Erica Enders-Stevens (Pro Stock), Robert Hight (Funny Car) and Antron Brown (Top Fuel) celebrate their wins at the NHRA SpringNationals on Sunday in Baytown, Texas. (Photo courtesy NHRA)

Enders-Stevens (PS), Hight (FC) and Brown (TF) capture wins in NHRA SpringNationals near Houston

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The next time a female drag racer wins an NHRA national event will be one of the most historic milestones in the sport’s more than half-century of competition.

Erica Enders-Stevens earned the 99th national event win by a female driver in NHRA history, capturing the Pro Stock division of Sunday’s finals in the O’Reilly Auto Parts SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway in Baytown, Texas.

In other pro classes, Antron Brown (Top Fuel) and Robert Hight (Funny Car) each won their third respective races of 2014.

Having a quicker reaction time at the start of the race, Enders-Stevens (6.594 seconds at 210.60 mph) powered to her second national event of the season, defeating 2012 NHRA Pro Stock champion Allen Johnson (6.588 seconds at 201.28 mph).

“My team’s been really awesome,” said Enders-Stevens, driver of the Elite Motorsports Chevy Camaro. “I’ve had a really consistent race car. That’s what it takes Sundays, consistency. We had to make a last-second transmission change and go through the gears to make sure everything was right.”

With her eighth-career win and first-ever at Royal Purple Raceway in suburban Houston, Enders-Stevens retained her points lead in Pro Stock, the only female to lead the points in the history of that class.

She realizes there’s a lot for her to live up to, both as a female racer and the points leader.

“The ball’s in our court,” Enders-Stevens said. “We’ve got to carry the momentum. That’s important in this game, and I know I keep saying that, but it’s huge, and we’re going to keep carrying it as long as we can.

“Pro Stock really goes in cycles, so I’m really hoping this is our cycle, and we’re going to keep fighting for it.”

The loss was Johnson’s first in three final round appearances this season, having previously won at Phoenix and Gainesville (Fla.). He came into Sunday’s eliminations as the No. 1 qualifier in Pro Stock for the event, and is now second to Enders-Stevens in the standings.

Hight, president of John Force Racing, made it 13 straight final round appearances in Funny Car for a JFR driver (the team includes Hight, team patriarch John Force and Force’s daughter, Courtney), including this season’s first six races and dating back to the last seven races of 2013.

In his fifth straight Funny Car final round, Hight defeated Jack Beckman, who made his first final round of 2014. Hight ran 4.055 seconds at 314.90 mph, to 4.176 seconds at 308.43 mph for Beckman, the 2012 NHRA Funny Car world champ.

Hight earned his 32nd career national event win. Royal Purple Raceway is special because it was where Hight won his first national event.

It was a big rally for Hight, who failed to make even one complete pass (in two attempts) in Friday’s first round of qualifying.

“It was like we didn’t show up on Friday,” Hight said. “It was horrible. We just totally missed it, but I never lost faith in my team. They showed confidence that we were going to get them tomorrow.

“On Saturday, we went out there and ran 4.07, 4.08, and then we went 4.07, 4.07 and 4.07 before the final. Do you know how hard it is to do that in one of these cars? There are so many variables. It’s hard to make that many consistent runs in a row.”

Hight remains the Funny Car points leader, 122 points ahead of teammate, boss and father-in-law John Force.

In Top Fuel, Brown won his 44th career national event and second race in a row this season with a run of 3.793 seconds at 317.72 mph over Al-Anabi Racing driver Khalid alBalooshi.

Brown won two weeks ago at Charlotte, beating alBalooshi’s teammate, defending NHRA Top Fuel champion Shawn Langdon.

“We have a lot of respect for the Al-Anabi guys,” said Brown, who moved to the top of the Top Fuel standings, leading Doug Kalitta by 37 points. “You have to beat them to contend for the championship because it goes through them.

“We get up for that challenge whenever we race them. Any time we beat them, it’s like hitting the jackpot. There are a lot of good teams out here, and we don’t take anybody lightly.”

Brown has been the most consistent driver in Top Fuel since the latter part of last season. He has reached seven of the last 10 finals, winning five of them.

Of special note Sunday, former three-time Top Fuel world champ Larry Dixon made his first start in nearly a year and finished 16th, while former four-time Pro Stock champ Greg Anderson, who missed the first five races recovering from heart surgery, finished 14th.

The next NHRA national event is May 16-18 at the Summit Racing Equipment Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway in Commerce, Ga.

 

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Here’s a complete statistical package of Sunday’s final eliminations in the 27th annual O’Reilly NHRA SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway in Baytown, Texas:

 

FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

TOP FUEL: 1.  Antron Brown; 2.  Khalid alBalooshi; 3.  Shawn Langdon; 4.  Steve Torrence; 5.  Doug Kalitta; 6.  Spencer Massey; 7.  Leah Pritchett; 8.  Brittany Force; 9.  Bob Vandergriff; 10.  Richie Crampton; 11.  Tony Schumacher; 12.  Terry McMillen; 13.  Clay Millican; 14.  Troy Buff; 15.  J.R. Todd; 16.  Larry Dixon.

FUNNY CAR: 1.  Robert Hight; 2.  Jack Beckman; 3.  Del Worsham; 4.  Ron Capps; 5.  Tommy Johnson Jr.; 6.  Alexis DeJoria; 7.  Cruz Pedregon; 8.  Chad Head; 9.  Courtney Force; 10.  Matt Hagan; 11.  Tony Pedregon; 12.  Jeff Arend; 13.  Tim Wilkerson; 14.  Terry Haddock; 15.  John Force; 16.  Bob Tasca III.

PRO STOCK: 1.  Erica Enders-Stevens; 2.  Allen Johnson; 3.  Jeg Coughlin; 4.  Vincent Nobile; 5.  Jason Line; 6.  Jonathan Gray; 7.  Dave Connolly; 8.  Shane Gray; 9.  Chris McGaha; 10.  Larry Morgan; 11.  Rodger Brogdon; 12.  V. Gaines; 13.  Steve Kent; 14.  Greg Anderson; 15.  Greg Stanfield; 16.  Matt Hartford.

 

FINAL ROUND RESULTS:

Top Fuel — Antron Brown, 3.793 seconds, 317.72 mph  def. Khalid alBalooshi, 4.433 seconds, 184.67 mph.

Funny Car — Robert Hight, Ford Mustang, 4.055, 314.90  def. Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 4.176, 308.43.

Pro Stock — Erica Enders-Stevens, Chevy Camaro, 6.594, 210.60  def. Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.588, 210.28.

Top Alcohol Dragster — Randy Meyer, 6.478, 259.26  def. Mark Taliaferro, 19.835, 34.27.

Top Alcohol Funny Car — Shane Westerfield, Chevy Monte Carlo, 6.311, 254.23  def. Annie Whiteley, Ford Mustang, 11.004, 76.93.

Pro Modified — Mike Janis, Chevy Camaro, 5.927, 244.56  def. Mike Castellana, Camaro, foul.

Competition Eliminator — Clark Smiley, Pontiac GXP, 7.326, 181.57  def. Alan Ellis, ’23-T Ford, 9.806, 101.53.

Super Stock — Dale Hulquist, Pontiac Grand Am, 10.419, 128.62  def. Larry Stewart, Dodge Challenger, 9.872, 125.25.

Stock Eliminator — Jacob Pitt, Plymouth Barracuda, 10.598, 122.03  def. Brett Candies, Ford Mustang, 9.059, 147.44.

Super Comp — Austin Williams, Dragster, 8.928, 167.72  def. Brandon Mouton, Dragster, 8.913, 166.99.

Super Gas — Steven Collier, Chevy Vega, 9.917, 158.87  def. Rustin Mayse, Chevy Corvette, 9.928, 150.38.

Top Dragster — Allen Constantine, Dragster, 6.308, 226.01  def. Wade Pennington, Dragster, 6.202, 208.04.

Top Fuel Harley — Tommy Grimes, Harley, 6.247, 232.91  def. Jay Turner, Harley, 6.349, 230.69.

 

FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Brittany Force, 3.787, 327.82 def. Richie Crampton, 3.813, 323.74; Doug Kalitta, 3.779, 326.48 def. Bob Vandergriff, 3.810, 321.88; Khalid alBalooshi, 3.802, 321.19 def. Tony Schumacher, 3.838, 313.80; Steve Torrence, 3.776, 328.86 def. Terry McMillen, 3.866, 321.81; Antron Brown, 3.843, 318.47 def. Clay Millican, 3.899, 305.91; Shawn Langdon, 7.140, 93.10 def. Troy Buff, foul; Leah Pritchett, 3.813, 313.22 def. J.R. Todd, 5.867, 116.08; Spencer Massey, 3.990, 270.81 def. Larry Dixon, 12.967, 36.10;

QUARTERFINALS — Brown, 3.778, 322.11 def. Massey, 3.839, 318.32; alBalooshi, 3.950, 312.50 def. Pritchett, 4.010, 288.64; Langdon, 3.804, 325.14 def. Kalitta, 3.799, 324.28; Torrence, 5.363, 154.46 def. Force, 11.827, 46.49;

SEMIFINALS — alBalooshi, 3.846, 315.42 def. Torrence, 9.959, 81.18; Brown, 3.801, 321.58 def. Langdon, 3.863, 320.66;

FINAL — Brown, 3.793, 317.72 def. alBalooshi, 4.433, 184.67.

 

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Robert Hight, Ford Mustang, 4.074, 313.29 def. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 12.008, 63.19; Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 4.114, 310.20 def. Jeff Arend, Charger, 4.263, 292.65; Del Worsham, Toyota Camry, 4.106, 308.07 def. Courtney Force, Mustang, 4.113, 299.80; Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.143, 300.60 def. Terry Haddock, Chevy Impala, 5.140, 151.12; Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.114, 310.27 def. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.148, 276.29; Ron Capps, Charger, 4.073, 311.41 def. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.132, 305.01; Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 6.234, 123.66 def. John Force, Mustang, foul; Chad Head, Camry, 4.110, 293.41 def. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 5.099, 150.18;

QUARTERFINALS — Beckman, 4.116, 308.43 def. C. Pedregon, 5.382, 140.39; Capps, 4.177, 294.75 def. Johnson Jr., 4.920, 167.30; Hight, 4.076, 313.07 def. DeJoria, 5.221, 155.54; Worsham, 4.368, 242.54 def. Head, 6.968, 91.61;

SEMIFINALS — Beckman, 4.485, 288.39 def. Capps, 9.490, 75.57; Hight, 4.071, 309.20 def. Worsham, 4.201, 287.29;

FINAL — Hight, 4.055, 314.90 def. Beckman, 4.176, 308.43.

 

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Jonathan Gray, Chevy Camaro, 6.645, 209.82 def. V. Gaines, Dodge Avenger, 6.642, 211.06; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.626, 209.69 def. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.611, 210.60; Jeg Coughlin, Dodge Dart, 6.609, 210.08 def. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.670, 209.36; Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.618, 209.82 def. Larry Morgan, Ford Mustang, foul; Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.627, 209.85 def. Steve Kent, Camaro, foul; Dave Connolly, Camaro, 6.614, 210.08 def. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.640, 208.88; Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.581, 211.06 def. Greg Stanfield, Camaro, 6.692, 206.92; Erica Enders-Stevens, Camaro, 6.578, 211.26 def. Matt Hartford, Avenger, 6.695, 207.78;

QUARTERFINALS — Nobile, 6.722, 209.20 def. S. Gray, 15.159, 55.97; Coughlin, 6.598, 210.24 def. Connolly, 6.659, 209.04; Johnson, 6.587, 211.13 def. J. Gray, 6.649, 209.20; Enders-Stevens, 6.577, 211.26 def. Line, 6.639, 209.75;

SEMIFINALS — Johnson, 6.585, 210.47 def. Nobile, 6.639, 210.01; Enders-Stevens, 6.584, 211.26 def. Coughlin, foul;

FINAL — Enders-Stevens, 6.594, 210.60 def. Johnson, 6.588, 210.28.

 

POINTS STANDINGS:

Top Fuel: 1.  Antron Brown, 580; 2.  Doug Kalitta, 543; 3.  Steve Torrence, 428; 4.  Shawn Langdon, 408; 5.  Khalid alBalooshi, 381; 6.  Tony Schumacher, 353; 7.  Spencer Massey, 342; 8.  Brittany Force, 300; 9.  Richie Crampton, 224; 10.  J.R. Todd, 220.

Funny Car: 1.  Robert Hight, 609; 2.  John Force, 487; 3.  Alexis DeJoria, 431; 4.  Del Worsham, 361; 5.  Ron Capps, 356; 6.  Jack Beckman, 336; 7.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 323; 8.  Matt Hagan, 289; 9.  Tim Wilkerson, 277; 10.  Courtney Force, 275.

Pro Stock: 1.  Erica Enders-Stevens, 554; 2.  Allen Johnson, 477; 3.  Jason Line, 437; 4.  Vincent Nobile, 414; 5.  Shane Gray, 390; 6.  Dave Connolly, 366; 7.  Jeg Coughlin, 344; 8.  V. Gaines, 340; 9.  Chris McGaha, 290; 10.  Jimmy Alund, 282.

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Chilton says IndyCar test debut went “swimmingly well”

SOCHI, RUSSIA - OCTOBER 12:  Max Chilton of Great Britain and Marussia speaks with members of the media during the Russian Formula One Grand Prix at Sochi Autodrom on October 12, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Along with new Chevrolet aerodynamic components being tried out at the “it’s green in February and it’s never this green the later into the year we get” Sonoma Raceway, the other interesting storyline out of Wednesday’s six-car Verizon IndyCar Series test was that it marked Max Chilton’s testing debut with Chip Ganassi Racing in the No. 8 Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. Chevrolet.

Chilton’s made the announcement, addressed the media and had his sponsor confirmed within the last week-plus.

But it was on Wednesday that the talking stopped and the driving restarted, for what was not only the 24-year-old Brit’s first time in an IndyCar but also his first time at Sonoma.

“It’s a bit of a shock today,” Chilton said, via a track-issued release. “I haven’t been in a racing car in six months and that was an Indy Lights car, so I’ve got to learn the track today and the car.

“But I think the morning went swimmingly well. I was quicker than I thought I would be.  It’s a really nice kit and I can’t wait to explore it throughout the season.”

Here’s a few photos on social media, either ones he or the track shared, of his maiden day in an IndyCar.

Chilton’s next test comes later this week, still in California, at Auto Club Speedway for his first oval run in an IndyCar.

Chilton joined his three Chip Ganassi Racing teammates, Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Charlie Kimball, for the test. Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud also tested on Wednesday.

Pabst adds Jordan Lloyd as third USF2000 driver

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Pabst Racing has added a third driver to its Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda lineup, in the form of talented 19-year-old Australian driver Jordan Lloyd.

Lloyd raced the first two weekends of last year’s USF2000 season with John Cummiskey Racing before being sidelined due to financial woes, but he showed quite a bit of promise in those two weekends at St. Petersburg and NOLA Motorsports Park. He finished second in one of the NOLA races.

For 2016, Lloyd returns to the U.S. after winning the CAMS Jayco Australian Formula 4 championship last year, and was thus awarded with the ‘Road to the World’ scholarship.

“I only touched the tip of the iceberg when I was here in 2015, so on a personal level there is a lot of unfinished business that needs to be tended to,” Lloyd said in a team release. “I am looking forward to a strong season.”

Lloyd, who will drive the No. 21 car, joins the previously announced pairing of Garth Rickards and Yufeng Luo at Pabst, the Oconomowoc, Wisconsin-based team, as the USF2000 field for 2016 continues to grow both in terms of size and talent.

Luca Ghiotto steps up to GP2 with Trident

2015 GP3 Series Round 9
Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, UAE.
Friday 27 November 2015.
Luca Ghiotto (ITA, Trident) 
Photo: Sam Bloxham/GP3 Series Media Service.
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Luca Ghiotto will step up to the GP2 Series with Trident in 2016 after an impressive season in GP3 last year that saw him finish second in the championship standings.

Ghiotto made his GP3 debut at the end of 2014 with a four-race run-out for Trident before remaining with the Italian team for 2015.

It proved to be a memorable year as he won five races – more than any other driver – but fell eight points short of the title as Mercedes junior Esteban Ocon was crowed champion in Abu Dhabi.

Ghiotto will remain with Trident for 2016, stepping up to its GP2 operation after a successful test in Abu Dhabi at the end of last year.

“I can’t wait to line-up for this new adventure,” Ghiotto said. “Last year, it was tough for me to fight so hard and not winning the title. However, it has been an extremely useful experience with the help of the excellent teamwork among the whole Trident stable.

“I want to thank once again Maurizio Salvadori and Giacomo Ricci for their support, and the Italian Federation for believing so much in me. I really look forward to be back on-track.”

Newgarden on Phoenix: “You have to be really committed”

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Phoenix International Raceway replaces The Milwaukee Mile on the Verizon IndyCar Series’ 2016 schedule as the lone one-mile oval the series competes on.

And that’s exactly where the similarities between the two end.

While Milwaukee’s nearly all-flat banking nature rewards those who find the setup early, and punishes those who don’t, Phoenix is going to be significantly faster and has a series of rises and falls that might make for a more interesting challenge.

Josef Newgarden, who took his first laps during a Chevrolet manufacturer test Monday at Phoenix aboard his No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, had high praise for the commitment level it takes to nail a lap at PIR.

“Phoenix, you don’t need as much courage to be flat,” Newgarden told NBC Sports in a phone interview on Wednesday. “It just seems more crazy. From a commitment standpoint, the commitment level is higher, for different reasons.

“From a speed and physicality standpoint, it seems more of a commitment than Milwaukee. That was interesting to me. You really had to be committed… it was almost hard to breathe. It’s a very tough lap.

“It’s easier to be flat than at Milwaukee, and you’re generally flat out, but it seems higher commitment.”

Newgarden, who won his first career IndyCar pole position and dominated at Milwaukee last year, has lamented the loss of the oldest continually operated track from the schedule.

“I loved Milwaukee. It was a very difficult track. It took a lot more courage at Milwaukee to figure out how to get flat, or to get flat,” he admitted.

Newgarden hadn’t been to Phoenix previously and comments leading in – that the track serves as sort of a roller-coaster featuring the track’s legendary, albeit changed, dogleg in the backstraight – were apt.

“The whole thing is flat all around. The dogleg, there’s actually kind of a bit of a hill,” he said.

“You exit out of (Turn) 2, you run up the banking out of 2, then you get high enough, then run down pretty far and it’s kind of a downhill run into the dogleg, then you climb back up before 3. You’re almost constantly going up and down.

“I saw some NASCAR drivers describe it as a roller coaster, and that’s somewhat true. There’s a lot of elevation changes for an oval.”

How intense is the oval on the drivers, from a G-loading standpoint?

“Easy 4 to 5. I’d say 4.2 or 4.5 depending on downforce levels,” Newgarden said.

And that might be the most interesting thing to monitor for when IndyCar arrives at Phoenix, both for the Grand Prix-view open test February 26 and 27 and the race itself on April 2, is what downforce levels teams will opt to run to try to create better racing.

One of North America’s greatest open-wheel oval drivers, Rick Mears, has long been a proponent of less downforce.

Newgarden said less downforce will certainly create more separation and make the cars harder to drive, but it might not provide as close of racing.

“It’s hard to tell. I think if you want to see the cars racing and passing constantly, you’d need more downforce. If you trim it out and guys have to pedal them, it should separate the field better. I think more downforce would equal more racing around there. But it depends on what you want.

“Take Texas for example. Take the downforce away, it’s hard to drive, and there’s no passing. But it’s difficult on the drivers. There’s not as good racing. Add the downforce back, now everyone’s (sort of) packed up, but you’ll have amazing racing action. It really depends on what you want.”

Newgarden’s test was his first day in a car since he and team principal and teammate, Carpenter, tested at Texas Motor Speedway back in October.

A video from IndyCar featuring Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud and Juan Pablo Montoya from the Phoenix test is below.