Brittany Force (Top Fuel), Del Worsham (Funny Car), Shane Gray (Pro Stock) all No. 1 qualifiers for Bristol finals

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Brittany Force (Top Fuel), Del Worsham (Funny Car) and Shane Gray (Pro Stock) will go into Sunday’s final eliminations of the Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol (Tenn.) Dragway as top qualifiers in their respective classes.

In pursuit of her first career win in Top Fuel, Force qualified No. 1 on Friday’s rain-shortened session, and then came back on Saturday to earn her second No. 1 qualifying spot in 2014 with a 3.828-second pass at 317.94 mph.

The daughter of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force, Brittany Force is in just her second season in Top Fuel, but knows what a win Sunday would mean not only for her career but also her father.

She’ll face 82-year-old drag racing legend Chris Karamesines in the first round of Sunday’s Top Fuel eliminations.

“(Winning) would be the ultimate Father’s Day present to my dad,” Brittany Force said in a NHRA media release. “I love coming here to Bristol. It’s one of my favorite tracks by far.”

Force added, “I’m excited for race day, and I would love to end up in the winner’s circle. I think it’s pretty awesome to be running alongside the legendary Greek (Karamesines’ nickname).”

J.R. Todd is the No. 2 qualifier (3.835 seconds at 315.12 mph), while seven-time Top Fuel champ and five-time Bristol winner Tony Schumacher qualified third (3.854 seconds at 330.47 mph).

In Funny Car, Worsham broke track records for both elapsed time (3.992 seconds) and speed (319.45 mph) on Friday and retained his No. 1 spot Saurday, the 15th of his NHRA career and the second straight year he has qualified No. 1 at Bristol, where he’s a two-time winner.

Every race seems like we’ve gotten stronger and stronger,” Worsham said. “Hopefully (Sunday) we can maintain that strength. It should be a great race against my good friend Jeff Arend (in the first round of eliminations).”

Tim Wilkerson qualified No. 2 (career-best elapsed time of 4.013 seconds at 317.72 mph) and three-time Bristol winner Ron Capps qualified third (4.024 seconds at 316.38 mph).

In the hunt for his first win of the season, Gray also set new Bristol track ET (6.621 seconds) and speed (208.78 mph) records in Pro Stock. He’ll face Curt Steinbach in Sunday’s first round of eliminations.

“I wouldn’t be sitting here if it wasn’t for my crew,” Gray said. “We definitely have the equipment to do what we did today. I’m not going to worry too much until (Sunday) and have some fun.”

Reigning Pro Stock champ Jeg Coughlin qualified No. 2, while points leader Erica Enders-Stevens qualified No. 3.

 

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Here’s the first-round pairings for Sunday’s final eliminations of the 14th annual Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway:

Top Fuel — 1. Brittany Force, 3.828 seconds, 317.94 mph  vs. 16. Chris Karamesines, 4.485, 190.08; 2. J.R. Todd, 3.835, 315.12  vs. 15. Terry McMillen, 4.444, 238.93; 3. Tony Schumacher, 3.854, 330.47  vs. 14. Billy Torrence, 4.161, 240.25; 4. Antron Brown, 3.873, 313.07  vs. 13. Richie Crampton, 3.939, 266.58; 5. Spencer Massey, 3.876, 312.93  vs. 12. Clay Millican, 3.909, 261.42; 6. Steve Torrence, 3.879, 317.34  vs. 11. Bob Vandergriff, 3.904, 321.12; 7. Shawn Langdon, 3.880, 316.75  vs. 10. Khalid alBalooshi, 3.900, 315.42; 8. Doug Kalitta, 3.890, 318.32  vs. 9. Leah Pritchett, 3.898, 309.13.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Pat Dakin, 5.489, 246.48.

 

Funny Car — 1. Del Worsham, Toyota Camry, 3.992, 319.45  vs. 16. Jeff Arend, Dodge Charger, 6.460, 100.70; 2. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 4.013, 317.72  vs. 15. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 5.349, 306.81; 3. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.024, 316.38  vs. 14. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.621, 192.66; 4. Robert Hight, Mustang, 4.074, 315.27  vs. 13. Justin Schriefer, Chevy Camaro, 4.333, 285.17; 5. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.074, 306.60  vs. 12. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.127, 299.86; 6. Courtney Force, Mustang, 4.077, 313.07  vs. 11. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.123, 308.99; 7. John Force, Mustang, 4.099, 306.81  vs. 10. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.121, 305.29; 8. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.111, 308.99  vs. 9. Chad Head, Camry, 4.118, 313.22.

 

Pro Stock — 1. Shane Gray, Chevy Camaro, 6.621, 208.78  vs. 16. Curt Steinbach, Camaro, 6.848, 200.80; 2. Jeg Coughlin, Dodge Dart, 6.621, 208.62  vs. 15. Kenny Delco, Chevy Cobalt, 6.843, 201.82; 3. Erica Enders-Stevens, Camaro, 6.631, 208.17  vs. 14. Larry Morgan, Ford Mustang, 6.822, 205.22; 4. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.636, 208.55  vs. 13. V. Gaines, Dart, 6.690, 207.30; 5. Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.636, 207.85  vs. 12. Dave Connolly, Camaro, 6.681, 206.35; 6. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.643, 207.94  vs. 11. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.678, 207.53; 7. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.644, 207.53  vs. 10. Shane Tucker, Cobalt, 6.669, 206.86; 8. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 6.659, 207.85  vs. 9. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.669, 207.43.

Did Not Qualify: 17. John Gaydosh Jr, 6.883, 201.22.

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Stefan Johansson’s latest blog: Racing facing big challenges ahead

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After a few months off writing, Stefan Johansson’s back with his latest blog after a whirlwind month-plus of news across various forms of racing.

The F1 and IndyCar veteran turned driver manager and seasoned observer of all things motorsports has touched on a number of the challenges all of racing faces in the upcoming months and years in this entry, his latest conversation with Jan Tegler.

Johansson first hits on a fundamental problem within racing: a tight regulatory box thanks to crazy amounts of technology, coupled with escalating costs.

“The fundamental problem in general for pretty much every level of racing is that technology has taken over. Everything is driven by technology,” he writes. “Every racing series is driven by the engineering side instead of the drivers and the sporting side. The cars are far too expensive to run. All of the electronics, all of the aerodynamic development, all of the extra stuff which has become part of the cars today makes them massively more expensive to operate. Then we have all the various methods of simulation which effectively have replaced on track testing, this again is driving up the costs as all this equipment is constantly evolving, and anything involving R&D is never cheap.

“Not only are they more expensive as a whole, components are more expensive and the cars require three to four times the amount of people to run compared to what they used to. In the end, there’s nothing left over due to the costs. The money’s got to come from somewhere. Teams are operating more and more in survival mode, and as such they have to rely more and more on drivers bringing money.”

The next fundamental question is whether race cars and road cars should have similar levels of relevance, or instead be completely separate. Hybrid technology has been en vogue for the last few years, for instance.

“Race cars are made to go fast as they always have been,” Johansson writes. “Nowadays the main emphasis seems to be that road cars are supposed to save the planet, whether that’s valid or not but that’s the argument. Racing and road cars ought to be heading in two completely separate directions, if there is anything to be learned from Racing that could benefit the road car industry, great, but I don’t think the focus should be on that.

“The whole concept with this technology – the philosophy of what race cars are meant to be now – is going completely in the wrong direction in my opinion. This insanely complicated and expensive hybrid technology really doesn’t benefit anyone in racing. The development of the technology for road cars is already as advanced if not more than what we see in the F1 or LMP1 cars. So there’s really no gain. Then you can look at the whole aerodynamic thing on top of it – useless for a road car.

“Part of the problem is the PR the manufacturers produce. Their PR departments have an agenda and of course there’s the political side and that’s another agenda. There are all of these marketing efforts and the racing is just the tiny little bit at the bottom of it. Everything has to conform to all of the non-racing agendas.”

The visual, visceral appeal of driving is another point that Johansson worries has been lost in this era of engineering-driven machines.

“Anyone, even a layman with no knowledge of racing, can appreciate the effort and skill of a driver wrestling a car to make it perform as well as possible at the limit,” he writes. “But a car that does almost everything for a driver, that’s stuck to the road on a track with so much run off area that is virtually impossible to hit anything if you try too hard and go off, that any driver with a small amount of skill can jump in and get within half a second of a three-times world champion – that doesn’t excite people. It doesn’t have the same appeal.”

MONZA, ITALY – SEPTEMBER 02: Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing sits in his car fitted with the halo during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Italy at Autodromo di Monza on September 2, 2016 in Monza, Italy. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

On the Halo coming to F1? Johansson offers this: “It’s now also been confirmed that the Halo head protection will be mandated. It was an inevitable decision in my opinion, once the knowledge is there and it’s for safety there’s no turning back. It’s a knee jerk reaction to something that should have never happened in the first place if any level of common sense had been applied at Suzuka when Jules Bianchi had his accident. But it happened, it was a freak accident and will in most likelihood never ever happen again, halo or no halo.”

On IndyCar’s new universal kit coming for 2018, he writes, “Aesthetically the new car certainly looks a lot better than the previous ones, it would have been nearly impossible to design one that could look any worse though. I guess this also fixes the disparity between the Chevy and Honda aero but what a pointless exercise the manufacturer aero kits were.”

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MAY 28: Fernando Alonso of Spain, driver of the #29 McLaren-Honda-Andretti Honda, exits his car after his engine expired during the 101st Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 28, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

While noting the manufacturer spend, Johansson also notes how much buzz Fernando Alonso generated from his Indianapolis 500 bow: “If the penny hasn’t dropped that maybe it’s not new car designs we need, but instead a much bigger focus on the drivers, who are the heroes that people want to watch. The value of Fernando Alonso racing at Indy this year is probably the best marketing IndyCar has had for the last 20 years.”

And on LMP1’s demise within the FIA WEC as three of the four manufacturers from 2015 have all pulled out? “I can’t see the WEC surviving. If Toyota follows Porsche what is there? What they should do is a pan-American/European championship of some kind. They should create some kind of hybrid series that brings IMSA and the ELMS together, spanning both continents.

“Look at Le Mans this year. The race was almost won by an LMP2 car at almost exactly 100 times less than the budget of the P1 teams – 100 times less! That should tell you something. Sports car racing has to be much more reasonable in terms of the costs. Look at the LMP3 class.”

You can read the full blog post here, for even more insight.

2017 columns:

Additionally, a link to Johansson’s social media channels and #F1TOP3 competition are linked here.

Acura ARX-05 formally revealed at The Quail (PHOTOS)

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After a teaser video was released a couple weeks ago, the formal, full unveil of Acura’s new ARX-05 prototype for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, to be fielded by Team Penske, took place today at The Quail, A Motorsports Gathering, in Monterey.

A photo from a private, VIP event emerged on social media on Thursday night ahead of the proper unveil, but now the car is officially out in the open for all to see.

A striking nose assembly section to the ARX-05, on top of the base Oreca 07 chassis, is perhaps the most notable visual identifier on the car.

The full release and a handful of photos are below.

Acura today unveiled the new Acura ARX-05 prototype race car at The Quail, A Motorsports Gathering. Acura Motorsports will join forces with the legendary Team Penske organization to field a pair of the new Daytona Prototype International (DPi) entries in the 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.  

The Acura ARX-05 (Acura Racing eXperimental, generation 5) is the latest in a line of endurance prototypes to be fielded by the brand dating to 1991, just five years after the 1986 launch of the Acura marque. Based on the very successful ORECA 07 chassis, the new ARX-05 prototype showcases Acura-specific bodywork and design features, including Acura’s signature Jewel Eye™ headlights, and utilizes the race-proven AR35TT twin-turbocharged engine, based on the production 3.5-liter V-6 that powers the Acura MDX, RDX, TLX and RLX models.

Acura ARX-05 Daytona Prototype international (DPi) race car to be campaigned by Team Penske in 2018

“At Acura, Precision Crafted Performance is at the heart of everything we do.” said Jon Ikeda, Acura vice-president and general manager. “Whether it is our production cars or a prototype race car, if you want to be a performance brand you need to perform.”

The multi-year DPi program will be administered by Honda Performance Development (HPD), the racing arm for both Acura Motorsports and Honda Racing in North America. The competition debut of the Team Penske Acura prototypes will take place at the season-opening Rolex 24 in January, 2018. One of the team’s two ARX-05 entries will be piloted by the legendary Juan Pablo Montoya along with sports car champion Dane Cameron. The second driver pairing will be announced at a later date.

“Right from the start, Acura has raced – and done so successfully,” said Art St. Cyr, President of HPD and Acura Motorsports. “We’ve won with the Acura Integra Type R, the RSX, the first-generation NSX and with the Le Mans prototypes. Most recently, we’ve won with the new Acura NSX GT3. The ARX-05 is our fifth-generation prototype, and we expect great things from our partnership with Team Penske.”

Acura ARX-05 Daytona Prototype international (DPi) race car to be campaigned by Team Penske in 2018

DPi rules require manufacturers to use one of four approved prototype chassis, fitted with IMSA-homologated, manufacturer-designed and branded bodywork and engines. In the case of the ARX-05, the bodywork was developed by a team led by Acura Global Creative Director Dave Marek.

“We created a variety of initial sketches, then pared those down a handful of potential designs. Next came aero and wind tunnel model testing, and time for the engineers to have their say,” Marek recounted. “The design continued to be refined throughout the testing and evaluation process, until we came up with a final treatment that met our performance goals while maintaining Acura styling cues. It’s been an exciting process.”

Acura ARX-05 Daytona Prototype international (DPi) race car to be campaigned by Team Penske in 2018

The Acura ARX-05 will add to a rich legacy of Acura sports car racing successes, including the 1991-93 IMSA Camel Lights manufacturer and driver championships; 50 IMSA and American Le Mans Series class or overall race victories (through Watkins Glen 2017); and the 2009 American Le Mans Series manufacturer, driver and team championships, in both the LMP1 and LMP2 classes.

Based on the “J35” family of engines found in Acura MDX, RDX, TLX and RLX production vehicles, the Acura AR35TT engine has powered class winners at the 12 Hours of Sebring (2011-13); the 24 Hours of Le Mans and LMP2 World Endurance Championship (2012).  The engine also powered entries to American Le Mans Series LMP2 titles in 2012-13; and the overall winners at the Rolex 24, 12 Hours of Sebring and Petit Le Mans in 2016.

Acura Motorsports currently campaigns the Acura NSX GT3 in the IMSA GTD category with Michael Shank Racing – where it has already won at Detroit and Watkins Glen this season – as well as with Real Time Racing in the Pirelli World Challenge GT division.

Following today’s official unveiling, the Acura ARX-05 will also be on display at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion (August 19) and on the Concept Lawn at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance (August 20).

Manor alters No. 24 crew line-up for WEC Mexico

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Manor’s Jean-Eric Vergne will be joined by two new drivers in the No. 24 Oreca 07 Gibson for the upcoming FIA World Endurance Championship round in Mexico following a revision of the team’s line-up.

Manor fielded ex-Toro Rosso Formula 1 and current Formula E racer Vergne alongside Jonathan Hirschi and Tor Graves in the No. 24 Oreca through the opening three rounds of the season, the trio recording a best finish of fourth in the LMP2 class at Le Mans.

Vergne was replaced by Roberto Merhi for the last round at the Nürburgring due to Formula E’s clashing commitments in New York, but will be joined by an all-new line-up for the next race at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City on September 3.

Matt Rao returns to Manor’s LMP2 line-up after featuring last season ahead of a move to Signatech Alpine for 2017, acting as its silver-rated driver.

Vergne and Rao will be joined by British racer Ben Hanley, who moves onto his third team of the WEC season after featuring for TDS Racing, DragonSpeed and G-Drive Racing so far this season at Spa, Le Mans and the Nürburgring respectively.

Manor’s No. 25 Oreca line-up remains unchanged, with Vitaly Petrov being joined by Simon Trummer and Roberto Gonzalez for Mexico City.

Click here to see the full entry list of the 6 Hours of Mexico.

Porsche staying coy on Formula 1 engine rumors

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Porsche has remained coy on rumors it could be set to enter Formula 1 as an engine supplier in the near future despite confirming that it is in the process of developing a “high-performance, high-efficiency engine”.

Porsche rocked the motorsport world last month by announcing it would be closing its LMP1 program at the end of the season in order to prepare for an entry to Formula E in 2019.

The realignment of its motorsport strategy came following Porsche’s attendance of meetings regarding F1’s future power options, set to come into play for the 2021 season.

The German marque had been rumored to be considering entering F1 as an engine supplier alongside its Formula E commitments, with member of the executive board research and development Michael Steiner responding to the speculation.

“Like other manufacturers, we participate in discussions on the future Formula 1 powertrain at the invitation of the FIA,” Steiner said.

“At the moment, the team in Weissach is not working on an F1 engine, but it is working on a high-performance, high-efficiency engine, specifically at the design level.

“So far, we have not decided what we will do with this engine, or in other words whether we will use it in series production or in motorsport. If the LMP1 programme had continued, we would have worked on efficient high-performance engines, and we are now pushing ahead with this development.

“The development contract with the engineers will run for the next 18 months.”

When asked directly if Porsche would be entering F1 in 2021, Steiner said: “I am not working on that assumption, but there is no statement to be made about this.”

F1 currently boasts four engine manufacturers – Mercedes, Ferrari, Honda and Renault – but is known to be discussing its future regulations with a number of parties both inside and outside of the sport.

Porsche last featured in F1 as an engine supplier in 1991, powering the Footwork team for six races before its switch to Ford engines for the remainder of the season.