Alexis DeJoria hopes dream season continues at Gainesville

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Funny Car driver Alexis DeJoria is already having a dream season – and she’s only two races into the 24-race 2014 NHRA schedule.

In the season opener at Pomona, Calif., DeJoria became the first female to drive a Funny Car quicker than four seconds (3.997). Then two weeks later in Phoenix, DeJoria won her first career Mello Yello Drag Racing Series national event.

She also became the 14th woman to win a NHRA national event and the fourth in Funny Car.

Still riding a high from Phoenix, DeJoria is getting ready for next weekend’s Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville.

DeJoria comes into the event third in the points behind series leader and 16-time Funny Car champion John Force and Force’s son-in-law, Robert Hight. DeJoria beat Force in the semifinals en route to her win at Phoenix.

“I have so much respect for him and his entire team,” DeJoria said of Force during an NHRA teleconference on Wednesday. “They’re very tough to beat. You have to beat the best to be the best. Any day that you get to go up against these guys is pretty awesome. After we beat John in the semis, we’re going to our first final (round) after a year, so it felt just amazing.

“Whatever the outcome was, I would have been just as excited to make it to a final. But the fact that we got the win, it was huge. It was really huge. It was almost surreal that I couldn’t actually enjoy the win until a few minutes after it had sunk in that we had done it. I was just so focused all day long, and we really felt confident in our race car that day.”

Given the great start she’s had – Force calls her “a real tiger” this season – some are predicting DeJoria could be a potential championship contender this season.

She’s not ready to go that far, though.

“We have a long way to go,” she said. “We’ve just won one race. But obviously our short term goal right now is to stay in the Top 10. And hopefully stay in the Top 10, and whatever happens after that happens. But keep the consistency getting the car down the racetrack and hopefully win more rounds and win more races before the season is over.”

DeJoria, who is married to former TV star Jesse James, has gained a lot of respect from fellow drivers for what she’s done not just this year, but in her overall drag racing career to date.

“That team is just as deadly as any other team in the sport of Funny Car,” said 2012 NHRA Top Fuel champion Antron Brown. “Don’t let Alexis’ demeanor fool you because she’s modest and humble, but that girl is out for blood. You lineup against her, and she’s going to try to chop your head off. I tell her all the time and she laughs and giggles, and she’s got all you guys in the media fooled.”

Gainesville may be just another stop on the NHRA circuit for most drivers, but not for DeJoria. She used to live in the area as she was learning the drag racing ropes while driving an Alcohol Funny Car.

“Gainesville is one of my favorite tracks on the entire circuit,” DeJoria said. “I ran record numbers in my Alcohol Funny Car there. I won my first nitro Funny Car round against John Force (there), so that was pretty exciting.

“On a personal note, my daughter learned how to ride her bicycle in the pit without training wheels. So it’s got a lot of firsts for me, and just the fact that the fans are amazing, it’s beautiful, and we can run fast down there. So I’m really excited to run Gainesville.”

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Neuville wins Rally Australia; Ogier takes FIA WRC title

Sebastien Ogier. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) Belgium’s Thierry Neuville won Rally Australia by 22.5 seconds on Sunday as torrential rain added drama to the last day of the last race of the World Rally Championship season.

Neuville entered the final day with an almost 20 second advantage after inheriting the rally lead Saturday when his Hyundai teammate, defending champion Andreas Mikkelsen crashed and was forced to retire for the day.

His lead was halved by Jari-Matti Latvala early Sunday as monsoon-like rain made conditions treacherous on muddy forest stages on the New South Wales coast. The rain stopped on the short Wedding Bells stage where Neuville was almost 5 seconds quicker than his rivals, stretching his lead to 14.7 seconds entering the last stage.

COFFS HARBOUR, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 17: Thierry Neuville of Belgium and Nicolas Gilsoul of Belgium compete in their Hyundai Motorsport WRT Hyundai i20 coupe WRC during Day One of the WRC Australia on November 17, 2017 in COFFS HARBOUR, Australia. (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)

That stage was full of incident. The driver’s door on Neuville’s Hyundai i20 coupe swung open in the middle of the stage and Neuville had to slam it closed as he approached a corner.

Latvala’s Toyota then crashed seconds from the end of the stage, allowing Estonia’s Ott Tanak, in a Ford, to take second place overall and New Zealalnd’s Haydon Paddon, in a Hyundai, to sneak into third.

Sebastian Ogier was fourth after winning the final, power stage but the Frenchman had already clinched his fifth world title before Rally Australia began. Neuville’s win was his fourth of the season, two more than Ogier, and was enough to give him second place in world drivers’ standings for the third time in five years.

Ogier owed his drivers’ title to his consistency: he retired only once and finished no worse than fifth all season.

Neuville admitted the last day was touch and go as the rain made some stages perilous, forcing the cancellation of the second to last stage.

“That was a hell of a ride,” Neuville said. “Really, really tricky conditions.

“I kept the car on the road but it was close sometimes. I knew I could make a difference but I had to be clever. You lose grip, you lose control and the car doesn’t respond to your input.”