Hunter-Reay, Hinchcliffe lock out Long Beach front row for Andretti (VIDEO)

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The Honda-powered Andretti Autosport tandem of Ryan Hunter-Reay (pictured) and James Hinchcliffe will lead the field to the green flag tomorrow in the 40th Anniversary of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Hinchcliffe jumped to the top of the Firestone Fast Six in the final minute with a time of 1:07.9403, but it was his American teammate Hunter-Reay that denied him his first career IndyCar pole by posting a 1:07.8219 with no time left on the clock.

It’s Hunter-Reay’s sixth career pole and his first since Mid-Ohio in 2013.

“It just comes down to this team giving me what I need, when I need it,” Hunter-Reay told the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network. “Wow, what a qualifying session. It was unreal. You never knew who was going to put in the [best] lap – it was anybody’s session.

“…It’s a good start for us but tomorrow’s going to be challenging. We’ve got the standing start and a long day on the Beach, but I’m just thrilled to be here. I love this race – we’ve been on the outside pole so many times here, [but we] finally got the big one.”

Sebastien Bourdais, a three-time winner in Champ Car at Long Beach, was the lone Chevrolet-powered driver to make the FF6 and was able to earn P3 on the grid with a time of 1:07.9580.

Josef Newgarden has set himself up for a possible upset bid tomorrow after qualifying fourth (1:08.0097), while British rookie Jack Hawksworth (1:08.0525) and French veteran Simon Pagenaud (1:08.0732) will make up Row 3.

Defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon and Marco Andretti start in Row 4, and Helio Castroneves and Justin Wilson are in Row 5.

The biggest shock of the first round was IndyCar points leader Will Power’s failure to advance out. The Australian won the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg two weeks ago, but now must roll off from 14th position tomorrow – a tough climb on a course as tight as Long Beach.

“Man, that’s bad for us,” Power told IMS Radio. “We were just a little too conservative on the two laps that counted and, yeah, just not quite right, unfortunately. But we’re starting 14th, and we’ll see what we can do.

“It all depends on the yellows. If it’s a full green race, yes, it would be very difficult to make your way forward. But with some yellows there [and] a bit of strategy, we can potentially have a good day.”

Other notables that didn’t make it out of Round 1 were Tony Kanaan in 13th, defending Long Beach champion Takuma Sato in 15th, and open-wheel returnee Juan Pablo Montoya in 16th.

Sato ended up losing his two fastest laps in his Round 1 group session after he was found to have interfered with Hunter-Reay’s progress on the track.

VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES – TOYOTA GRAND PRIX OF LONG BEACH
Starting Lineup

ROW 1
1. 28-Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti Autosport
2. 27-James Hinchcliffe, Andretti Autosport
ROW 2
3. 11-Sebastien Bourdais, KVSH Racing
4. 67-Josef Newgarden, Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing
ROW 3
5. 98-Jack Hawksworth (rookie), Bryan Herta Autosport
6. 77-Simon Pagenaud, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
ROW 4
7. 9-Scott Dixon, Target Chip Ganassi Racing
8. 25-Marco Andretti, Andretti Autosport
ROW 5
9. 3-Helio Castroneves, Team Penske
10. 19-Justin Wilson, Dale Coyne Racing
ROW 6
11. 34-Carlos Munoz (rookie), Andretti Autosport
12. 16-Oriol Servia, Rahal Letterman Lanigan
ROW 7
13. 10-Tony Kanaan, Target Chip Ganassi Racing
14. 12-Will Power, Team Penske
ROW 8
15. 14-Takuma Sato, A.J. Foyt Racing
16. 2-Juan Pablo Montoya, Team Penske
ROW 9
17. 20-Mike Conway, Ed Carpenter Racing
18. 8-Ryan Briscoe, Chip Ganassi Racing
ROW 10
19. 83-Charlie Kimball, Chip Ganassi Racing
20. 7-Mikhail Aleshin (rookie), Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
ROW 11
21. 18-Carlos Huertas (rookie), Dale Coyne Racing
22. 17-Sebastian Saavedra, KV/AFS Racing
ROW 12
23. 15-Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan

NHRA shocker in Houston: John Force fails to qualify for first time since 2008, snaps 221-race streak

Photo and videos courtesy NHRA
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Sunday’s eliminations in the 31st annual NHRA SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway in suburban Houston  just won’t be the same without John Force.

In one of the most stunning turn of events seen in the last decade-plus in NHRA drag racing, the legendary 16-time Funny Car champion and the sport’s all-time winningest driver on Saturday failed to qualify for Sunday’s main event of the race weekend.

It marks the first time Force, who turns 69 on May 4, failed to qualify for a race since Sept. 13, 2008 in Charlotte race, snapping a string of having made the eliminations in each of the subsequent 221 races until failing to do so Saturday.

“That is hard for me,” Force said after failing to go any faster than 222.29 mph in the four qualifying rounds for the race, two on Friday and the other two on Saturday. “You earn what you get. We didn’t put it in the show. We couldn’t get to half-track.

“We have had a lot of problems all year. At least I got my final shot to get in and I didn’t make it. I will be here tomorrow rooting on Robert, Courtney and Brittany (teammates Robert Hight and daughters Courtney and Brittany Force). I’ll be signing autographs for all the fans. I am sorry to all of you fans that I didn’t make it.”

Saturday’s failure to qualify marked only the 22nd time he’s DNQ’d in his 40-year professional drag racing career. He set a drag racing record by qualifying for 395 consecutive events from 1988 until April 2007.

“I am bummed that the boss didn’t get in. That was quite a streak he had going,” Hight said of hoss and father-in-law. “There is nobody better at rallying a team and leading a comeback than John Force.

“He loves the fight and he will do whatever it takes to get his team back on top. It really isn’t something to worry about because two of our Chevys are No.1 and No. 2 right now.

“We have good combinations and we just have to duplicate one of those set ups for John’s PEAK Funny car. He’ll be back next week in Charlotte.”

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As for the other classes (information courtesy NHRA Media Relations):Leah Pritchett set a new Top Fuel track record during the final qualifying session on Saturday to secure the top spot in Top Fuel heading into Sunday.Hight (Funny Car) and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) are also No. 1 qualifiers in their respective categories at the fifth of 24 events on the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.

Defending event champion Pritchett raced her Mopar Dodge dragster to a pass of 3.680-seconds at 326.00 mph. This is her first No. 1 qualifier of the season and eighth of her career.

“We’ve been developing our confidence the last couple of races,” Pritchett stated. “To be able to put it on the track is phenomenal. We know we need to be exceptional because our competition is exceptional.”

Pritchett will line up against Terry Brian in round one of eliminations on Sunday. Defending world champion Brittany Force locked-in the No. 2 spot after a 3.701 at 313.80 in her Monster Energy dragster. Tony Schumacher is seeded third and will face William Litton.

Hight’s final qualifying pass of 3.894 at 317.27 in his Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro took him to the top of the Funny Car category. This is his first No. 1 qualifier of the season, second at Houston and 58th of his career.

“This is going to be a new ball game tomorrow,” Hight said. “With fresh asphalt and the sun being out; these cars are going to spin. It’s definitely going to be fun. Two of our Chevy’s are one and two (in Funny Car) which shows we have good combinations.”

Hight will face-off against Todd Simpson Sunday morning in the first round. Teammate Courtney Force sits in the No. 2 position with a pass of 3.911 at 295.14 in her Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro and two-time world champion Matt Hagan rounds out the top three.

Anderson, four-time Pro Stock world champion, remained atop the field Saturday with his pass of 6.492 at 213.00 in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro from the first qualifying session on Friday. He notched his third consecutive No. 1 qualifier of the season and is seeking his first victory of the year.

“I haven’t had great Sunday’s yet,” Anderson stated. “I know I’m going to break through one of these days though. The weather is going to be great again tomorrow. I feel good about it, I’m excited and so far it’s just been a great weekend.”

Anderson will race Steve Graham in the first round of eliminations. Jeg Coughlin Jr. qualified in the No. 2 position with a pass of 6.504 at 212.36 in his JEGS.com/Elite Performance Chevrolet Camaro and Tanner Gray is third.

Eliminations at the NHRA SpringNationals begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday at Royal Purple Raceway.

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SUNDAY’S FIRST-ROUND PAIRINGS FOR ELIMINATIONS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Leah Pritchett, 3.680 seconds, 326.00 mph vs. 16. Terry Brian, 4.275, 284.62; 2. Brittany Force, 3.701, 320.20 vs. 15. Terry Haddock, 4.081, 287.17; 3. Tony Schumacher, 3.703, 322.73 vs. 14. Bill Litton, 3.927, 306.60; 4. Billy Torrence, 3.737, 317.87 vs. 13. Kebin Kinsley, 3.819, 313.51; 5. Antron Brown, 3.740, 324.98 vs. 12. Terry McMillen, 3.783, 314.31; 6. Clay Millican, 3.746, 315.78 vs. 11. Mike Salinas, 3.766, 313.73; 7. Doug Kalitta, 3.748, 320.05 vs. 10. Richie Crampton, 3.766, 316.23; 8. Scott Palmer, 3.754, 318.17 vs. 9. Steve Torrence, 3.759, 313.88. Did Not Qualify: 17. Terry Totten, 4.636, 216.34.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.894, 317.27 vs. 16. Todd Simpson, Dodge Charger, 4.318, 288.33; 2. Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.911, 313.58 vs. 15. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Camry, 4.151, 283.49; 3. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.913, 311.85 vs. 14. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.077, 305.77; 4. Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.918, 317.42 vs. 13. Richard Townsend, Camry, 4.026, 308.99; 5. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 3.918, 301.94 vs. 12. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.017, 307.51; 6. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.925, 311.41 vs. 11. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 3.994, 311.34; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.926, 313.00 vs. 10. J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.989, 313.37; 8. Jonnie Lindberg, Camry, 3.927, 316.52 vs. 9. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.938, 314.09. Did Not Qualify: 17. Jim Campbell, 4.341, 273.05; 18. John Force, 4.625, 222.29.

PRO STOCK: 1. Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.492, 213.00 vs. 16. Steve Graham, Camaro, 6.775, 205.60; 2. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.504, 212.36 vs. 15. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.621, 208.65; 3. Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.507, 211.99 vs. 14. John Gaydosh Jr, Chevrolet Camaro, 6.592, 210.93; 4. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.513, 212.29 vs. 13. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.548, 210.67; 5. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.518, 211.99 vs. 12. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.545, 210.50; 6. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.525, 212.79 vs. 11. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.532, 212.73; 7. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.527, 212.29 vs. 10. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.532, 211.79; 8. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.528, 211.93 vs. 9. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.530, 211.33.