frame known as the “halo,” which was designed to stop a flying wheel hitting a driver’s head but was criticized by some drivers on aesthetic grounds.

Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat said on Thursday he was “quite against” the shield and the halo. “The way Formula One should look should remain the same,” he added. “We have enough protection.”

Romain Grosjean of Haas voiced concern the “next step” would be completely closed cockpits.

Recent years have seen several high-profile head injuries, including the deaths of Formula Two driver Henry Surtees in 2009 when he was hit by a loose wheel and IndyCar driver Justin Wilson, who was struck by debris, in 2015.

In Formula One, Brazilian driver Felipe Massa missed the second half of the 2009 season when a loose spring from another car hit his helmet, leaving him needing surgery.

Haas changes F1 brake supplier ahead of Russian Grand Prix

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Haas has switched from Brembo to Carbon Industrie brakes ahead of this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix in a bid to remedy its long-running braking issues in Formula 1.

NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas took his eponymous operation onto the F1 grid in 2016, with Romain Grosjean scoring all 29 of its points through its debut season.

Grosjean and then-teammate Esteban Gutierrez had their efforts spurned on a number of occasions by brake issues which continued to arise through pre-season testing in 2017 and the early races.

Haas pushed to remedy the issue by testing new Carbon Industrie brakes in the post-Bahrain Grand Prix test, with Grosjean and new teammate Kevin Magnussen conducting running.

The team duly decided to fit the new Carbon Industrie brakes for this weekend’s race in Russia, with both VF-17 cars to run with them from Friday onwards.

“To be fair to Brembo, the last update in brakes we had that arrived in China were much better. It took a long time to get them,” Grosjean explained.

“So then I was not screaming to change to Carbone Industrie but it was in the pipeline, so we tried them, and both drivers were pretty pleased with them. We felt like we had more control under braking.

“I’m very sensitive to my left pedal, so I really need to get good brakes to get good confidence and push the car to its maximum limit. So we are going to run them here.

“There is still a little bit of work we need to be doing around the mapping and finding the solution around those brakes but I think yeah, definitely it’s going to help me a little bit to find the last few hundredths.”

NHRA: Chad Head to substitute for Alexis DeJoria in Charlotte

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Alexis DeJoria will miss this weekend’s NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte, with her Kalitta Motorsports team confirming DeJoria will need to tend to a family matter.

Chad Head, Kalitta Motorsports Director of Safety, will step into the Tequila Patrón Toyota Camry this weekend. No timetable was given for DeJoria’s return; after Charlotte this weekend, the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series continues for its third consecutive race weekend next week in Atlanta.

This isn’t the first race DeJoria has had to miss recently, as she also was diagnosed with a concussion and missed the 2016 NHRA season finale in Pomona.

F1 Paddock Pass: Russian Grand Prix (VIDEO)

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Following his victory in Bahrain two weeks ago, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel arrived in Russia on Thursday targeting a third win of the year to extend his lead at the top of the Formula 1 drivers’ championship.

Not since 2004 has a Ferrari driver made such a good start to a season, putting Vettel in contention for a fifth world title this year – although with Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton hot on his tail, it will have to be a hard-earned success.

The fourth round of the year sees F1 head to the Olympic city of Sochi, which hosted the winter games back in 2014. The Sochi Autodrom played host to its first grand prix the same year, and is now a key part of Russia’s post-Olympic legacy.

Bringing you all of the latest news and interviews ahead of the Russian Grand Prix, Will Buxton brings you Paddock Pass.