John Force, 65, sets both ends of track Funny Car record during qualifying at Bandimere

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John Force may have turned 65 two months ago, but he’s still driving a race car like a 30-year-old.

The 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion recorded the quickest and fastest Funny Car run in Bandimere Speedway history on Friday during the first two days of qualifying for the Mopar Mile-High Nationals.

Force covered the 1,000-foot drag strip in Morrison, Colorado, a suburb of Denver, in 4.049 seconds at 318.39 mph, making him the provisional No. 1 qualifier heading into Saturday’s two other rounds of qualifying. If Force’s run holds up during Saturday’s two rounds, it will be his fifth No. 1 qualifier at Bandimere and his third this season.

“With the new cooling system here at Bandimere Speedway, it just gave us confidence early,” Force said in an NHRA media release. “I think everybody was programmed how to run today. We stepped up and started getting there.”

Funny Car points leader Robert Hight, Force’s teammate, is second at 4.055 seconds and 313.15 mph. Tim Wilkerson is third (4.071 at 310.77), followed by last year’s Funny Car winner Cruz Pedregon (4.078 at 304.80).

In Top Fuel, seven-time world champ Tony Schumacher drove his dragster to the top of the heap with a run of 3.823 seconds (track record) at 319.75 mph.  Schumacher is seeking his 73rd career No. 1 qualifying position, as well as his first of this season and first-ever No. 1 at Bandimere.

“We’ve won here a few times, we just haven’t qualified No. 1,” Schumacher said. “I think you really have to find your niche. This is a tough place. It’s a different combination for up here on the mountain.”

Steve Torrence was the provisional No. 2 qualifier in Top Fuel (3.831 at 322.96) while former champ Larry Dixon is third (3.848 at 315.64).

In Pro Stock, Allen Johnson ended the day No. 1, recording a pass of 6.972 seconds at 198.90 mph (track record). Johnson is seeking his fourth No. 1 of the season and fifth in a row at Bandimere, where he has won the Pro Stock category each of the last two seasons.

“When it’s your sponsor’s race you have to step up and do it,” Johnson said. “We’ve really worked our tails off at this track, testing over the years, and trying to come up with a package that is superior, so we can impress all the Mopar and Chrysler executives who come out to see us. We want to put that 50th anniversary Hemi into the winner’s circle on Sunday.”

Lastly, in Pro Stock Motorcycle, Hector Arana Jr. continued his current hot streak, taking the provisional pole with a run of 7.178 seconds (track record) at 185.97 mph. Arana will earn his first pole of the season if he can hold on to the top spot in his category in Saturday’s other two rounds of qualifying.

“The motor is running really strong,” Arana said. “The combination just all came together. Hopefully, we can keep this momentum we have here on the mountain and seal the deal finally. The track is awesome. It’s consistent and I love the scenery. I love to come out here.”

The final two qualifying sessions are Saturday at 3:15 p.m. and 5:45 p.m. (Mountain time). Sunday’s eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. MT.

 

Here are the results from the first two rounds of qualifying Friday for the 35th annual Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway:

Top Fuel — 1. Tony Schumacher, 3.823 seconds, 319.75 mph; 2. Steve Torrence, 3.831, 322.96; 3. Larry Dixon, 3.848, 315.64; 4. Bob Vandergriff, 3.861, 316.82; 5. Shawn Langdon, 3.868, 315.34; 6. Antron Brown, 3.881, 310.63; 7. Khalid alBalooshi, 3.893, 312.86; 8. Brittany Force, 3.902, 314.02; 9. J.R. Todd, 3.925, 307.09; 10. Terry McMillen, 3.940, 314.31; 11. Doug Kalitta, 3.967, 297.42; 12. Spencer Massey, 4.181, 217.46.  Not Qualified: 13. Richie Crampton, 4.269, 213.03; 14. Steven Chrisman, 4.286, 243.24; 15. Jenna Haddock, 5.322, 133.09; 16. Clay Millican, 5.380, 136.34.

Funny Car — 1. John Force, Ford Mustang, 4.049, 318.39; 2. Robert Hight, Mustang, 4.055, 313.15; 3. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.071, 310.77; 4. Cruz Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 4.078, 304.80; 5. Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 4.087, 311.92; 6. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.102, 308.21; 7. Courtney Force, Mustang, 4.111, 312.42; 8. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.111, 300.73; 9. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.113, 301.81; 10. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.151, 302.75; 11. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.153, 304.32; 12. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.164, 304.39.  Not Qualified: 13. Jeff Diehl, 4.263, 283.79; 14. Todd Simpson, 7.537, 83.62; 15. Tony Pedregon, 8.494, 67.44.

Pro Stock — 1. Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.928, 198.90; 2. Jason Line, Chevy Camaro, 6.929, 197.97; 3. Erica Enders-Stevens, Camaro, 6.934, 198.55; 4. V. Gaines, Dart, 6.944, 198.15; 5. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.949, 197.65; 6. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.972, 197.68; 7. Dave Connolly, Camaro, 6.979, 196.90; 8. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.982, 197.62; 9. Matt Hartford, Dodge Avenger, 6.984, 197.31; 10. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.984, 197.10; 11. Deric Kramer, Avenger, 6.993, 196.87; 12. Larry Morgan, Ford Mustang, 7.019, 196.16.  Not Qualified: 13. Jeg Coughlin, 7.024, 197.02; 14. Jonathan Gray, 7.056, 197.05; 15. Tommy Lee, 7.100, 194.30; 16. Steve Kalkowski, 7.201, 190.22.

Pro Stock Motorcycle — 1. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 7.178, 186.72; 2. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 7.198, 185.51; 3. Shawn Gann, Buell, 7.230, 184.88; 4. Michael Ray, Buell, 7.234, 184.90; 5. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 7.250, 184.88; 6. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 7.251, 183.24; 7. Matt Smith, Buell, 7.263, 183.34; 8. Hector Arana, Buell, 7.270, 185.28; 9. Chaz Kennedy, Buell, 7.297, 183.32; 10. Mike Berry, Buell, 7.299, 181.86; 11. Scotty Pollacheck, Buell, 7.301, 184.35; 12. Adam Arana, Buell, 7.337, 182.53.  Not Qualified: 13. John Hall, 7.405, 179.61; 14. Angie Smith, 7.406, 181.57; 15. Freddie Camarena, 7.448, 182.80; 16. James Surber, 7.520, 176.49; 17. Charles Sullivan, 7.534, 175.57; 18. Steve Johnson, 7.682, 148.58.

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Merhi confirmed for WEC return with Manor at the Nürburgring

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CEFC Manor TRS Racing has confirmed that Roberto Merhi will return to the FIA World Endurance Championship for next month’s 6 Hours of Nürburgring, replacing Jean-Eric Vergne.

Merhi previously raced for Manor in both Formula 1 and the WEC, making his most recent appearance with the British marque at last November’s 6 Hours of Bahrain.

Merhi’s last racing outing came in the Formula 2 double-header in Spain and has flirted with a move into Formula E, but was confirmed on Wednesday to be making his racing return at the Nürburgring on July 16.

Merhi will deputize for Vergne in the No. 24 Oreca 07 Gibson while the Frenchman is in New York for the city’s inaugural Formula E event.

FIA to re-examine Vettel/Hamilton Baku clash

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The FIA has confirmed that it will re-examine the clash between Formula 1 title rivals Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton in Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix to see if further action is warranted.

Vettel and Hamilton made contact twice behind the safety car in Baku, with the second incident deemed to be an act of dangerous driving on Vettel’s part.

The FIA stewards in Baku handed Vettel a 10-second stop/go penalty for the clash – the harshest available penalty besides disqualification – but faced calls to issue a stricter punishment post race.

Hamilton said that the incident set a dangerous precedent for F1 and wider motorsport, but Vettel believed his rival deserved a penalty for allegedly brake testing him.

On Wednesday, the FIA confirmed that it would be re-examining the incident in a meeting on July 3, with a verdict set to be delivered ahead of the Austrian Grand Prix.

More to follow.

Wickens not interested in full-time IndyCar switch despite practice run

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Robert Wickens is not interested in making a full-time switch to the Verizon IndyCar Series in the near future despite his practice run-out at Road America last weekend for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

Mercedes DTM driver Wickens was called up for Friday practice at the KOHLER Grand Prix in the No. 7 Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda after Mikhail Aleshin was unable to make it in time due to immigration issues.

Aleshin was able to return to the United States in time for Saturday’s final practice and qualifying at Road America, with Wickens stepping back down.

The Canadian got his first taste of an Indy car in a car swap with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe in March, paving the way for his practice appearance at Road America.

However, Wickens is not looking to make a full-time move over to IndyCar anytime soon despite enjoying his run-out, with his focus lying with DTM.

“Not really, to be honest,” Wickens said when asked if IndyCar was something he would like to move into in Mercedes’ ‘Tales from the Paddock’ press newsletter.

“I just want to race cars. That’s the main thing. I have no urge to leave the DTM at the moment.

“Everything is going well, and I’m really happy with Mercedes.”

Wickens also went into detail about how rapidly things moved with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, having only been told the day before practice that he was required for the running.

“I planned on having a relaxing weekend at home, but on Thursday afternoon I got a call from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, which is the team that we did the ride swap with involving James Hinchcliffe back in April,” Wickens said.

“They asked if I could go to Road America and fill in for Mikhail Aleshin who had immigration issues. Fortunately, Toto [Wolff] was happy for me to do it and I was able to jump on a plane and get to Wisconsin.

“We didn’t get to the hotel until about 10pm on Thursday, and Free Practice 1 was on Friday morning very early. It took some getting used to.

“The practice itself was fun. The track was really good. It would be amazing to have a DTM race there one day.

“I definitely wanted to do the full weekend, but the full-time driver got his immigration stuff sorted and he made it to the race track by Friday night. My duties were finished, but it was still a really fun Friday.”

Force India’s Celis gets FP1 appearances in Austria, Hungary

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Force India youngster Alfonso Celis Jr. will make his first Formula 1 race weekend appearances of the season next month, taking part in first practice for the grands prix in Austria and Hungary.

Celis, 20, joined Force India as a development driver ahead of the 2016 season, enjoying six FP1 run-outs across the course of the year.

The Mexican driver returned for 2017, taking part in pre-season testing and the running following the Bahrain Grand Prix in April.

Force India confirmed on Wednesday that Celis will return for FP1 in Austria next week, before also featuring in practice in Hungary at the end of July.