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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Force India F1 to race with pink ribbon for Breast Cancer Care

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Force India has announced the start of a multi-year partnership with the Breast Cancer Care charity that will see its Formula 1 cars race with a pink ribbon, starting at this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix.

Force India turned its cars pink for the 2017 season after striking a sponsorship agreement with BWT, and will now incorporate the pink ribbon – the global symbol for breast cancer – into its livery.

As per the team, “the focus races will be Monaco, Montreal, Silverstone, Austin and Mexico City where the Breast Cancer Care and pink ribbon will be positioned on the top of the chassis.”

“Our cars turning pink created a lot of positive buzz and it’s a pleasure to be able to harness this feeling to raise awareness for such an important cause and charity,” Force India team principal Dr. Vijay Mallya said.

“We are proud to be working with Breast Cancer Care to bring their work into the spotlight and take advantage of Formula 1’s global reach to improve the lives of everyone affected, directly and indirectly, by breast cancer.”

Andy Harris, director of fundraising and marketing at Breast Cancer Care, added: “Today we are announcing an exciting new partnership with Sahara Force India – and we couldn’t be more delighted.

“Together our goal is to reach more people affected by breast cancer faster. Force India is committed to working with Breast Cancer Care to help achieve our ambition of doubling the number of men and women we support by 2020.

“We want to make sure everyone affected by this life-threatening disease gets the care and support they need to help them through one of the most difficult challenges they could ever face.”

Alonso, Rossi visit NASCAR AMERICA as part of New York media day (VIDEO)

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The defending Indianapolis 500 champion and the driver who’s generated most of the headlines around this year’s 101st running included NBCSN’s NASCAR AMERICA as part of their New York media tour.

Alexander Rossi and Fernando Alonso joined the show this evening. Rossi, driver of the No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda will start third and Alonso, driver of the No. 29 McLaren-Honda-Andretti Honda, will roll off from fifth.

The race airs Sunday at 11 a.m. ET on ABC. NBCSN’s coverage of Carb Day is live on Friday from 11 a.m. ET.

 

Indy 500 media day roundup

Photo: IndyCar
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Tuesday marked a busy day for the drivers that make up the field for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. While there was no on-track activity, and won’t be again until Miller Lite Carb Day (5/26 at 11:00 a.m. on NBCSN), the field of 33 were scattered around the country doing a bevy of appearances in the lead up to Sunday’s race. Below is a list drivers and the places they visited.

Bristol, Connecticut/ESPN: James Hinchcliffe
Buffalo: Graham Rahal
Charlotte: Will Power
Chicago: Juan Pablo Montoya
Columbus: Mikhail Aleshin
Dallas-Fort Worth: Tony Kanaan
Dayton: Jack Harvey, Zach Veach
Denver: Buddy Lazier
Detroit: Carlos Munoz, Simon Pagenaud, Spencer Pigot
Fort Wayne: Jay Howard, James Davison
Houston: Helio Castroneves
Louisville: Pippa Mann, Ed Jones
Miami-Fort Lauderdale: Oriol Servia, Gabby Chaves, Sebastian Saavedra
Milwaukee: Max Chilton, Charlie Kimball
New York: Alexander Rossi, Conor Daly, Fernando Alonso
Philadelphia: Marco Andretti, Sage Karam
St. Louis: Ed Carpenter, Takuma Sato
San Francisco: JR Hildebrand
Tampa-St. Petersburg: Ryan Hunter-Reay
Toronto: Scott Dixon
Washington: Josef Newgarden

It was a day that began early for all drivers, particularly those in transit. However, drivers like Fernando Alonso, Alexander Rossi, and Conor Daly got a jump on their travels last night.

Meanwhile, Oriol Servia, Sebastian Saavedra, and Gabby Chaves flew out early this morning. Servia used the travel to get in some much needed rest ahead of the busy day.

Unsurprisingly, the driver most in demand was Fernando Alonso, who spoke with such outlets as CNN and Sports Illustrated, among others.

Conor Daly, meanwhile, had a unique run-in with professional wrestling star Ric Flair.

Last year’s pole sitter, James Hinchcliffe, kept himself busy with a visit to ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut. He also spent time at their Los Angeles location ahead of this year’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, a race in which he won.

And not all of the appearances were within the United States. Polesitter Scott Dixon ventured north of the border to Toronto for his media blitz.

Ryan Hunter-Reay, on the other hand, ventured closer to home, as the Florida native spent his day in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area.

 

Some drivers even got a little racing in. For example, Pippa Mann enjoyed an arm chair race (which she won) during her stop in Louisville.

Rossi and Alonso, however, kept their racing in the virtual world.

Perhaps the most interesting activity, however, was reserved for Ed Jones. Before joining teammate Pippa Mann in Louisville, Jones joined Zach Veach and Jack Harvey at American Dairy Association Indiana, where Jones was afforded the chance to milk a cow.

A full rundown of events can be seen via the Verizon IndyCar Series twitter.

 

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Alberico living up to ‘Rising Star’ name in solid start to second year

Alberico and Hale. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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INDIANAPOLIS – There’s something about Neil Alberico in his second year in a Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires series that brings out the best for the 24-year-old out of Los Gatos, Calif. who now lives in San Clemente.

Alberico, the Rising Star Racing-supported driver, always seems to improve in year two and has done so throughout his now six years in the MRTI.

In the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, Alberico switched from JDC Motorsports as a rookie to Cape Motorsports as a sophomore from 2012 to 2013. He improved from seventh in points to second, and won six races that second year.

The same story applied on the next rung in Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, although he stayed with Cape for both seasons. Third without a win in 2014 ceded to four wins and second place in 2015.

Arguably the best driver who has not yet won a championship in those series, Alberico has positioned himself nicely for the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires title this year as Carlin’s emerging lead driver following a solid first few weekends of the year, as he now seeks his first win in Indy Lights to keep the career trend going.

Entering Friday’s Freedom 100, the marquee race of the Indy Lights season (live, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN), Alberico has opened his 2017 account in the No. 22 Dallara IL-15 Mazda with two thirds, two fourths and a sixth place thus far in six races. He sits fourth in points with 103, 36 back of points leader and fellow Californian Kyle Kaiser. For reference, persistent and continual mechanical issues and engine changes stunted a miserable debut season in 2016, and Alberico only had two top-six finishes all season, and left him 11th in points.

Now though Alberico has ascended to the team leader role at the Trevor Carlin-owned, Colin Hale-managed squad. He drives alongside Zachary Claman De Melo, who switched from Juncos Racing, and rookies Matheus Leist and Garth Rickards. All but Rickards have at least one podium this season as the new-look lineup finds its footing.

“Playing the leadership role in a team, I’m used to it,” Alberico told NBC Sports. “I’m comfortable doing what I can do. And that’s your job as a teammate. You have to be fast yourself, but there’s driver and team championships that exist – and we want to win them both.”

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Alberico credits a healthy offseason program where he undertook a lot of private testing and a year’s worth experience both in these cars and with a team that has led to his growth. He also feels more comfortable with the Indy Lights-specification of Cooper Tires, as he struggled to maximize their pace on an optimal lap in qualifying last year.

“Every year you adapt to new challenges as a driver. Last year as a rookie the tire was a big part of that challenge that I needed to learn,” he said. “But it’s now gone more to my favor – or more what I’m used to.

“Going into the offseason, it’s been nice to have a lot of private test time. When you have a private test, there’s driving stuff you can work on, being good on cold tires, or having new tires to work on. It’s the small little details. When you have private time to work on yourself, that’s the most productive.”

While Alberico is serious about the task at hand, he’s not afraid to have fun and laugh it off at the track. That humor involves his engineer, Geoff Fickling, team manager, Hale, and his supporters in Rising Star Racing.

Alberico and Fickling, a renowned and championship-winning engineer in multiple rungs of the MRTI (Ed Jones with Carlin last year and Gabby Chaves with Belardi in 2014 in Indy Lights, plus Jack Hawksworth with Pelfrey in 2012 in Pro Mazda), live not far apart in San Clemente, and at times, almost spend too much time together.

Alberico and Fickling. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

“Geoff and I get along great on a personal level. But sometimes he hates when I’m at his house looking for data – he’s gotta be like, ‘I want to get away, and I can’t get away from my driver!’” Alberico laughed. “But he’s very thorough. He’ll go the extra mile to teach me more what I need to learn.”

Alberico has also started making his Instagram videos must-see-content for the rather hilarious interaction between the laid-back Californian and the focused, often intently serious Hale, who has made Carlin a championship-winner in Indy Lights in just its second season. There’s a confidence Alberico has in providing humor here that may not have existed last year given the struggles that were out of his, or the team’s control.

And then there’s the fact Alberico was the one responsible for bringing in the most out-of-left-field IndyCar sponsor this year, which was awesome, in Loki the Wolfdog. We’ll let Neil take it from here…

“Rising Star Racing is, for those that don’t know, such an awesome initiative through MRTI into IndyCar,” Alberico said. “Spencer Pigot and I have been part of that program, which does a lot for young drivers.

“The Loki deal is just basically a friend of mine with a really famous Instagram dog. Social media has become a huge part of the sport the last several years, and I think sponsor and teams need to adapt at those times.”

Loki was on site at Long Beach and met Pigot there for the first time, thanks to the connection between the Rising Star Racing teammates. It’s not been the only partner Alberico has brought in; Laguna Beach-based modern drug addiction and alcoholism treatment center Oceanfront Recovery is on both Alberico’s Indy Lights car and Pigot’s No. 11 Juncos Racing Chevrolet in the Indianapolis 500.

Pigot and Alberico have been Art Wilmes’ two “primary” drivers for RSR over the years, but not the only ones RSR has supported.

Pigot, Loki the Wolfdog, and “Squad” over their shoulder. Go figure. Photo: IndyCar

There’s others such as last year’s Pro Mazda champion, Indy Lights rookie Aaron Telitz (who actually won on his debut at St. Petersburg and has been overlooked from a media perspective) and another MRTI veteran Jake Eidson in the RSR roster. RSR is set to formally add Oliver Askew, who’s off to a stellar start in USF2000, rather soon.

Telitz (center), Herta (left) and Alberico (right) made it an all-American podium at St. Pete. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

As Alberico heads to the Freedom 100 this weekend, he’s got the continuity from a team and engineering standpoint, and determined to secure his breakthrough win in a year when Telitz, Colton Herta and Nico Jamin have all become Indy Lights race winners.

“I like staying with the same team. When you gel with team mechanics, engineers, you don’t want to go through the new process again,” Alberico said. “That’s why you do better in your second year, and in the third year even more so.

“At the IndyCar level it’s about those 10-plus year relationships – and that’s hard to create as a rookie! So you have to learn and adapt with those with 10-year relationships.

“Here, the wind is a bigger factor. But we have the race lap record! We’re not slow. We like this place. Let’s put ourselves in position to win the race.”

Alberico, who mentioned the wind there, also had the chance to play weatherman for the local CBS affiliate (WTTV-4) here in Indianapolis last week. And that provided him and Telitz a chance to provide some competitive banter beyond what they’ve done on track.