Shirley Muldowney. (Photo courtesy: NHRA)

As NHRA closes in on 100 wins by female racers, it all started with one of the greatest, Shirley Muldowney


As the National Hot Rod Association prepares for its sixth race of the 24-event Mello Yello Drag Racing Series this weekend in Baytown, Texas, history could be made.

The NHRA is just two wins away from recording 100 victories by female drivers in the sport’s all-time annals, which could happen in this weekend’s 27th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA SpringNationals presented by Super Start Batteries at Royal Purple Raceway.

And while all eyes this weekend will be on drivers such as Alexis DeJoria and Courtney Force (Funny Car), Brittany and Leah Pritchett (Top Fuel) and Erica Enders-Stevens (Pro Stock) as potential candidates to set that significant milestone, it’s also time to reflect back on who started it all, the legendary Shirley “Cha Cha” Muldowney.

Driver of what became a signature hot pink Top Fuel dragster, Muldowney stormed out of her native Syracuse, N.Y., won her first NHRA national event in 1976 and went on to win 17 more races, as well as national Top Fuel championships in 1977, 1980 and 1982.

Although she’s been retired for 10 years, Muldowney still talks occasionally about climbing back behind the wheel. She missed the thrill, the excitement and the competition.

But at the same time, she’s also proud to watch today’s female racers who have followed in her shoes and in unison point to Muldowney as being one of their biggest inspirations when they decided themselves to become drag racers.

“I think it’s a terrific thing,” Muldowney said in an NHRA media release. “A lot of ladies played a big part in getting to 100 wins and it’s good for the sport.

“Anything that shows women can be competitive with men and come out on top, it’s a good thing. There are a lot of cars capable of getting that 100th win.”

Regardless of her gender, Muldowney set a number of significant marks in the sport, including becoming the first NHRA driver – male or female – to win three championships.

There was even a major motion picture made about her life (“Heart Like A Wheel,” starring Bonnie Bedelia as Muldowney).

“Nobody could hold me back from what I wanted to do,” Muldowney said. “When the NHRA saw that I was capable in the driver’s seat they relaxed and were great. They were very accepting. They knew I could sell tickets and that I had the goods.”

Indeed, the NHRA was the first major motorsports series – and one of the first major professional sports entities in general to accept female athletes.

Muldowney quickly went from being a curiosity due to her gender to being quickly accepted for her talent and ability, to becoming one of the sport’s biggest stars and most popular drivers.

Once she started winning, she was no longer a female drag racer. Rather, she was looked upon as just one of the guys, which became one of the highest compliments ever paid to her for her gender was no longer relevant to her success behind the wheel.

“Some of the most wonderful things people said to me or said about me just because I drove that race car is really special and unbelievable,” Muldowney said. “It was my life and it means a great deal to me. That tells me I made a difference, had an impact, helped the sport and did something good.

“It’s amazing to see how I am treated all because of that race car and I can’t say enough how much I appreciate it. I love the sport and I think drag racing is the most exciting motorsport around. There’s nothing like it.”

In a career that spanned more than three decades, Muldowney said she has two special memories that stand out. Winning the U.S. Nationals – drag racing’s Super Bowl – in 1982, as well as her second Top Fuel championship in 1980.

“In 1980, we slayed them,” Muldowney said. “We came out of the box (in the season opener) at Pomona with a brand new car that I had never even driven before and we won. I was really proud of that.”

Thus far this season, DeJoria has won two races and Enders-Stevens has one win.

“I think today’s crop is very good,” Muldowney said. “Erica is as good as anybody and is good as I’ve ever seen. She does an incredible job and you don’t see many mistakes from her, and the job all of them are doing is great.”

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

Qualifying for this weekend’s race begins Friday with sessions at 4 and 6:30 p.m. CT, with the final two qualifying sessions Saturday at 12:30 and 3 p.m.

Final eliminations are Sunday, starting at 11 a.m.

Here’s a brief history of female drag racers who have competed in the NHRA, as well as those who have won races (and how many).

The following women (listed in alphabetical order by category) have competed in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series:

Top Fuel (18): Vivica Averstedt, Dannielle DePorter, Vicky Fanning, Gina Ferraro, Brittany Force, Rhonda Hartman-Smith, Lori Johns, Kim LaHaie, Lucille Lee, Shirley Muldowney, Shelly Payne (Anderson), Cristen Powell, Leah Pritchett, Sue Ransom, Joanne Reynolds, Rachelle Splatt, Melanie Troxel, Hillary Will

Funny Car (14): Alexis DeJoria, Vicky Fanning, Courtney Force, Ashley Force Hood, Rodalyn Knox, Paula Martin, Shirley Muldowney, Paula Murphy, Cristen Powell, Leah Pritchett, Susie Spencer, Melanie Troxel, Della Woods, Carol Yenter.

Pro Stock (6): Erica Enders-Stevens, Grace Howell, Judy Lilly, Lucinda McFarlin, Shay Nicols, Shirley Shahan

Pro Stock Motorcycle (16): Dawn Matthews Baugues, Connie Cohen, Vicki Farr, Lori Francis, Linda Jackson, Anne Hansen, Elvira Karlsson, Peggy Lewellyn, Dawn Minturn, Stephanie Reaves, Angelle Sampey, Angie Smith (McBride), Karen Stoffer, Katie Sullivan, Valerie Thompson, Holly Wallace

Female leaders in victories:

1. Angelle Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle 41 (first at Reading 1996, last at Houston 2007)

2. Shirley Muldowney, Top Fuel 18 (first at Columbus 1976, last at Phoenix 1989)

3. Erica Enders-Stevens, Pro Stock 7 (first at Chicago 2012, last at Las Vegas 1 2014)

4. Karen Stoffer, Pro Stock Motorcycle 6 (first at Houston 2004, last at Denver 2011)

5. Melanie Troxel, Top Fuel-Funny Car 5 (first at Pomona 1 2006, TF, last at Bristol 2008, FC)

6. Shelly Payne, Top Fuel 4 (first at Reading 1993, last at Seattle 1996)

Lori Johns, Top Fuel 4 (first at Pomona 1 1990, last at Memphis 1991)

Ashley Force Hood, Funny Car 4 (first at Atlanta 2008, last at Indianapolis 2010)

9. Courtney Force, Funny Car 3 (first at Seattle 2012, last at Epping 2013)

10. Alexis DeJoria, Funny Car 2 (first at Phoenix 2014, last at Las Vegas 1 2014)

11. Lucille Lee, Top Fuel 1 (Atlanta 1982)

Cristen Powell, Top Fuel 1 (Englishtown 1997)

Peggy Llewellyn, Pro Stock Motorcycle 1 (Dallas 2007)

Hillary Will, Top Fuel 1 (Topeka 2008)


Female pro series world champions:

Shirley Muldowney, Top Fuel ­ 3 (1977, 1980, 1982)

Angelle Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle ­ 3 (2000, 2001, 2002)


NHRA Mello Yello Series victories by female drivers:

1. Shirley Muldowney, Top Fuel, June 13, 1976, Columbus, Ohio

2. Shirley Muldowney, Top Fuel, Oct. 10, 1976, Ontario, Calif.

3. Shirley Muldowney, Top Fuel, June 12, 1977, Columbus, Ohio

4. Shirley Muldowney, Top Fuel, July 16, 1977, Englishtown, N.J.

5. Shirley Muldowney, Top Fuel, Aug. 7, 1977, Montreal

6. Shirley Muldowney, Top Fuel, Feb. 3, 1980, Pomona, Calif.

7. Shirley Muldowney, Top Fuel, June 8, 1980, Columbus, Ohio

8. Shirley Muldowney, Top Fuel, Sept. 21, 1980, Seattle

9. Shirley Muldowney, Top Fuel, Oct. 19, 1980, Ontario, Calif.

10. Shirley Muldowney, Top Fuel, March 15, 1981, Gainesville, Fla.

11. Shirley Muldowney, Top Fuel, April 26, 1981, Atlanta

12. Shirley Muldowney, Top Fuel, March 14, 1982, Gainesville, Fla.

13. Lucille Lee, Top Fuel, April 25, 1982, Atlanta

14. Shirley Muldowney, Top Fuel, June 13, 1982, Columbus, Ohio

15. Shirley Muldowney, Top Fuel, Aug. 22, 1982, Brainerd, Minn.

16. Shirley Muldowney, Top Fuel, Sept. 6, 1982, Indianapolis

17. Shirley Muldowney, Top Fuel, Feb. 13, 1983, Pomona, Calif.

18. Shirley Muldowney, Top Fuel, Oct. 16, 1983, Irvine, Calif.

19. Shirley Muldowney, Top Fuel, Oct. 15, 1989, Phoenix

20. Lori Johns, Top Fuel, Feb. 4, 1990, Pomona, Calif.

21. Lori Johns, Top Fuel, April 22, 1990, Atlanta

22. Lori Johns, Top Fuel, May 6, 1990, Memphis

23. Lori Johns, Top Fuel, May 5, 1991, Memphis

24. Shelly Anderson, Top Fuel, Sept. 19, 1993, Reading, Pa.

25. Shelly Anderson, Top Fuel, Feb. 6, 1994, Pomona, Calif.

26. Shelly Anderson, Top Fuel, May 5, 1996, Richmond, Va.

27. Shelly Anderson, Top Fuel, Aug. 4, 1996, Seattle

28. Angelle Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, Sept. 15, 1996, Reading, Pa.

29. Cristen Powell, Top Fuel, May 18, 1997, Englishtown, N.J.

30. Angelle Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, Sept. 28, 1997, Topeka, Kan.

31. Angelle Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, May 17, 1998, Englishtown, N.J.

32. Angelle Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, Sept. 20, 1998, Reading, Pa.

33. Angelle Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, Oct. 11, 1998, Memphis

34. Angelle Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, March 21, 1999, Gainesville, Fla.

35. Angelle Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, May 16, 1999, Atlanta

36. Angelle Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, May 25, 1999, Englishtown, N.J.

37. Angelle Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, June 27, 1999, St. Louis

38. Angelle Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, Oct. 10, 1999, Memphis

39. Angelle Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, April 9, 2000, Las Vegas

40. Angelle Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, May 7, 2000, Atlanta

41. Angelle Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, June 18, 2000, Columbus, Ohio

42. Angelle Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, July 16, 2000, Denver

43. Angelle Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, Sept. 9, 2000, Englishtown, N.J.

44. Angelle Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, March 25, 2001, Houston

45. Angelle Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, June 17, 2001, Columbus, Ohio

46. Angelle Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, July 8, 2001, Pomona, Calif.

47. Angelle Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, July 22, 2001, Denver

48. Angelle Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, Sept. 3, 2001, Indianapolis

49. Angelle Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, Oct. 7, 2001, Reading, Pa.

50. Angelle Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, Nov. 11, 2001, Pomona, Calif.

51. Angelle Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, May 5, 2002, Atlanta

52. Angelle Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, June 2, 2002, Chicago

53. Angelle Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, June 30, 2002, St. Louis

54. Angelle Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, Sept. 2, 2002, Indianapolis

55. Angelle Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, Sept. 16, 2002, Reading, Pa.

56. Angelle Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, Oct. 27, 2002, Las Vegas

57. Angelle Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, March 16, 2003, Gainesville, Fla.

58. Angelle Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, April 13, 2003, Houston

59. Angelle Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, June 1, 2003, Chicago

60. Karen Stoffer, Pro Stock Motorcycle, April 18, 2004, Houston

61. Angelle Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, May 16, 2004, Atlanta

62. Angelle Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, Aug. 1, 2004, Sonoma, Calif.

63. Angelle Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, Oct. 10, 2004, Reading, Pa.

64. Angelle Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, Nov. 14, 2004, Pomona, Calif.

65. Karen Stoffer, Pro Stock Motorcycle, April 10, 2005, Houston

66. Angelle Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, June 26, 2005, St. Louis

67. Angelle Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, Sept. 18, 2005, Reading, Pa.

68. Melanie Troxel, Top Fuel, Feb. 12, 2006, Pomona, Calif.

69. Angelle Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, March 19, 2006, Gainesville, Fla.

70. Angelle Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, April 2, 2006, Houston

71. Melanie Troxel, Top Fuel, April 9, 2006, Las Vegas

72. Angelle Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, May 21, 2006, Columbus, Ohio

73. Karen Stoffer, Pro Stock Motorcycle, Oct. 1, 2006, Richmond, Va.

74. Karen Stoffer, Pro Stock Motorcycle, March 18, 2007, Gainesville, Fla.

75. Angelle Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, April 1, 2007, Houston

76. Karen Stoffer, Pro Stock Motorcycle, April 29, 2007, Atlanta

77. Melanie Troxel, Top Fuel, May 6, 2007, St. Louis

78. Melanie Troxel, Top Fuel, Sept. 16, 2007, Memphis

79. Peggy Llewellyn, Pro Stock Motorcycle, Sept. 23, 2007, Dallas

80. Ashley Force Hood, Funny Car, April 27, 2008, Atlanta

81. Melanie Troxel, Funny Car, May 18, 2008, Bristol, Tenn.

82. Hillary Will, Top Fuel, June 1, 2008, Topeka, Kan.

83. Ashley Force Hood, Funny Car, March 29, 2009, Houston

84. Ashley Force Hood, Funny Car, Sept. 7, 2009, Indianapolis

85. Ashley Force Hood, Funny Car, Sept. 6, 2010, Indianapolis

86. Karen Stoffer, Pro Stock Motorcycle, July 24, 2011, Denver

87. Erica Enders-Stevens, Pro Stock, July 1, 2012, Chicago

88. Erica Enders-Stevens, Pro Stock, Aug. 5, 2012, Seattle

89. Courtney Force, Funny Car, Aug. 5, 2012, Seattle

90. Erica Enders-Stevens, Pro Stock, Aug. 19, 2012, Brainerd, Minn.

91. Erica Enders-Stevens, Pro Stock, Sept. 30, 2012, St. Louis

92. Courtney Force, Funny Car, Feb. 17, 2013, Pomona, Calif.

93. Erica Enders-Stevens, Pro Stock, Feb. 24, 2013, Phoenix

94. Courtney Force, Funny Car, June 23, 2013, Epping, N.H.

95. Erica Enders-Stevens, Pro Stock, Sept. 29, 2013, St. Louis

96. Alexis DeJoria, Funny Car, Feb. 23, 2014, Phoenix

97. Alexis DeJoria, Funny Car, March 30, 2014, Las Vegas

98. Erica Enders-Stevens, Pro Stock, March 30, 2014, Las Vegas

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Rosberg, Hamilton maintain similar approaches heading to Mexico

during the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 23, 2016 in Austin, United States.
Getty Images
Leave a comment

The official pre-race quotes from Mercedes AMG Petronas offers more of the same from Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton in terms of their mentality and psychological status heading to this weekend’s Mexican Grand Prix.

Hamilton scored a key victory on Sunday in the United States Grand Prix to keep his title hopes alive, but with Rosberg capitalizing on his team’s smart strategic play to get him a de facto “free stop” under a Virtual Safety Car period, he came second and so Hamilton only gained seven additional points.

Rosberg’s metronomic, one-race-at-a-time mentality has served him well all season and up 26 points heading to a race he won last year, he’s sticking to that focus this weekend.

“I came into Sunday with a good chance of winning but it didn’t work out,” Rosberg reflected in Mercedes’ pre-race advance. “That’s the way it is, so I accept that and now it’s on to the next one in Mexico.

“My goal is to try and win there just as it has been in every race. Of course, to be in a championship battle at the end of the year is awesome and I’m excited about that.

“But my approach is to keep it simple. There are so many things that can happen during a race weekend which are out of your control, so it’s best to just block all that out and focus on the job at hand. That’s what’s worked best for me and how I feel at my strongest.”

Hamilton, as you might also expect, is in a nothing-to-lose mode and looks to add Mexico to the list of countries and the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez the list of circuits where he won. A win this weekend would be his 51st, and tie him with Alain Prost for second all-time.

“It was great to finally get that 50th win after a couple of tough weekends,” he said. “I’ve just continued to keep a positive frame of mind, avoid dwelling on the past, work and train hard and I knew eventually the result would come.

“The moment you give up is the moment you lose. I’ve never been one to give up and I don’t plan on starting now. There are still plenty of points available and anything is possible.

“Next up it’s Mexico, which was a great experience last time out. It’s crazy how slippery the circuit is with the altitude giving you so little downforce from the car. It’s a big challenge, so even though last year’s race was a bit frustrating for me, I actually had a lot of fun out there. I’m looking forward to giving it another go and hopefully going one better this time.”

Same championship lineup back for Action Express in 2017

Photo: Action Express Racing
Leave a comment

As expected, the same quartet of IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship 2016 Prototype champions Dane Cameron and Eric Curran, and the previous two-time champs Christian Fittipaldi and Joao Barbosa, will be back with Action Express Racing in 2017.

Cameron and Curran (No. 31) and Fittipaldi and Barbosa (No. 5) will be in the same car numbers as they’ve been in the past couple years.

As General Motors has not publicly announced or confirmed its Daytona Prototype international program for 2017, the formal reveal of its car – expected to be a Cadillac-branded DPi entry – will come at a later date.

The Corvette DP program ended in 2016 as IMSA phased out the Daytona Prototype platform finishing with this year’s Petit Le Mans.

Cameron and Curran will be together for the third straight season, with Fittipaldi and Barbosa continuing on for a fourth straight season since the GRAND-AM/American Le Mans Series merger fusion into IMSA prior to 2014.

“It’s been a great experience working with everyone at Action Express Racing over the past two years and it’s exciting to be able keep some continuity with the same drivers and teammates,” said Cameron, who’s one of the proper stars of sports car racing.

“I think the relationship between the four drivers has been great over the past two years, and things really started to come together well over the past six months.”

Barbosa, the team’s longest-serving driver having been with Action Express Racing since the team’s winning debut in the 2010 Rolex 24 at Daytona, added, “I’ve been with Action Express Racing since the team started in 2010 – which is a long time. We have grown together as a team and all our years of working together have definitely paid off as we have had some great success as a race team. It’s very exciting to continue with the race team and I’m looking forward to another season together.”

Q&A: New Porsche Supercup champion Sven Mueller

Photos: Porsche AG
Leave a comment

On Sunday, Sven Mueller secured the 2016 Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup at Circuit of The Americas, thus becoming the third driver who’s clinched the title at the Supercup season finale in Austin since the track first hosted the series in 2014 (Earl Bamber won in 2014, Phillip Eng last year).

Mueller, in his third year in the Porsche Junior program, claimed a double title this year with both the Supercup and Porsche Carrera Cup Deutschland championships.

He entered the weekend only two points ahead of fellow Junior driver Matteo Cairoli (135-133), but a second-place finish coupled with a DNF for Cairoli following Saturday’s first race left him needing only to score one additional point to win the title on Sunday. He finished in eighth place on the road, and that was enough for the Lechner MSG Racing Team driver to do it.

Mueller won three races and scored eight podium finishes in 10 races, to beat Cairoli 162-151 in points despite Cairoli winning four races. The third Porsche Junior competing in Supercup, Mathieu Jaminet, used a weekend sweep of the two races at COTA to finish third in the standings with 146 points, and having scored three wins.

We caught up with Mueller, who’s also raced in the U.S. in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship on a couple of occasions this year in a GT Daytona class Porsche 911 GT3 R (Frikadelli Racing in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, Alex Job Racing at Road America), prior to Sunday’s race where he ultimately clinched the title.

For the 24-year-old who lives near Frankfurt, the Supercup title could well be a springboard to bigger things (more here from Porsche Newsroom):

MotorSportsTalk: This is your third year. What have you learned this year that has allowed you to take that next step as a driver compared to previous seasons?

Sven Mueller: “I feel my evolution as a driver is huge. In my first year in a Porsche, I also had quite good speed, but to finish the race was not always the goal. The speed was there, but the consistency and all this stuff, I learned from year-to-year. And especially in my third year, the important things that were around the track and racing, yeah, I also improved a lot. This year, my goal is the championship. Last week, I had already won championship in Porsche Carrera Cup and I was working three years to get this, and hopefully I can get my second championship today.”

MST: How has the competition level been this year with some of the new drivers?

SM: “Every year, you have new drivers. I think because now I’m at a really good level and I see that Matteo and Mathieu they are also really good. For me, this year is the hardest season I’ve ever had. I won only three times, Matteo won four times, Mathieu twice (before this weekend). We’re always on the podium and in qualifying, we’re always within a thousandth of a second. This shows how close the championship is.”

Mueller at Spa. Photo: Porsche AG
Mueller at Spa. Photo: Porsche AG

MST: How nice is it knowing driver talent makes so much of a different in this championship?

SM: “It does. This is a one-make Cup, it’s the same type of car, but also the teams they put quite a lot of effort to build up the car set-up wise that is the quickest for quali-simulation and also for quali-runs (qualifying runs). To have a really good car, it’s easier for a driver to handle this. To have a good car and a good driver, that’s the whole package. You can’t win with a bad car and good driver. The package always has to be perfect. For example, in qualifying, if you miss one of these parameters – being not 100 percent focused or the set-up is not 100 percent right – you can’t get the pole position. In Super Cup, to get the pole position or to win the race, everything has to be 100 percent.”

MST: What do you like about this track?

SM: “In 2014, I was here, so I had some experience in the dry. But Austin, or COTA, is by far the most difficult track at first for the driver because you have 21 corners and it’s so technical. For example, Turns 2 through 5 are really quick and all the corners are building up to the next corner. So if you start wrong entering the first corner, you’re going to end up in a mess. And the second thing is the car. It’s very difficult. The car and tires cannot rest, so they’re always under pressure. You only have one straight where the tire pressure and temperature can go down a bit, but Austin is really, really difficult. Yesterday, we had 14 laps and it felt really, really long – by far the longest race we’ve had in the season so far.”

MST: You’ve raced here now on multiple occasions. What do you like of the atmosphere of racing in the U.S.?

SM: “I really like racing in America. Daytona, I think, was not the best result I’ve ever had, but the whole week in Daytona, it was crazy and really nice. The racing and all the strategy with the team, it’s complex and difficult and you have to understand it. But with all the different manufacturers, to do proper racing, I really like it. And the fans, you can speak with them; in Europe, it’s a bit different. It’s also nice, but the Americans are really open and they’re not scared about asking questions or doing photos. I really like that.”

McLaren matched best ’16 result at COTA, 40 years to day after Hunt title

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 23: Fernando Alonso of Spain driving the (14) McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team McLaren MP4-31 Honda RA616H Hybrid turbo leads a line of cars including Esteban Gutierrez of Mexico driving the (21) Haas F1 Team Haas-Ferrari VF-16 Ferrari 059/5 turbo on track during the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 23, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

October 23 is a key day in McLaren F1’s history.

Some 40 years ago, on October 23, 1976, James Hunt scored his dramatic first and only World Championship in the scintillating 1976 season in Fuji, as Niki Lauda retired early while Hunt scored just enough points to usurp “the rat” and win the title. The season, of course, served as the inspiration for Ron Howard’s Rush, which was released in 2013.

October 23, 2016 may go down as the day McLaren began to look like McLaren again in terms of results, as it matched its best result of the season with Fernando Alonso finishing fifth, and Jenson Button in ninth in what may have been his last United States Grand Prix in Austin.

Alonso charged from 12th on the grid up to fifth, with late passes on Felipe Massa and Carlos Sainz Jr. being particularly impressive, while Button made a strong start early from 19th to get near the top 10, and then benefited from other retirements to score points.

It’s tough that a 12-point day is considered a high-water mark for McLaren in 2016 terms, but this result in Austin has matched a similar fifth and ninth place for the two drivers in Monaco this year as McLaren’s best points haul of the season.

McLaren sits a clear sixth in the Constructor’s Championship on 74 points for the year. Williams is fifth with 130 while Scuderia Toro Rosso is seventh with 55. By contrast, McLaren only scored 27 points total last year, ending ninth in the Constructor’s Championship.

“It was good and interesting today, I enjoyed it, especially the final part of the race,” Alonso said in the team’s post-race release.

“Carlos [Sainz] was on a different strategy and different tyres to me and Felipe, which allowed us to close the gap.

“Our tires were in better condition than the Toro Rosso’s and we took advantage of that. The last couple of laps were very intense, as we had some extra speed so we tried hard to overtake. It was quite easy to overtake the Toro Rosso as they’re slow on the straights, so you just need to open the DRS. I was following Carlos for 45 laps and he drove very well, very consistently, zero mistakes – so we had a great battle.

“To get past the Williams today you needed to overtake them in different places, like tight, slow-speed corners, and quite forcefully, and it was tough but hopefully enjoyable for the fans.

“Our result today is nice for motivation, so I’m happy with fifth, but we gained a couple of positions because of other people going out, and our pace hasn’t been great all weekend here, so we need to understand the reasons for that.”

Button added the start was key for him to get into a points-scoring position.

“I’m pretty happy to get into the points after a frustrating day yesterday,” he said. “The start was a bit of a crazy mess – there was so much action. Starting 19th makes your race a little bit more difficult but I had a good first couple of laps which I really enjoyed. I made up a lot of places and then fought my way into the top 10, and then I fluffed up my second pit-stop a little bit where I lost a place to Checo [Perez], but I think he would have got past me anyway.”