John Force won his 140th career NHRA Funny Car event at Norwalk, Ohio. (Photo courtesy NHRA).

Ageless John Force powers to 140th career NHRA Funny Car win, first ever at Norwalk

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Having just turned 65 two months ago, John Force shows no signs of slowing down.

The record-holding 16-time and reigning NHRA Funny Car world champion captured his 140th career victory in Sunday’s finals of the Summit Racing Equipment Nationals in Norwalk, Ohio.

Also winning in their respective classes were Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Erica Enders-Stevens (Funny Car) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Force and fellow veteran racer Ron Capps gave fans a great show in a close final round. Force covered the 1,000-foot drag strip in 4.113 seconds at 317.27 mph, while Capps did so in 4.135 seconds at 305.56 mph.

It was Force’s second win in the first 13 races this season and his first win ever at the Norwalk track, located between Toledo and Cleveland.

“It was special to me,” Force said in a NHRA media release. “I’ve come to this track for decades. I’ve won here at the Night of Fire races. Robert [Hight] and my daughter Ashley [Force Hood] have won here. I keep coming back here.

“The Bader family (track owners) is P.T. Barnum doing this year-round, 90-some race a year. They light the fire under those fans. Look at the crowd on Friday night and that whole fireworks show. I’ve been real lucky in my career and you want to win them all, but I really wanted this win.”

Hight, who is Force’s son-in-law and also president of John Force Racing, remains atop the Mello Yello Funny Car points standings, but with Sunday’s win, Force continued his climb upward, now sitting in second place. Capps, meanwhile, is a close third.

“It’s a really great show, and I’m just excited to be a part of it,” Force said. “We raced some great kids: Capps, Cruz (Pedregon), (Tim) Wilkerson, Chad Head. We gave them some good racing. Hey, we got the win. I’m just glad to get that one out of the way. Now I’ll try to get my second win here.”

In Top Fuel, Brown (3.797 seconds at 318.84 mph) continued his red-hot ways. Having won last week at Joliet, Illinois, Brown revved through the field to win again Sunday, defeating No. 1 qualifier Shawn Langdon (4.982 seconds at 155.52 mph) in the final round.

“It’s been a true blessing to be out at this racetrack this weekend,” Brown said. “The Bader family really put on a great show. The racetrack was great all weekend long. We got some cloud cover today. When four cars can run 3.75 in the first round with other cars across the board at .76, .77, that shows you how competitive the Top Fuel class is right now. It’s crazy tough to win a round right now, let alone a race.”

Brown remains second in the Top Fuel standings, while Langdon moved into third. Doug Kalitta remains the points leader.

In Pro Stock, No. 1 qualifier Enders-Stevens (6.632 seconds at 210.14 mph) dominated throughout the weekend en route to her unprecedented fourth win of the season and 10th of her career, defeating her former crew chief-turned-driver Dave Connolly (6.665 seconds at 207.56 mph) in the final round.

“You can’t think about any of the negative things when you get into a 215-mph race car and I was able to do that today,” Enders-Stevens said. “At the end  of the day we came out on top and that’s all that matters.”

With her 10th win, Enders-Stevens becomes only the third female racer in NHRA history to reach double digits in wins. Angelle Sampey is No. 1 (41 wins), followed by legendary racer Shirley Muldowney (18).

“Shirley [Muldowney] is a legend and a mentor and Angelle is also a friend who lives a few miles from me,” Enders-Stevens said. “Those are two extremely talented ladies who are passionate about our sport. They broke down barriers so we could all do what we enjoy doing out here. It’s great to have my name on that list.”

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Hines (6.901 seconds at 193.96 mph) earned his third win of the season, defeating Hector Arana, who made his second straight final round appearance but is still seeking his first win since 2009.

“Today, we learned exactly what we need to do,” Hines said. “We started treating it differently than in years past. Instead of slowing on Sunday my bike actually picked up. Hopefully, that’s bad news for the competition and we could continue on a roll. There is no time to sit back and relax.”

Lastly in Pro Modified, Troy Coughlin (5.940 seconds at 250.92 mph) defeated Von Smith (5.920 seconds at  243.99 mph).

The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series takes next week off before beginning its noted three-race “Western swing,” July 18-20 in the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway in suburban Denver, Colorado.

 

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FINAL RESULTS:

Top Fuel — Antron Brown, 3.797 seconds, 318.84 mph  def. Shawn Langdon, 4.982 seconds, 155.52 mph.

Funny Car — John Force, Ford Mustang, 4.113, 317.27  def. Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 4.135, 305.56.

Pro Stock — Erica Enders-Stevens, Chevy Camaro, 6.632, 210.14  def. Dave Connolly, Camaro, 6.665, 207.56.

Pro Stock Motorcycle — Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.901, 193.96  def. Hector Arana, Buell, 6.924, 195.53.

Pro Modified — Troy Coughlin, Chevy Corvette, 5.940, 250.92  def. Von Smith, Chevy Camaro, 5.920, 243.99.

 

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

 

FINISHING ORDER (1-16):

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

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

PRO STOCK: 1.  Erica Enders-Stevens; 2.  Dave Connolly; 3.  Allen Johnson; 4.  Chris McGaha; 5.  Shane Gray; 6.  Jeg Coughlin; 7.  Jonathan Gray; 8.  Vincent Nobile; 9.  Jason Line; 10.  Greg Anderson; 11.  Rodger Brogdon; 12.  Shane Tucker; 13.  Larry Morgan; 14.  John Gaydosh Jr; 15.  Mark Hogan; 16.  Travis Mazza.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1.  Andrew Hines; 2.  Hector Arana; 3.  Adam Arana; 4.  Steve Johnson; 5.  Angie Smith; 6.  Jim Underdahl; 7.  Chaz Kennedy; 8.  Eddie Krawiec; 9.  Hector Arana Jr; 10.  Matt Smith; 11.  John Hall; 12.  Shawn Gann; 13.  Scotty Pollacheck; 14.  Elvira Karlsson; 15.  Michael Ray; 16.  Jerry Savoie.

PRO MODIFIED: 1.  Troy Coughlin; 2.  Von Smith; 3.  Rickie Smith; 4.  Pete Farber; 5.  Kevin Fiscus; 6.  Danny Rowe; 7.  Steve Matusek; 8.  Mike Janis; 9.  Eric Latino; 10.  Gary Capano; 11.  Bob Rahaim; 12.  Clint Satterfield; 13.  Bill Glidden; 14.  Mike Castellana; 15.  Kenny Lang; 16.  Steven Whiteley.

 

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FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL:

ROUND ONE — Tony Schumacher, 3.772, 328.06 def. Khalid alBalooshi, 3.786, 324.59; Steve Torrence, 3.780, 327.11 def. Larry Dixon, 3.801, 325.45; Pat Dakin, 3.829, 320.28 def. Bob Vandergriff, 4.159, 289.69; Shawn Langdon, 3.759, 324.44 def. Terry McMillen, 3.884, 325.22; Doug Kalitta, 3.752, 327.51 def. Richie Crampton, 3.779, 323.35; Antron Brown, 3.756, 324.67 def. Clay Millican, 4.038, 241.58; Troy Buff, 3.834, 312.50 def. J.R. Todd, 6.795, 96.38; Brittany Force, 3.753, 329.83 def. Spencer Massey, 3.778, 326.95;

QUARTERFINALS — Buff, 4.689, 190.27 def. Dakin, 11.648, 69.71; Brown, 3.824, 320.89 def. Torrence, 4.527, 186.67; Langdon, 3.786, 327.51 def. Force, 3.866, 305.56; Schumacher, 3.847, 317.42 def. Kalitta, 4.224, 236.26;

SEMIFINALS — Brown, 3.793, 320.89 def. Schumacher, 5.171, 144.41; Langdon, 9.866, 80.36 def. Buff, broke;

FINAL — Brown, 3.797, 318.84 def. Langdon, 4.982, 155.52.

 

FUNNY CAR:

ROUND ONE — Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 4.104, 315.19 def. Courtney Force, Ford Mustang, 4.439, 209.95; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.094, 311.77 def. Tony Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 4.258, 258.91; Del Worsham, Camry, 4.072, 317.64 def. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Solara, 4.295, 282.78; John Force, Mustang, 4.080, 317.72 def. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.199, 261.57; Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.059, 316.90 def. Jeff Arend, Charger, 11.685, 70.73; Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.167, 304.25 def. Robert Hight, Mustang, DQ; Chad Head, Camry, 4.075, 316.30 def. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.090, 309.77; Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.075, 315.49 def. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.145, 312.86;

QUARTERFINALS — C. Pedregon, 4.109, 307.58 def. Johnson Jr., 4.141, 312.06; Capps, 4.130, 309.42 def. Hagan, foul; Beckman, 4.181, 305.91 def. Worsham, 4.476, 226.01; J. Force, 4.217, 279.21 def. Head, 4.755, 181.76;

SEMIFINALS — Capps, 4.126, 311.34 def. Beckman, 4.169, 309.84; J. Force, 4.149, 290.88 def. C. Pedregon, 4.150, 306.53;

FINAL — J. Force, 4.113, 317.27 def. Capps, 4.135, 305.56.

 

PRO STOCK:

ROUND ONE — Jonathan Gray, Chevy Camaro, 6.619, 209.98 def. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.591, 210.83; Dave Connolly, Camaro, 6.590, 210.08 def. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.595, 210.64; Jeg Coughlin, Dodge Dart, 6.587, 210.47 def. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.603, 209.75; Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.590, 210.31 def. Shane Tucker, Camaro, 6.623, 209.82; Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.615, 209.79 def. John Gaydosh Jr, Pontiac GXP, 6.684, 207.62; Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.571, 211.10 def. Mark Hogan, GXP, 6.754, 205.88; Erica Enders-Stevens, Camaro, 6.570, 211.39 def. Travis Mazza, Ford Mustang, 12.297, 71.93; Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.589, 210.73 def. Larry Morgan, Mustang, 6.671, 209.30;

QUARTERFINALS — McGaha, 6.621, 209.52 def. Nobile, 7.026, 158.89; Johnson, 6.609, 209.92 def. Coughlin, 6.658, 209.17; Connolly, 6.607, 209.85 def. S. Gray, 6.597, 210.50; Enders-Stevens, 6.593, 211.06 def. J. Gray, 6.660, 209.33;

SEMIFINALS — Connolly, 6.883, 209.10 def. Johnson, 11.306, 81.45; Enders-Stevens, 6.601, 211.20 def. McGaha, 18.030, 46.32;

FINAL — Enders-Stevens, 6.632, 210.14 def. Connolly, 6.665, 207.56.

 

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE:

ROUND ONE — Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.985, 191.95 def. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 23.502, 24.78; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.896, 193.35 def. John Hall, Buell, 6.923, 191.46; Adam Arana, Buell, 6.913, 194.30 def. Matt Smith, Buell, 6.911, 193.96; Chaz Kennedy, Buell, 6.905, 192.14 def. Michael Ray, Buell, foul; Hector Arana, Buell, 6.958, 195.42 def. Shawn Gann, Buell, 6.926, 194.13; Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 6.905, 195.34 def. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.873, 196.13; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.897, 195.68 def. Elvira Karlsson, Suzuki, foul; Angie Smith, Buell, 6.910, 194.66 def. Scotty Pollacheck, Buell, 6.979, 192.77;

QUARTERFINALS — Johnson, 6.988, 191.43 def. A. Smith, 6.986, 192.11; H. Arana, 6.970, 194.49 def. Kennedy, foul; A. Arana, 7.006, 183.94 def. Krawiec, 7.041, 179.06; Hines, 6.892, 193.35 def. Underdahl, 7.000, 192.91;

SEMIFINALS — H. Arana, 6.894, 196.10 def. A. Arana, 6.960, 194.91; Hines, 6.950, 193.13 def. Johnson, 6.991, 191.46;

FINAL — Hines, 6.901, 193.96 def. H. Arana, 6.924, 195.53.

 

PRO MODIFIED:

ROUND ONE — Von Smith, Chevy Camaro, 5.923, 241.37 def. Bob Rahaim, Camaro, 5.972, 240.51; Steve Matusek, Camaro, 5.974, 245.90 def. Bill Glidden, Ford Mustang, 6.042, 230.33; Kevin Fiscus, Mustang, 5.932, 250.09 def. Clint Satterfield, Pontiac Firebird, 6.022, 242.02; Danny Rowe, Camaro, 5.907, 246.62 def. Kenny Lang, Camaro, 6.224, 196.59; Pete Farber, Dodge Daytona, 5.909, 247.75 def. Mike Castellana, Camaro, 6.045, 215.51; Mike Janis, Camaro, 5.983, 244.92 def. Gary Capano, Chevy Corvette, 5.966, 237.34; Troy Coughlin, Corvette, 5.952, 249.16 def. Eric Latino, Camaro, 5.933, 244.12; Rickie Smith, Camaro, 5.909, 246.57 def. Steven Whiteley, Camaro, 14.106, 76.42;

QUARTERFINALS — Coughlin, 5.950, 249.63 def. Janis, 6.599, 167.84; R. Smith, 5.918, 247.07 def. Fiscus, 5.916, 250.97; Farber, 5.974, 246.93 def. Matusek, 6.011, 244.16; V. Smith, 5.939, 241.24 def. Rowe, 5.929, 247.57;

SEMIFINALS — V. Smith, 5.911, 242.76 def. Farber, 8.541, 107.29; Coughlin, 5.940, 250.32 def. R. Smith, 5.946, 245.94;

FINAL — Coughlin, 5.940, 250.92 def. V. Smith, 5.920, 243.99.

 

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POINTS STANDINGS:

Top Fuel: 1.  Doug Kalitta, 1,130; 2.  Antron Brown, 1,082; 3.  Shawn Langdon, 938; 4.  Tony Schumacher, 785; 5.  Spencer Massey, 780; 6.  Steve Torrence, 747; 7.  Brittany Force, 690; 8.  Khalid alBalooshi, 652; 9.  Richie Crampton, 626; 10.  J.R. Todd, 593.

Funny Car: 1.  Robert Hight, 1,067; 2.  John Force, 889; 3.  Ron Capps, 846; 4.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 845; 5.  Alexis DeJoria, 779; 6.  Courtney Force, 764; 7.  Del Worsham, 748; 8.  Matt Hagan, 739; 9.  Cruz Pedregon, 726; 10.  Jack Beckman, 655.

Pro Stock: 1.  Erica Enders-Stevens, 1,166; 2.  Allen Johnson, 925; 3.  Jeg Coughlin, 900; 4.  Dave Connolly, 875; 5.  Jason Line, 863; 6.  Vincent Nobile, 840; 7.  Shane Gray, 833; 8.  Chris McGaha, 600; 9.  V. Gaines, 562; 10.  Jonathan Gray, 484.

Pro Stock Motorcycle: 1.  Andrew Hines, 650; 2.  Eddie Krawiec, 581; 3.  Hector Arana Jr, 515; 4.  Hector Arana, 416; 5.  John Hall, 407; 6.  Matt Smith, 394; 7.  Scotty Pollacheck, 375; 8.  Angie Smith, 352; 9.  Michael Ray, 333; 10.  Steve Johnson, 320.

Pro Modified: 1.  Rickie Smith, 414; 2.  Mike Janis, 403; 3.  Von Smith, 362; 4.  Mike Castellana, 359; 5.  Steve Matusek, 358; 6.  Danny Rowe, 353; 7.  Kevin Fiscus, 333; 8.  Pete Farber, 319; 9.  Troy Coughlin, 313; 10.  Steven Whiteley, 238.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

First taste of tantalizing new prototype battle set for Rolex 24

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No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson and No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R. Photo courtesy of IMSA
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The sports car world’s first race glimpse of the new Daytona Prototype international and new-for-2017 LMP2-spec chassis will come at this week’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, where months of testing for both type of cars will help determine who draws first blood out of the gate in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener.

A 12-car Prototype class grid features seven of the DPis, three Cadillac DPi-V.Rs, two Mazda RT24-Ps and two Nissan Onroak DPis, while the LMP2-spec cars include three Oreca 07s and a single Ligier JS P217 and Riley Mk. 30 chassis apiece. The LMP2-spec cars all have the spec Gibson engine while DPis allow manufacturers to run both their engine and designed bodywork over one of the four base chassis.

The last time a sea change this big came to the Rolex 24 occurred in 2003, with the debut of the first iteration Daytona Prototypes. The tube-framed chassis defined the future for the GRAND-AM Rolex Series, with a field of six at the first race growing to 30 just three years later in 2006.

Of course that first run in 2003 was always going to be littered with mechanical maladies and by the time the race was over, TRG had captured a shock but well-executed overall win with a GT class Porsche 911 GT3.

DPi PRIMER

The Cadillac and the Mazda edge ahead of the Nissan Onroak in terms of test miles prior to this year’s Rolex 24, and haven’t sacrificed performance in the process.

Ricky and Jordan Taylor. Photo courtesy of IMSA
Ricky and Jordan Taylor. Photo courtesy of IMSA

For Ricky and Jordan Taylor, who’ve shared the Konica Minolta-backed Corvette DP for Wayne Taylor Racing the last few years, the chance to develop a manufacturer-based DPi from scratch has provided them a new dose of experience to their burgeoning careers.

“Even compared to the P2 car I drove in Le Mans (an open-top Morgan Judd) in 2014, this is a totally different planet,” Ricky Taylor told NBC Sports. “It’s such a huge evolution from P2 cars in the past. It’ll likely take a season to get up to speed and how it responds to changes, how it drives, lot of learning curves. How stiff the car it is, how responsive. The power is nice obviously. It’s been a pleasure to drive.

“(Dallara’s) main department is the aero department. So with all the work they do being aero driven in P1, F3, GP2, F1, IndyCar… everything is so aero driven. With their body, it can stand out what they can do.”

These two share the No. 10 Cadillac for Wayne Taylor Racing with Max Angelelli, who was instrumental in working with Dallara throughout the design and test process, and a certain fourth driver who may generate some buzz this Rolex 24 in Jeff Gordon.

At Action Express Racing, meanwhile, defending IMSA Prototype champions Dane Cameron and Eric Curran have their first new car to develop in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering/Team Fox Cadillac. Christian Fittipaldi and Joao Barbosa, in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac, have driven a bevy of prototypes throughout their career.

Yet it might be their extra drivers – Filipe Albuquerque (No. 5) and Mike Conway (No. 31) – who add the most help to the full-season duos at the Rolex. Both have raced full-time in the FIA World Endurance Championship and have raced both LMP1 and LMP2-spec cars, with Albuquerque (Audi) and Conway (Toyota) having had the chance to make their mark understanding how those cars work.

Conway, who along with Sunoco Challenge winner Seb Morris make their Rolex 24 debuts as extras in the No. 31 car, described how this Cadillac drives compared to the LMP1 Toyota he races full-time and the LMP2-spec Oreca 03 and Oreca 05s he’s raced in the past. As you’d expect, the DPi seems to fit well between the two.

“I’ve not done loads of laps, but enough to learn the track and car,” Conway told NBC Sports. “It’s an LMP2 car with more power really, so I knew what to expect. It’s more just learning the tires.”

At Mazda, the RT24-Ps have the base Riley Multimatic chassis with the Mazda-designed aero styling as the bodywork. Speed gaps from the December test were erased at the Roar and the Mazda actually topped the speed traps there, with Jonathan Bomarito in at over 197 mph.

Tom Long and his Long Road Racing team/family have been integral parts of Mazda’s development work over the years, mainly in the MX-5 platform including the new Global MX-5 Cup car which premiered last year. Although the platform is new, Long hailed Mazda’s aspects of continuity for its new car.

No. 70 Mazda RT24-P. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 70 Mazda RT24-P. Photo courtesy of IMSA

“It helps that we have the same engine package as before, so we do have that on our side,” said Long, who will share the No. 70 Castrol Edge Machine Gray Mazda with Joel Miller and James Hinchcliffe. “Having that continuity between the driver lineup, crew chiefs and engineers helps so much. We learn together; we’re already ahead in that standpoint. That’s the Mazda mantra to never stop challenging. We’ll push forward.”

The Mazdas fought through suspension issues at the Roar but will look to press on for the rest of the month. The No. 70 is Mazda’s Chassis 1 while the No. 55 Soul Red Mazda, driven by Bomarito, Tristan Nunez and Spencer Pigot, is the Chassis 3. The lone base Riley Mk. 30, an LMP2-spec car, is entered by VISIT FLORIDA Racing, with Renger van der Zande, Marc Goossens and Rene Rast sharing the No. 90 Gibson-powered entry.

The new Nissan premiered publicly in December. Despite the car’s outward appearance looking similar, save for the GT-R inspired nose assembly, more is different under the bodywork to clearly differentiate it from the Ligier JS P217 base chassis.

No. 2 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPi. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 2 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPi. Photo courtesy of IMSA

“The car carryover is actually nothing from last year,” Ryan Dalziel, co-driver of the No. 2 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan with Scott Sharp and Pipo Derani, explained. “It’s new regulations and the ’16 Ligier was obviously based on the ’14 rules. So we were one of the few cars in P2 not built with a narrow tub.

“Everything is new, from the suspension and the like. Really no carryover parts. Between the WEC-spec and our spec there’s a massive difference in powerplants. The differential, rear end, driveshafts; basically the whole rear end is mechanically different. Add in the different routing on the sidepods, which is a lot of the reason why the sidepods are different. It’s not so much styling cues as intercoolers, but radiators for the turbo motor. That said, it still feels fundamentally like the previous Ligier and it means they’re using what they’ve learned.”

That No. 2 car is alongside the team’s sister car, the No. 22 entry, driven by Ed Brown, Johannes van Overbeek, Bruno Senna and Brendon Hartley.

LMP2 PRIMER

No. 81 DragonSpeed Oreca 07 and No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier JS P217. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 81 DragonSpeed Oreca 07 and No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier JS P217. Photo courtesy of IMSA

The base Ligier is the progression from the Ligier JS P2, which in its third year in 2016 had a banner campaign winning at Daytona and Sebring with ESM, and Petit Le Mans with Michael Shank Racing. The Ligier was unlucky to have not won at Le Mans in three tries.

Ethan Bregman, North American Market Manager, Onroak, explained the design and test process for one of the four new LMP2 chassis for 2017, the new Ligier.

“I believe for us, our aero work is an advantage,” he told NBC Sports at the Performance Racing Industry Trade Show in December. “Our worry was (DPi) manufacturer styling could slow the cars down. We’ve done 2000-plus runs in wind tunnel, plus CFD, so there’s been huge amount of time optimizing this car.

“Compared to the DPi model, the P2 cars will remain the baseline with the spec-Gibson (engine) and the DPis BoP’d to match. The DPis are great structure for manufacturer involvement. They can put their branding behind it. But at same time, a privateer can get a P2 and have it competitive, because they’re there.”

The lone privateer Ligier entry comes in the capable hands of PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports, which steps up from PC into Prototype this year. Bobby Oergel’s team knows how to win endurance races, having captured Daytona, Sebring and Petit Le Mans in recent years, and has a sneaky good lineup assembled with Tom Kimber-Smith, Jose Gutierrez, Michael Guasch and sports car debutante RC Enerson.

That saves Oreca for last, although their pace at the Roar should have put them much higher. Three teams are running the Oreca 07, in full-season entrants JDC/Miller Motorsports (Stephen Simpson, Misha Goikhberg, Chris Miller, Mathias Beche) and partial season teams Rebellion Racing (Neel Jani, Nick Heidfeld, Sebastien Buemi, Stephane Sarrazin) and DragonSpeed (Ben Hanley, Nicolas Lapierre, Loic Duval, Henrik Hedman), the latter two teams having led all but one of the Roar sessions.

As the logical evolution from the previous generation Oreca 05, the new Oreca is quick out of the box and well-honed in development. Jani delivered good first impressions.

“To be honest, I’m not reading too much into it yet. We’ve just been focusing on getting to know the car – it’s completely new,” he said, via IMSA, at the Roar. “Working with the team’s engineers, we’ve made a lot of changes on the car. There’s still some room to improve, but that’s normal. But I don’t think everyone else is really showing what they can do. The main thing for us was working on reliability, and so far it’s great – knock on wood.”

The technical variations in all six car combinations are part of the allure and draw for the race, and the intrigue in wondering which car and team will nail the combination of pace, performance, patience and reliability makes this year’s prototype battle a fascinating one to watch.

Vettel rides solo en route to ROC Nations Cup win for Team Germany

ROC Nations Cup finalists Team USA NASCAR, Kurt Busch (USA) and Kyle Busch (USA) with ROC Nations Cup winner Team Germany Sebastian Vettel (GER) during the ROC Nations Cup on Sunday 22 January 2017 at Marlins Park, Miami, Florida, USA
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Four-time Formula 1 world champion Sebastian Vettel led Team Germany to its seventh Nations Cup victory at the Race of Champions on Sunday in Miami, picking up his first major honor of the 2017 racing season.

Vettel saw his individual Race of Champions title defence end in the group stage on Saturday as IndyCar star Juan Pablo Montoya took a shock victory on debut.

Vettel had never previously appeared at the Race of Champions without winning one of the two titles on offer, having claimed six straight Nations Cup wins alongside Michael Schumacher between 2007 and 2012.

Following a frightening crash in Saturday’s event, Sauber F1 racer Pascal Wehrlein was forced to withdraw from the event, leaving Vettel to represent Team Germany alone on Sunday.

However, the Ferrari driver made the most of the opportunity, winning all eight of his match-ups en route to an unlikely victory.

Vettel topped Group B after beating Tom Kristensen, Petter Solberg, Jenson Button and David Coulthard, sending Team Nordic and Team GB – the latter out to defend its teams’ title – home in the group stage.

Vettel faced off against Team Colombia in the semi-finals, facing Saturday winner Montoya and coming out on top. The German completed a 2-0 victory after easing past Gabby Chaves in the second heat.

The nature of the draw guaranteed either Team USA or Team Canada would reach the final, with three American teams featuring in Group A. Team USA IndyCar and Team USA NASCAR both made it through, the former courtesy of a last-ditch victory for Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi.

Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay faced off against NASCAR brothers Kurt and Kyle Busch, with the match tied at 1-1 ahead of the decider. Kurt Busch appeared to jump the start, moving into a lead that remained to the checkered flag, securing Team USA NASCAR a place in the final in a controversial manner.

Vettel managed to see off Kurt Busch in the first heat of the final, but a loss in revs gave Kyle Busch an advantage off the line in the second match-up. However, Vettel was able to claw it back and cross the line ahead, wrapping up a 2-0 victory and Germany’s seventh Nations Cup win.

“I had a better day than yesterday,” Vettel said. “It’s a bit of a shame that Pascal is missing, but I did my best.

“In the last round against Kyle I was really nervous. The car nearly stalled. But then I came back so really, really happy.”

Nico Rosberg: More to life than driving around in circles

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 27:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP celebrates finishing second on the podium and winning the World Drivers Championship during the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Nico Rosberg says there is more to life than “driving around in circles” after retiring from Formula 1 at the end of last season.

Rosberg clinched his maiden F1 drivers’ title in Abu Dhabi at the end of November before sensationally announcing his immediate retirement from racing five days later.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this week, Rosberg opened up on his decision to call it quits.

“To do sport at the highest level, it is really 110 per cent focus that is required and there is no room for any compromise whatsoever,” Rosberg said.

“Everything else is secondary and far behind, and that’s even family. I have a one-and-a-half-year-old daughter now. Friends and any other fun or exciting projects – everything is way, way behind.

“So, there’s a time for everything and I find that life has more to offer than driving around in circles and it just felt like the right moment. I want to go for new challenges.

“Of course, there is the side now of having more time for family, more time for friends and being in control of my own life as well.

“For the last 21 years of racing, even starting as a 10-year-old, the whole season is planned by other people, telling you where you need to be and especially in F1 – it’s really, really intense. And now all of a sudden I have this complete freedom.”

Rosberg said that he plans to spend some time focusing on charity work, particularly helping children.

“One of the avenues that I want to go down is to give something back, find something that really touches my heart,” Rosberg said.

“Now I have the time, I’m going to go exploring different avenues. I’m going to go to Germany and visit children who are quite ill, especially of the age of children who are really happy to see me.

“I would really like to go and see them at the age where I can give them a great time.”

Pascal Wehrlein withdraws from ROC Nations Cup on medical grounds

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 22:  Pascal Wehrlein of Germany and Manor Racing walks in the Pitlane during qualifying for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 22, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Sauber Formula 1 racer Pascal Wehrlein will take no part in Sunday’s Race of Champions Nations Cup in Miami after being withdrawn on medical grounds.

Wehrlein sustained a frightening crash during Saturday’s ‘Champion of Champions’ event, rolling his KTM X-Bow with a passenger inside after crossing the line during a heat against Felipe Massa.

Both Wehrlein and the passenger escaped unhurt, but the Race of Champions organizers confirmed on Sunday that the German would not be racing on Sunday as a precaution.

“I’m very sorry to withdraw from today’s ROC Nations Cup. I’d really like to race again and I feel fine, but the doctors have advised me to rest so of course I will take their advice,” Wehrlein said.

“It’s no more than mild discomfort but my real priority for the coming year is my Formula 1 season. So while I’m sad to be missing out on all the action, I send my best wishes to my team-mate Sebastian Vettel and the rest of the competitors here in Miami and I wish them another exciting day’s racing.”

Event officials are yet to confirm who – if anyone – will replace Wehrlein in Team Germany’s line-up.

The Race of Champions Nations Cup takes place later today at the Marlins Park in Miami.