Robert Hight, foreground, defeated father-in-law and boss John Force in the finals of Sunday's NHRA Mopar Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway. (Photo courtesy NHRA)

NHRA finals at Bandimere: Robert Hight over John Force in Funny Car, J.R. Todd wins first Top Fuel race since 2008

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If you’re an NHRA Funny Car fan and weren’t able to attend in person, suffice to say it was a heck of a battle in Sunday’s finals of the Mopar Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway in suburban Denver.

John Force started the fight by earning the pole, but teammate and John Force Racing president Robert Hight finished the confrontation with his boss and father-in-law, earning his fifth win of the season and 34th of his career.

In his first final-round appearance in the last seven races, Hight roared down the mile-high drag strip with a winning time of 4.166 seconds at 306.05 mph. Force slowed to finish runner-up (5.953 seconds at 121.42 mph).

“We were doing well (earlier this season with five wins) and then we had some bad luck,” said Hight, the 2012 NHRA Funny Car champion. “But even when we were winning we were getting some luck.

“In 2012 I won four races to start the season then it took another year to get another win. Stuff like that was crossing my mind because it isn’t easy to win out here.”

Hight also became the first Funny Car driver to clinch a spot in the Top 10 for the Countdown to the Championship.

“I’m looking forward to the Countdown; we’re solidified in there now,” Hight said. “This car and this whole team is perfection. That’s what we’re all about and we want to show it.

“We came out with a brand new car this weekend. Usually new cars drive me crazy because everything in them is different. But, my guys are so good, if they hadn’t told me, I wouldn’t have known it was a new car.”

In Top Fuel, J.R. Todd earned his first win since 2008, defeating Brittany Force – John’s daughter and Hight’s sister-in-law – in a close final-round battle.

In earning his second career victory at Bandimere (the other came in 2006), Todd covered the 1,000-foot track in 3.878 seconds (at 317.87 mph) to Brittany Force’s run of 3.968 seconds at 297.35 mph.

Todd returned to the Top Fuel ranks earlier this season at Gainseville, Florida, after being unable to secure a ride or sponsor heading into the 2014 campaign.

“These things are hard to come by whether you are full-time or part-time,” Todd said. “I knew at the time I got the opportunity to drive for the Kalitta group it was probably the best opportunity I was ever going to have to win one of these things.”

Even with missing the first few races on the schedule, Todd is up to eighth in the Top Fuel standings with just four races left to secure his spot in the Top 10 for the Countdown to the Championship, which begins in September at Charlotte, North Carolina.

“I’m pretty solid (in the Countdown field) now but I want a cushion,” Todd said. “I want to make the Countdown because after that, anything can happen. We were fortunate enough to put a little distance on the guys behind us and gain on the ones in front of us.”

In Pro Stock, Allen Johnson earned his fourth win of the season, as well as his third straight triumph and sixth of his career at Bandimere, defeating teammate Jeg Coughlin (fouled at the starting line) in the final round.

Johnson, who covered the track in 6.930 seconds at 198.61 mph, made his eighth consecutive final round showing at Bandimere. He is now tied with points leader Erica Enders-Stevens with four wins each this season.

“This team just continues to find a way to do it,” Johnson said. “We want to win here for Mopar. My guys step up, I step up when I need to. It is just a confidence thing, it’s a want to thing, it is deep in our gut and we just keep doing it.”

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Andrew Hines (7.426 seconds at 184.35 mph) earned his fourth win of the 2014 season, defeating Michael Ray (9.033 at 103.64).

“Up here (in the mile-high altitude), every little move is compounded because you don’t have enough power to overcome mistakes like short shifts or body movements,” Hines said. “This place also throws your mental timing off. You have to be focused.”

The second part of the annual “western swing” will be held this coming weekend (July 25-27) at Sonoma Raceway north of San Francisco.


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



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

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

PRO STOCK: 1. Allen Johnson; 2. Jeg Coughlin; 3. Jason Line; 4. Dave Connolly; 5. Erica Enders-Stevens; 6. Greg Anderson; 7. Chris McGaha; 8. Vincent Nobile; 9. Jonathan Gray; 10. Matt Hartford; 11. Shane Gray; 12. V. Gaines; 13. Deric Kramer; 14. Tommy Lee; 15. Steve Kalkowski; 16. Larry Morgan.

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



Top Fuel — J.R. Todd, 3.878 seconds, 317.87 mph  def. Brittany Force, 3.968 seconds, 297.35 mph.

Funny Car — Robert Hight, Ford Mustang, 4.166, 306.05  def. John Force, Mustang, 5.953, 121.42.

Pro Stock — Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.930, 198.61  def. Jeg Coughlin, Dart, foul.

Pro Stock Motorcycle — Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 7.246, 184.35  def. Michael Ray, Buell, 9.033, 103.64.




ROUND ONE — Antron Brown, 3.903, 311.56 def. Doug Kalitta, 3.899, 313.51; Steve Torrence, 3.902,

319.75 def. Steven Chrisman, 4.599, 184.22; Larry Dixon, 3.966, 268.49 def. Clay Millican, 4.747, 170.45; Jenna Haddock, 4.276, 232.71 def. Tony Schumacher, 4.792, 182.16; Bob Vandergriff, 3.940,

310.84 def. Spencer Massey, 4.026, 286.19; Richie Crampton, 3.949, 310.63 def. Shawn Langdon, 4.174, 300.13; J.R. Todd, 3.969, 297.61 def. Terry McMillen, 4.569, 190.22; Brittany Force, 4.304,

212.93 def. Khalid alBalooshi, 5.258, 135.88; QUARTERFINALS — Force, 3.990, 303.84 def. Haddock, 4.166, 270.75; Vandergriff, 3.942, 308.92 def. Crampton, 4.252, 217.25; Todd, 3.938, 308.00 def. Torrence, 3.946, 302.21; Dixon, 4.107, 272.39 def. Brown, 4.331, 220.19; SEMIFINALS — Force, 3.923, 313.66 def. Vandergriff, 8.369, 68.90; Todd, 3.912, 300.26 def. Dixon, 3.936, 304.80; FINAL — Todd, 3.878, 317.87 def. Force, 3.968, 297.35.


ROUND ONE — John Force, Ford Mustang, 4.157, 306.40 def. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Solara, foul; Robert Hight, Mustang, 4.171, 308.50 def. Todd Simpson, Chevy Camaro, 4.452, 242.32; Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.245, 286.25 def. Tony Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 4.469, 229.27; Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.161, 295.79 def. Terry Haddock, Chevy Impala, 8.906, 84.76; Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 4.224,

301.07 def. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.782, 194.94; Courtney Force, Mustang, 4.335, 250.18 def. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.810, 222.84; Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.238, 298.47 def. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.348, 258.67; Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.200, 281.60 def. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.930, 172.61; QUARTERFINALS — J. Force, 4.202, 305.36 def. Hagan, 4.832, 190.46; Capps, 4.239, 299.13 def. C. Pedregon, 4.259, 290.63; Hight, 4.226, 285.59 def. C. Force, 4.287, 290.94; Wilkerson, 4.248,

287.05 def. Beckman, 4.262, 270.48;

SEMIFINALS — J. Force, No Time, 308.43 def. Capps, 4.185, 303.91; Hight, 4.115, 309.70 def.

Wilkerson, 4.146, 305.98;

FINAL — Hight, 4.166, 306.05 def. J. Force, 5.953, 121.42.


ROUND ONE — Vincent Nobile, Chevy Camaro, 6.971, 198.09 def. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, foul; Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.976, 197.54 def. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.992, 197.65; Dave Connolly, Camaro, 6.968,

197.31 def. V. Gaines, Dodge Dart, foul; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.976, 197.94 def. Matt Hartford, Dodge Avenger, 6.971, 198.12; Jeg Coughlin, Dart, 6.940, 198.44 def. Deric Kramer, Avenger, 7.008, 196.82; Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.933, 199.23 def. Tommy Lee, Ford Mustang, 7.091, 194.04; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.931, 198.61 def. Steve Kalkowski, Pontiac GXP, 7.218, 188.73; Erica Enders-Stevens, Camaro, 6.933, 198.47 def. Larry Morgan, Mustang, 8.839, 109.72; QUARTERFINALS — Coughlin, 6.944, 198.44 def. Anderson, 6.971, 197.65; Connolly, 6.992, 196.70 def.

Enders-Stevens, 6.962, 198.06; Johnson, 6.959, 198.50 def. McGaha, 6.974, 197.22; Line, 6.932,

198.32 def. Nobile, 6.979, 197.48;

SEMIFINALS — Johnson, 6.952, 198.64 def. Connolly, 7.015, 195.28; Coughlin, 6.931, 198.76 def.

Line, 6.924, 198.64;

FINAL — Johnson, 6.930, 198.61 def. Coughlin, foul.


ROUND ONE — Hector Arana, Buell, 7.255, 184.60 def. Matt Smith, Buell, 7.259, 183.15; Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 7.277, 183.17 def. Chaz Kennedy, Buell, 7.539, 177.91; Steve Johnson, Suzuki, broke def. Adam Arana, Buell, foul; Michael Ray, Buell, 7.299, 180.91 def. Mike Berry, Buell, foul; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 7.218, 186.05 def. John Hall, Buell, 7.299, 183.19; Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 7.201, 186.64 def. Charles Sullivan, Suzuki, 7.453, 177.95; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 7.224, 185.08 def. Angie Smith, Buell, foul; Scotty Pollacheck, Buell, 7.323,

183.22 def. Shawn Gann, Buell, foul;

QUARTERFINALS — Ray, 7.284, 183.44 def. Pollacheck, 7.585, 178.28; Hines, 7.246, 184.60 def.

Underdahl, foul; Johnson, 7.258, 182.58 def. Krawiec, 7.240, 184.85; H. Arana, 7.266, 185.74 def.

Arana Jr, 7.245, 185.84;

SEMIFINALS — Ray, 7.290, 182.75 def. H. Arana, foul; Hines, 7.231, 184.98 def. Johnson, 7.282, 182.01; FINAL — Hines, 7.246, 184.35 def. Ray, 9.033, 103.64.



Top Fuel: 1. Doug Kalitta, 1,162 *; 2. Antron Brown, 1,137 *; 3. Shawn Langdon, 973; 4. Tony Schumacher, 830; 5. Steve Torrence, 814; 6. Spencer Massey, 811; 7. Brittany Force, 783; 8. J.R. Todd, 705; 9. Khalid alBalooshi, 685; 10. Richie Crampton, 678.

Funny Car: 1. Robert Hight, 1,179 *; 2. John Force, 998; 3. Ron Capps, 921; 4. Tommy Johnson Jr., 882; 5. Courtney Force, 817; 6. Alexis DeJoria, 811; 7. Matt Hagan, 794; 8. Cruz Pedregon, 781; 9. Del Worsham, 780; 10. Tim Wilkerson, 711.

Pro Stock: 1. Erica Enders-Stevens, 1,229 *; 2. Allen Johnson, 1,045; 3. Jeg Coughlin, 998; 4. Jason Line, 951; 5. Dave Connolly, 948; 6. Vincent Nobile, 893; 7. Shane Gray, 865; 8. Chris McGaha, 653; 9. V. Gaines, 596; 10. Jonathan Gray, 516.

Pro Stock Motorcycle: 1. Andrew Hines, 775 *; 2. Eddie Krawiec, 640 *; 3. Hector Arana Jr, 582 *; 4. Hector Arana, 488; 5. John Hall, 438; 6. Michael Ray, 428; 7. Matt Smith, 427; 8. Scotty Pollacheck, 426; 9. Steve Johnson, 396; 10. Angie Smith, 383.

* Clinched berth in NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship

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Grosjean after Abu Dhabi qualifying gearbox failure: “S*** happens”

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 27:  Romain Grosjean of France and Lotus drives during practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Romain Grosjean will start his final race for Lotus from 15th on the grid after a gearbox issue brought an early end to his qualifying session in Abu Dhabi on Saturday.

Grosjean makes his last Formula 1 start for Lotus this weekend ahead of his move to Haas F1 Team for 2016, and had hoped to add to his haul of 49 points so far this season.

However, the Frenchman will face an uphill struggle in Sunday’s race after a gearbox issue forced him to park his car at the side of the track during qualifying.

Grosjean had aborted his first run in Q2 after Lotus identified the issue on his car and told him to pit, but opted to send him back out with two minutes remaining.

It proved to be a vain attempt to get Grosjean through to Q3, though, as the problem reared its head once again and forced him to stop on the run down to turn eight at the Yas Marina Circuit.

After the session, Grosjean was disappointed that his final qualifying with Lotus had ended in such fashion, but remains hopeful of an improved performance in Sunday’s race.

In the second Lotus car, Pastor Maldonado outqualified Grosjean for just the second time in 2015 after finishing 13th in Q2.

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 7am ET on Sunday.

Rosberg takes sixth straight pole position in Abu Dhabi

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 28:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP drives during final practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 28, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Nico Rosberg will start the final race of the 2015 Formula 1 season from pole position after setting the pace during Saturday’s qualifying session in Abu Dhabi.

Rosberg posted a fastest lap time of 1:40.237 under the lights in Q3 to secure pole by three-tenths of a second, edging out Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton in the dying moments of qualifying.

After trailing Rosberg in FP2 and FP3, Hamilton bounced back in the first two stages of qualifying by beating the German driver, but was unable to carry this form over into the final shoot-out for pole.

Hamilton managed to wrestle provisional pole back by going one-tenth of a second quicker than Rosberg with his final Q3 lap, only for his teammate to respond and take pole by three-tenths.

The result marked Rosberg’s sixth consecutive pole position and sets him up perfectly for Sunday’s race at the Yas Marina Circuit.

Kimi Raikkonen finished as the best-of-the-rest for Ferrari, edging out Force India’s Sergio Perez for third place on the grid with an impressive last lap. Perez will start from P4 on Sunday ahead of Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo.

Valtteri Bottas led Williams’ charge in sixth place ahead of teammate Felipe Massa in eighth, as they were split by Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg. Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz Jr. rounded out the top ten in Abu Dhabi.

Max Verstappen was unfortunate to miss out on a place in Q3 after being edged out by Sainz in the sister Toro Rosso by just four-hundredths of a second, leaving him 11th ahead of McLaren’s Jenson Button. Pastor Maldonado finished 13th for Lotus ahead of Felipe Nasr as both struggled for pace to get close to a Q3 berth.

Romain Grosjean will start his last race for Lotus from 15th on the grid after a gearbox problem cut his qualifying short. The team told Grosjean to abort his first flying lap because of the issue, and a vain effort to get him out late on ended with the Frenchman parking up at the side of the track.

The biggest shock in qualifying came in Sebastian Vettel’s exit after the German driver backed off on his final lap, mistakenly believing that he had already done enough to make it through to Q2. A quick last effort from Grosjean dumped the German out in Q1, leaving him 16th on the grid for the start of Sunday’s race.

Vettel was joined in the dropzone by McLaren’s Fernando Alonso after his final run in qualifying was ended by a puncture on his rear-left tire. The Spaniard finished 17th ahead of Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson, who also had an issue on his car, while Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi propped up the timesheets for Manor.

The result gives Rosberg a golden opportunity to round off a difficult 2015 season with a third straight win, and also means he will start 2016 with Ayrton Senna’s record of eight pole positions in a row within reach.

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is live on NBCSN from 7am ET on Sunday.

Mercedes pushes for technical regulation clarification from FIA stewards

xxxx during practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
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Mercedes has requested clarification of a number of technical rules from the FIA stewards in Abu Dhabi after flagging up possible ambiguities in the current regulations.

In a letter written by Mercedes technical chief Paddy Lowe to FIA race director Charlie Whiting last month, clarification is sought over restrictions on aerodynamic testing and wind tunnel usage in Formula 1.

Whiting responded to Lowe by saying: “I am unable to respond to your questionnaire, the questions of which do not fall within my remit but that of the competent bodies for binding interpretations (stewards)” and also refused the request for confidentiality.

Mercedes has therefore taken the matter to the stewards in Abu Dhabi, with a meeting planned after qualifying on Saturday. The stewards said that they will endeavor to deliver a decision ahead of Sunday’s race.

It is thought that Mercedes’ request for clarification relates to Ferrari’s relationship with the new Haas F1 Team that may have allowed the Italian marque to exploit existing loopholes in the regulations to aid the development of its own car.

Part of the document released by the FIA reads: “Mercedes considers there to be a number of existing ambiguities in Appendices 6 and 8 to the Regulations. It is possible that such ambiguity may be exploited by a team to give it a competitive advantage at any event, including at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 2015, prior to the points being clarified by the stewards.”

It continues: “Resolution of the ambiguities is of the utmost importance to Mercedes as it is currently considering the possibility of collaborating with third parties on its testing programme, including the sharing of staff and knowledge, which it believes could be permitted under the current Regulations as drafted.

“It is understood by Mercedes that other Formula 1 teams may also be considering operating in a similar manner.”

The stewards will be able to offer a binding interpretation of the regulations to all teams racing in F1, and have invited all competitors to make their own submissions should they so wish.

You can read the FIA document in full here.

Mercedes takes up option on Ocon for 2016

2015 GP3 Series Round 9
Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, UAE.
Friday 27 November 2015.
Esteban Ocon (FRA, ART Grand Prix) 
Photo: Sam Bloxham/GP3 Series Media Service.
ref: Digital Image _G7C7600
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Mercedes has taken up its option on GP3 driver Esteban Ocon ahead of the 2016 season to make him a full member of its junior programme.

Ocon, 19, won last year’s FIA F3 European Championship ahead of current Toro Rosso driver and Formula 1’s unofficial rookie of the year Max Verstappen.

Having previously been on Lotus’ junior programme, Ocon was expected to move into GP2 for 2015, but his deal with the team fell through and prompted him to race for ART Grand Prix in GP3.

Mercedes announced back in May that it would be supporting Ocon for this season, with an option to make him a fully-fledged member of its junior programme at the end of the year.

In Friday’s FIA press conference, Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff confirmed that this option had been taken up, but that plans for Ocon and its other junior talent, Pascal Wehrlein, in 2016 are still to be finalized.

“We’ve taken up the option on him because he has been with us now, or has been following the DTM team for a while, has been the test driver in DTM and integrated well and he’s doing a very good job in GP3 as well and he’s somebody we’d very much like to have in the family,” Wolff said.

“This is why we’ve exercised the option. It doesn’t mean that we’ve found a solution for Pascal.

“The current driver market is a bit difficult because most of the teams have already announced their drivers and it need to be the right deal – but having taken up Esteban we are conscious that we need to find a suitable programme for both of them.

“It could well mean that it could eventually end up for both of them in a testing role, in a reserve driver role and in a DTM role – so it’s not done yet.”

Ocon enters the final race of the GP3 season on Sunday with a six-point advantage over Luca Ghiotto.