If she were a super hero, former NHRA star Ashley Force Hood would be Cat Woman

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If former drag racer Ashley Force Hood were a superhero, she’d definitely be Cat Woman.

Detailing her fondness for cats, particularly her own Simba and Gizmo – who love to go to the race track with her – Force Hood was featured recently in a lengthy story on Catster.com.

The daughter of 16-time National Hot Rod Association champion John Force, sister of current NHRA stars Brittany and Courtney and a former Funny Car star herself (she recently renewed her NHRA competition license after a three-year layoff), Force Hood proudly states she has been an avid cat lover her entire life.

When asked, she quickly rattled off names of all the cats she’s ever owned: Taffy, Caramel, Licorice, Licorice #2, Coco, Caramel Corn, Sierra, Snowy, Timber and her current cats, Simba and Gizmo (named after the Gremlins movie by husband Dan).

“Simba was a birthday gift to me from my husband the year we got married in 2008, and then we got Gizmo the following year so Simba would have a buddy,” Force Hood said. “Both Simba and Gizmo are American Bobtails.

“We have had several kinds of cats over the years, but what I like most about the American Bobtails is they are so beautiful, very personable, and good around kids. At the time I had a little niece and we knew there were going to be kids around so after researching cat breeds we knew the American Bobtails would be good with kids.

“Our cats want to be on your neck when you wake up in the morning. They will push your face with their faces. It’s the most adorable thing. I’ve never had a cat that is as personable as Simba, almost too much, as you’re like, “I need my space, you’re in my bubble.” He so wants to be near you.

“Gizmo is a little more crazy. He just wants to run around and be a cat. Sometimes he will come over to you but he is definitely more of the crazy one. It’s amazing that they are both American Bobtails, because personality-wise they couldn’t be more different.”

Force Hood recalled one instance where she took her cats to a race and disaster almost struck.

“I’m not actively competing right now, as we have two young sons,” Force Hood said. “But when I was on the circuit we were traveling a lot and would take the cats on the road with us.

“Being on the road with them was a lot of fun. However, one time were at a race in Seattle and we had our RV set up with all of the other racers. Gizmo somehow got out and under the trailer. We were really close to the track, and it would have been really bad if Gizmo had gotten onto the track as the cars are going 320 miles per hour.

“We had all the racers and their wives trying to get under the trailer to get Gizmo out, and he kept going from underneath one trailer to the next — having the time of his life being chased, of course. We finally got him and put him back in the RV, and we’re like, ‘Okay, we have to be careful with this door!'”

Her current cats even have their own fan following, Force Hood said.

“I have a lot of young fans, and I swear I have gotten more attention because of the cats than anything I have done during a race,” she said. “People will make poster signs for them.

“One time I was doing an interview on ESPN and in the crowd someone was holding up a sign that said ‘Simba and Gizmo.’ It was funny. I even briefly started a blog for them. The fans really love them.

“I think the fans really like that I have cats. There are a lot of racers, and I think me having cats is something the fans can relate to. People will bring them little goodies and gifts, and even though they may not have a lot in common with a race-car driver, they do with someone who has cats. I have a lot of people who will bring me pictures of their cats; it’s neat and interesting. You don’t think of cats and puppies necessarily when you think of the drag racing crowd, so it’s something that is a little different.”

If you’re a cat lover and want to read more of Force Hood’s interview, click here.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Newgarden, Chevy top Phoenix practice

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Friday’s two-hour practice for the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix started out slowly, with only a handful of drivers turning laps in the opening 30 minutes. However, the second hour, and the final 30 minutes in particular, turned into a frenzy, with drivers making several runs and completing qualifying sims.

Josef Newgarden topped the speed charts with an average speed of 192.108 mph, the only lap above the 192 mark of the session.

JR Hildebrand enjoyed a strong run on his return after suffering a broken hand at Long Beach to run second in practice. Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud, and Will Power completed the top five, making it a Chevrolet sweep of the top five spots.

Heavy winds wreaked havoc on the session, with sand blowing onto the track surface throughout practice. Conditions became severe enough that practice was halted a couple minutes prior to its scheduled conclusion.

Of note: driver Ed Carpenter, in his first race outing of 2017, suffered a shortened practice due to mechanical issues and the crew reportedly was working on swapping out the fuel cell on his No.20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet.

Times and qualifying order are below. Qualifying begins at 11:00 p.m. ET (8:00 local time).

 

 

Honda defends decision to redesign F1 power unit for 2017

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Honda Formula 1 chief Yusuke Hasegawa has defended the decision to redesign its power unit layout for 2017 despite suffering a number of reliability and performance issues at the start of the season.

Entering its third year since returning to F1 as an engine supplier, Honda looked to make gains by revising the layout of its power unit to mirror that of pace-setter Mercedes.

The decision appeared to backfire, though, with a lack of both performance and reliability leaving customer team McLaren frustrated and without a single point after three races.

Speaking in Friday’s FIA press conference in Russia, Hasegawa was asked if the decision to revise the power unit layout was a mistake, and defending the move despite admitting to the ongoing problems.

“I don’t think we made a complete mistake from last year’s performance. We knew that we have to change everything, not only the package but also the combustion, so we tried to modify all areas,” Hasegawa explained.

“Some areas we succeeded, to reduce the weight and lower the center of gravity, but yeah, definitely we couldn’t get enough power from the combustion. So, yeah, it is just an excuse, but we still need time.

“But we don’t think we made a huge mistake, the direction was right. We are very much disappointed with our current situation.

“But because the base concept is correct, we believe we can make good progress in the middle of the season.”

McLaren’s hopes of scoring its first points of the year in Russia took a hit on Friday when Stoffel Vandoorne was forced to take new elements for his power unit, triggering a 15-place grid drop for the race.

More brake issues strike Haas in Russia F1 practice despite supplier change

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The Haas Formula 1 team endured another difficult day of practice ahead of the Russian Grand Prix as drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen suffered more brake issues despite changing supplier.

Haas confirmed on Thursday that it would be switching from Brembo to Carbon Industrie brakes, having suffered problems throughout its 14-month stint in F1.

Despite enjoying a positive test in Bahrain with Carbon Industrie parts last week, both Grosjean and Magnussen struggled with their brakes in FP1 and FP2 at the Sochi Autodrom on Friday.

Grosjean finished FP2 14th-fastest, with Magnussen breaking into the top 10, charging to ninth place in the VF-17 car.

“We’ve got very little grip. We’re really struggling with the balance,” Grosjean said. “We had some issues, as well, with the brakes over the long runs. We need to look at what we can do better with them.

“Generally, it’s just been a very difficult Friday. The car didn’t perform well – very low grip on low fuel and high fuel.”

Team principal Guenther Steiner added: “We had a lot to do and I think we did a lot. We still haven’t got all the results yet, as we need to go through data.

“I would say the issues with the brakes were mainly because they’re new to us. We need to find out how they work. Going through the data, we will decide tomorrow what we’re doing and how we continue.

“All in all, we had pretty fruitful sessions. We did a lot of laps and we learned a lot. Now we need to get the best out of what we learned for tomorrow to go into qualifying.”

Qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix is live on CNBC and the NBC Sports app from 8am ET on Saturday.

F1 Paddock Pass: Russian Grand Prix, Friday edition (VIDEO)

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While the drivers may be the stars of Formula 1, their on-track escapades would not be possible without the titanic effort from those behind the scenes at their respective teams, making it key for us to hear from the people who make racing possible from time to time.

Following on from the special Friday edition of NBC Sports’ original digital series ‘Paddock Pass’ in Bahrain, Will Buxton is back with all of the interviews from the team bosses in today’s FIA press conference in Russia.

In part one, we hear from Otmar Szafnauer, COO at Force India, who gives his verdict on the team’s showing in 2017 so far and new driver Esteban Ocon’s start to the season. We also catch up with Renault technical boss Nick Chester and Pirelli’s new F1 chief, Mario Isola.

In part two, Ferrari’s engine boss Luigi Fabroni offers his thoughts on the Italian marque’s strong start to the 2017 season following Sebastian Vettel’s wins in Australia and Bahrain. At the other end of the success spectrum, McLaren’s Matt Morris and Honda’s Yusuke Hasegawa discuss the ongoing rebuilding project at woking.