Defending NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle champ Matt Smith. (Photo courtesy: NHRA)

Everything you need to know about this weekend’s NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla.

Leave a comment

While this weekend’s Amalie Motor Oil Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla., will be the third race of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season for Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock, the Pro Stock Motorcycle class will be kicking off its share of the 2014 campaign, as well.

While Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock compete in 24 NHRA national events, Pro Stock Motorcycle (PSM) is a condensed 16-event slate of races, kicking off its share of the 2014 schedule at the Gatornationals’ long-time home of Auto-Plus Raceway.

Two-time and reigning PSM series champ Matt Smith is looking to pick up where he left off at the end of last season, and with added incentive: he’s never won before at Gainesville.

“Gainesville is definitely one of the premier events the bikes race at,” Smith said. “It’s one place I’ve always wanted to win. That’s always been a goal of mine. There’s going to be some strong competition, but my mindset is to go lay down some big numbers right off the bat and let everyone know I’m serious about defending this title.”

Smith qualified No. 1 at last year’s Gatornationals but was unable to earn the victory. He’ll be debuting a brand new bike in an attempt to get that elusive Gainesville win this weekend.

“We’re looking to be just as strong this year as we were a season ago,” said Smith, who rides the Stockseth Racing Buell. “We’re going to do our best to carry it over. It’s real exciting to enter the season with that No. 1 on your bike. It puts a target on your back, but that’s what you like. I’m trying to defend my title. We’ve worked hard and prepared, and it should be a great event.”

Hector Arana Jr. won last year’s PSM portion of the Gatornationals and ultimately wound up winning the first three events of the season in 2013. He’d welcome doing the same this season.

“I set some pretty high standards last season in Gainesville for myself,” said Arana Jr., who finished fourth in last season’s PSM final standings. “I look to do the same again this year. It’s a new season and I want to start it off like I did in 2013 with a win in Gainesville.”

Arana will be joined in this weekend’s field by teammates Hector Sr. (his father) and brother Adam. Other key riders to keep an eye on this weekend include three-time (2010-2012) Gatornationals winner Eddie Krawiec, Andrew Hines, Michael Ray and newcomer Chaz Kennedy.

“We worked hard (during the offseason) to get ready,” said Hector Arana Sr., who finished fifth in the 2013 standings. “We regrouped and learned some things from last year. Hopefully, we can stay consistent this year. We worked hard trying to find little things to make the bike go faster. That’s what we focused on, the little things, so we can make fewer mistakes. Hopefully it will lead us to accomplish more at the races.”

Krawiec, who won the PSM championship in 2012, wants to reclaim his crown in 2014.

“I think we’ve gotten a lot better over the winter, and we were able to work with the full combination of our new ideas,” Krawiec said. “It appears that we have very consistent motorcycles, and we can now duplicate the setup from run to run, and really see the results of our tuning. I’m really itching to line up and pop the clutch on my V-Rod.”

Defending Gatornationals winners in the other three pro series heading into this weekend are Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Johnny Gray (Funny Car) and Allen Johnson (Pro Stock).

NOTES: There has been a great deal of action already in the first two NHRA national Events in the season-opening race last month at Pomona (Calif.) and three weeks ago at Phoenix.

Funny Car driver John Force, coming off a record 16th championship last season, began the 2014 campaign off in great fashion by setting new national elapsed time (3.965 seconds) and speed (324.12 mph) records in his class at Pomona.

Fellow Funny Car driver Alexis DeJoria became the first female Funny Car driver to dip below the 4.00 second mark (3.996 seconds) at Pomona, and then won her first national event at Phoenix.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

AMALIE MOTOR OIL NHRA GATORNATIONALS FACT SHEET

WHAT:  45th annual Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals, the third of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Drivers in four categories – Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle – earn points leading to 2014 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships.

WHERE: Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville, Gainesville, Fla. The track is located on 11211 North County Road 225 in Gainesville.

WHEN: Thursday through Sunday, March 13-16

SCHEDULE:

THURSDAY, March 13

LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying at 8:30 a.m.

FRIDAY, March 14

LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations at 8 a.m.

PRO MOD DRAG RACING SERIES qualifying at 1:45 p.m.

MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at noon and 2:15 p.m.

SATURDAY, March 15

LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations at 8 a.m.

PRO MOD DRAG RACING SERIES qualifying at 11:30 a.m. and 1:45 p.m.

MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at noon and 2:15 p.m.

SUNDAY, March 16

PRO MOD DRAG RACING SERIES eliminations begin at 9:30 a.m.

Pre-race ceremonies, 10 a.m.

MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at 11 a.m.

2013 EVENT WINNERS: Antron Brown, Top Fuel; Johnny Gray, Funny Car; Allen Johnson, Pro Stock, Hector Arana Jr., Pro Stock Motorcycle.

MOST GATORNATIONALS VICTORIES:  Warren Johnson, 9, Pro Stock; John Force, 7, Funny Car; Don Prudhomme, 5, FC; Joe Amato, 4, Top Fuel; Kenny Bernstein, 4, FC/TF; Larry Dixon, 4, TF; Don Garlits, 4, TF; Jason Line, 4, PS; Ed McCulloch, 4, FC; Tony Schumacher, 4, TF; Dave Schultz, 4, Pro Stock Motorcycle; Terry Vance, 4, PSM.

TRACK RECORDS:

Top Fuel – 3.749 seconds by Morgan Lucas, March ’12; 326.87 mph by Lucas, March ’12.

Funny Car – 4.026 seconds by Cruz Pedregon, March ’12; 317.12 mph by Robert Hight, March ’12.

Pro Stock – 6.473 seconds by Mike Edwards, March ’12; 214.31 mph by Edwards, March ’13.

Pro Stock Motorcycle – 6.750 seconds by Eddie Krawiec, March ’12; 199.26 mph by Krawiec, March ’11.

CURRENT NATIONAL RECORDS:

Top Fuel – 3.701 sec. by Antron Brown, Oct. ‘12, Reading, Pa.; 332.18 mph by Spencer Massey, April ’12, Charlotte, N.C.

Funny Car – 3.965 sec. by John Force, Feb. ’14, Pomona, Calif.; 324.12 mph by J. Force, Feb. ’14, Pomona, Calif.

Pro Stock – 6.471 sec. by Mike Edwards, April ‘13, Charlotte, N.C.; 214.35 mph by Line, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.

Pro Stock Motorcycle – 6.728 sec. by Andrew Hines, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 199.26 mph by Eddie Krawiec, March ’11, Gainesville, Fla.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

NHRA MELLO YELLO DRAG RACING SERIES POINTS STANDINGS

Point standings (top 10) following the second of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series:

Top Fuel:  1.  Doug Kalitta, 191; 2.  Khalid alBalooshi, 165; 3.  Antron Brown, 156; 4.  Steve Torrence, 155; 5.  (tie) Brittany Force, 127; Spencer Massey, 127; 7.  Shawn Langdon, 124; 8.  Tony Schumacher, 92; 9.  (tie) Richie Crampton, 84; David Grubnic, 84.

Funny Car:  1.  John Force, 225; 2.  Robert Hight, 159; 3.  Alexis DeJoria, 156; 4.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 136; 5. Del Worsham, 132; 6.  Matt Hagan, 129; 7.  Bob Tasca III, 124; 8.  Jack Beckman, 92; 9.  Ron Capps, 88; 10.  Tim Wilkerson, 84.

Pro Stock:  1.  V. Gaines, 191; 2.  Jason Line, 180; 3.  (tie) Allen Johnson, 161; Vincent Nobile, 161; 5. Dave Connolly, 128; 6.  Shane Gray, 127; 7.  Erica Enders-Stevens, 120; 8.  Jeg Coughlin, 88; 9. (tie) Larry Morgan, 82; Shane Tucker, 82.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Mid-Ohio could be pivotal for Power, Pagenaud in championship battle

Simon Pagenaud, left, and Will Power
(Getty Images)
Leave a comment

Will Power is closing in and may be ready to overtake Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud not only on the racetrack, but also in the Verizon IndyCar Series point standings.

Power, who has three wins and one runner-up finish in his last four starts, comes into Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio just 47 points behind Pagenaud, who has led the standings since after the second race of the season (Phoenix).

That he is so close to Pagenaud is almost incredulous, given that Power missed the season-opening race at St. Petersburg due to an inner-ear infection that was initially thought to be a potential concussion.

Missing an entire race worth of points (maximum of 54 points) is hard for any driver to bounce back from, but Power and his team have used that missed race to further heighten their motivation to win a second championship in the last three seasons.

“After a bit of a slow start this season, the No. 12 Verizon Chevy team has built a lot of momentum in the middle part of the season and we’ll look to keep it going at Mid-Ohio,” Power said in a media release.

And while Pagenaud won’t give up his own quest for his first IndyCar title without a fight, how he and Power emerge from Sunday’s race at Mid-Ohio — only four races remain after that — could potentially lay the groundwork to determine which driver ultimately winds up winning the championship.

“We’ve gotten ourselves into the championship fight, but it’s still a little early to be counting points,” Power said. “We just need to keep doing what we have been and let the points manage themselves.”

On paper, Pagenaud has a slight edge at the 2.258-mile natural terrain road course in Lexington, Ohio: five starts, three podium finishes (including a runner-up in the 2013 race at Mid-Ohio).

“I always look forward to competing at Mid-Ohio,” Pagenaud said. “It’s a classic event for the Verizon IndyCar series.

“I’ve been fortunate to have some success there over the years in both IndyCar and sports cars.”

Power, meanwhile, has an equally respectable record at Mid-Ohio: seven starts, two podiums (both runner-up finishes in 2010 and 2012) and two poles.

“I really enjoy racing at Mid-Ohio,” Power said. “The natural terrain creates a fast, yet technical, circuit.

“It is not a track that I’ve won at before, so this would be a great time to do that and we’ll need to work hard to accomplish that.”

Added Pagenaud, “The No. 22 team tested there last week (July 21) and we were pleased at the end of the day. We went through our list of tests to experiment, which will lead us in a good direction for the race weekend. We’re all ready to go.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Formula 1 chief’s mother-in-law missing in Brazil

MONTREAL, QC - JUNE 10:  F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone looks on in the paddock during practice for the Canadian Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on June 9, 2016 in Montreal, Canada.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
Getty Images
1 Comment

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Brazilian police say they are investigating the apparent disappearance of the mother-in-law of Formula 1 chief Bernie Ecclestone.

A police official speaking on the condition of anonymity tells The Associated Press that authorities are trying to find 67-year-old Aparecida Schunck. The official has knowledge of the investigation but is not allowed to speak publicly.

Several Brazilian news outlets have reported that Schunck was kidnapped in Sao Paulo on Friday. However, the police official said Wednesday that investigators are looking into other possibilities as well as kidnapping, though he would not specify.

Friends of Ecclestone’s wife Fabiana Flosi, reached by the AP, declined comment. Formula 1 did not return messages seeking comment.

Schunck is Flosi’s mother. Ecclestone met Flosi at a Brazilian Grand Prix and married her in 2012.

Acura NSX GT3 confirms U.S. public test debut, Kox at Mid-Ohio

CnP4jVuVYAATX0X
Photo: Acura
Leave a comment

Acura has confirmed the first portion of its program for its new-for-2017 Acura NSX GT3, with a test program announced to run before this weekend’s races at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

“It will make its public testing debut Thursday and Friday,” HPD president Art St. Cyr said during a teleconference. “First with the promoter test session in the morning, as well as Friday’s World Challenge GT practice session (4:15 p.m. ET and local time).

“We also want to announce Peter Kox will be the NSX GT3 development driver. He’s already given us great feedback. Has driven lots of GT3 cars. Peter will drive in both practice and test sessions this weekend.

“He’s contracted through RealTime Racing – more than 20-year partner – they’re the team currently campaigning the TLX-GT.

“Way back in March when we debuted NSX GT3, it was our intention to seek FIA homologation, and campaign it in 2017… we are on track to make those targets.

“The car that will be shown is a development car. This is not the final version.

“So far our testing program in U.S. has been testing in Europe and Japan as well. First time here at Mid-Ohio.

“We want to see how our car stacks up against the competition. We’ll send it to Ledoux test for homologation in September.

“The NSX will reside in the RealTime paddock.

“I would be remiss in not thanking the World Challenge series for hosting the NSX, because without their approval, we couldn’t run it on track this weekend.”

Andretti’s Indy Lights trio will test IndyCars at Watkins Glen

16C_0652-L
Blackstock (51), Kellett (28) and Stoneman to test IndyCar. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
Leave a comment

One of the MS Amlin Andretti FIA Formula E Championship drivers, Robin Frijns, had his first day in an IndyCar last week at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

Next month, all three of the team’s Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires drivers will have their first days in an IndyCar on August 11 at Watkins Glen International.

Dean Stoneman, Dalton Kellett and Shelby Blackstock will step into the No. 28 DHL Honda, No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda and No. 27 Snapple Honda cars, respectively, for the test. The trio will share with the team’s full-season drivers, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Carlos Munoz and Marco Andretti, while Alexander Rossi will have a full day in the No. 98 Castrol Edge/Curb Honda after also completing a Firestone test there in June.

_9SG4610-LStoneman, who seems determined to graduate into the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2017, looks forward to now having an IndyCar outing to join his Formula 1 test for Williams.

“Can’t wait to get into Ryan’s car for the IndyCar test at Watkins Glen. To be there testing at an iconic US circuit will be great.” Stoneman said. “I have been watching the big guys all season so I’m going to enjoy finally testing one.

“I came to Indy Lights with a view of moving up to IndyCar, which has always been the goal that I’m working on for 2017, so the test will give everybody some indication of my ability. In 2010 I was invited to test Williams F1 car in Abu Dhabi and seemed to really impress everyone, so I’m hoping we can do the same sort of job with Andretti as I look to next year.”

Mazda Road to Indy veterans Blackstock and Kellett, meanwhile, will reach the pinnacle of the ladder with their first IndyCar test days. Blackstock has track experience of Watkins Glen in sports cars, albeit not on the repaved surface.

04CJ0415-L“I have a lot of history at Watkins Glen and it brings back a lot of great memories just saying the name,” said Blackstock. “Seven years ago I went to The Glen as part of the Jim Click’s Mustang Challenge team as a crew member. It was the first road course race I had ever been to and it was an eye opener. I did every job possible on the team in one weekend, but that’s where my journey at The Glen (and in racing) started.

“Over the years, I’ve been a crew member, raced Skip Barber and CTSCC (Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge) there and now several years later after entering the track for the first time, I finally get to do my first Indy car test there. Words can’t describe how excited I am for this opportunity to finally get to drive my dream car. This is my fifth year at Andretti Autosport after completing the entire MRTI (Mazda Road To Indy) program with them and now finally getting to test one of their Indy cars! I can’t thank Michael and Andretti Autosport enough for giving me this opportunity and I can’t wait to get on track!”

2B3A0687-LKellett added, “I am extremely excited for my first Indy car test and I am very grateful to do so with Andretti Autosport. There are going to be differences between the Indy Lights car and the Indy car for me to adapt to. I expect the biggest adjustments will be getting used to the braking and cornering performance.

“The Indy car is going to be much more physically demanding, but I have been training hard and I feel like I am prepared. I’m also looking forward to learning the pit procedures and feeling the increase in power. I haven’t raced or tested at The Glen so this will be a complete learning experience for me, with a new car and new track. I am happy to be able to learn from and work with Andretti Autosport for this amazing opportunity.”