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.

 

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

 

FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

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.

 

FINAL ROUND RESULTS:

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.

 

FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL:

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.

FUNNY CAR:

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.

PRO STOCK:

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.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE:

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.

 

UPDATED POINT STANDINGS:

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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Wolff doubts Ferrari’s Sochi struggles will continue

SOCHI, RUSSIA - MAY 01: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo ahead of Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP) on track  during the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on May 1, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Mercedes Formula 1 chief Toto Wolff thinks that Ferrari’s lack of pace in last weekend’s Russian Grand Prix was specific to the Sochi Autodrom circuit and not a sign of things to come in 2016.

Ferrari entered 2016 hopeful of mounting a serious challenge to Mercedes after a strong showing in pre-season, only to struggle to keep up with the German marque in the first four races of the season.

The deficit was particularly worrying for Ferrari in Russia last weekend when Kimi Raikkonen finished as Ferrari’s lead driver but over 30 seconds down on race winner Nico Rosberg.

Talking to reporters after the race, Wolff refused to read too much into Ferrari’s pace, believing the deficit to be largely down to the nature of the track in Sochi.

“The track is very different with a very smooth surface, and we saw that the pace of many teams was different to the races before,” Wolff said.

“Williams was very strong, Red Bull weren’t, and Ferrari weren’t as good as expected. This is a circuit where you have to get it right in terms of mechanical grip and aerodynamic downforce – and engine power plays a role.

“I would say that the dent in the Ferrari performance is Sochi-specific. But that is only my guess.”

Mercedes’ advantage was perhaps even bigger than the 30-second gap between Rosberg and Raikkonen suggested, considering that the race winner was hindered by an issue on his power unit in the second half of the race.

Ferrari’s main problem so far this season has been with the reliability of its cars, as both Raikkonen and teammate Sebastian Vettel have hit trouble in the opening four races.

A James Hinchcliffe tattoo exists, and it is glorious (VIDEO)

AVONDALE, AZ - APRIL 02:  James Hinchcliffe of Canada, driver of the #5 Schmidt Peterson Motosports Honda IndyCar is introduced before the Phoenix Grand Prix at Phoenix International Raceway on April 2, 2016 in Avondale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Only fitting that on Cinco de Mayo – 5/5 – we do a post about the driver of the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda in James Hinchcliffe.

And given Hinchcliffe’s proclivity for humour (the Canadian spelling is intentional here), we thought it appropriate to show off this gem of an advert produced by Honda Canada.

Apparently such a thing as a James Hinchcliffe tattoo exists, and it’s featured within the ad.

Hinchcliffe rocks up in a new 2016 Honda Civic Coupe. Problem is, the superfan played by Hinchcliffe’s countryman and Canadian actor Justin G Landry has the right tattoo, but no longer the right car to match his racing hero.

You can see the full video below, as well as a couple tweets to go along with it:

RGR Sport by Morand keen to build on debut WEC victory in Spa

Car # 43 / RGR SPORT BY MORAND / MEX / Ligier JS P2 - Nissan / Ricardo Gonzalez (MEX) / Filipe Albuquerque (PRT) / Bruno Senna (BRA) - WEC 6 Hours of Silverstone - Silverstone Circuit - Towcester, Northamptonshire - UK
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After claiming an impressive victory in its debut FIA World Endurance Championship race at Silverstone three weeks ago, the RGR Sport by Morand team heads to this weekend’s 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps with high hopes of a repeat result.

RGR Sport by Morand became the first Mexican team to enter the WEC earlier this year when it entered the LMP2 class, signing ex-Formula 1 driver Bruno Senna and former Audi racer Filipe Albuquerque to race alongside team owner Ricardo Gonzalez.

The iconic Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps plays host to its annual six-hour race this Saturday, and with the addition of the no. 38 G-Drive entry, the LMP2 class is now up to 12 cars, the biggest on the grid.

However, Gonzalez is unconcerned, instead relishing the challenge of racing at such a famous circuit as he bids to make it two wins from two races.

“Spa has always been one of my favorite tracks so to go there with our own team is going to be great,” Gonzalez said.

“We’re coming in off a win and as the championship leaders so it’s important to carry the momentum forward.

“The team has done a lot of work back at the shop to give us an even better car for Spa, so there’s no reason why we can’t go out and fight for another win.”

Senna hopes to follow in the footsteps of his uncle this weekend by claiming a first win at Spa. Ayrton Senna won the Belgian Grand Prix five times in F1, including four-in-a-row for McLaren between 1988 and 1991.

“After great success during the team’s first race at the 6 Hours of Silverstone, I’m looking even more forward to racing with Ricardo and Filipe and the RGR Sport by Morand team,” Senna said.

“Nothing has changed in terms of our approach for this weekend in Spa, but efforts have not been spared since Silverstone and lots of analysis and developments are ongoing to make sure we keep improving and get more competitive as the championship progresses.

“Spa is one of my favorite tracks and I’ve qualified on pole and front-row there many times, but I’m still yet to win it. Will push very hard for it!”

The 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps takes place on Saturday May 7.

How Kvyat performs now will determine whether his F1 career lives on

during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 29, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.
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It’s going to be hard for Daniil Kvyat to find a bright side in the wake of his demotion to Scuderia Toro Rosso – because let’s face it, that’s what it is.

And his antics in Sochi have thus provided the opportunity for Max Verstappen to replace him at Red Bull Racing.

But, even though he’s only 22 years old and now thrust into a second major transition in his two-plus year Formula 1 career, Kvyat has been given something most Red Bull junior drivers haven’t: a second chance.

Toro Rosso, nee Minardi, has been on the grid 10 years now since debuting in 2006.

In pop culture terms, Toro Rosso is basically the F1 equivalent of Erlich Bachman’s incubator if you watch the HBO series “Silicon Valley.”

At Toro Rosso, one of two things happen: you either move up to Red Bull, or you don’t, and you almost never return to F1 again.

And that’s where Kvyat has a rare chance as the first driver to get a race seat reprieve since Vitantonio Liuzzi, and, if his head can be right, a shot at motivation.

Let’s take a look first at Toro Rosso’s driver lineups to date, and their post-Toro Rosso careers:

  • Scott Speed (2006-mid-2007); no further F1 starts after Toro Rosso; now, 2015 Red Bull GRC champion
  • Vitantonio Liuzzi (2006-2007); 41 further F1 starts after Toro Rosso from 2009-2011 with Force India, HRT
  • Sebastian Vettel (Mid-2007-2008); promoted to Red Bull; 4-time World Champion… things worked out fine
  • Sebastien Bourdais (2008-mid-2009); no further F1 starts after Toro Rosso; back in IndyCar since 2011
  • Jaime Alguersuari (Mid-2009-2011); no further F1 starts after Toro Rosso; some FIA Formula E, now retired
  • Sebastien Buemi (2009-2011); no further F1 starts after Toro Rosso; 2014 FIA World Endurance Championship World Champion with Toyota; also regular race winner in Formula E
  • Daniel Ricciardo (2012-2013); promoted to Red Bull; 3-time Grand Prix winner
  • Jean-Eric Vergne (2012-2014); no further F1 starts after Toro Rosso; Ferrari test driver and Formula E driver
  • Daniil Kvyat (2014, mid-2016-present); promoted to Red Bull, now, sent back to Toro Rosso
  • Max Verstappen (2015-mid-2016); promoted to Red Bull
  • Carlos Sainz Jr. (2015-present); future TBD beyond Toro Rosso career

So there you have it: 11 drivers in Toro Rosso’s history, none lasting longer than three years, four promoted to Red Bull, and only one – Liuzzi, in 2009 – ever returning to the grid after their post-Toro Rosso career ended.

Note, I’m not including Christian Klien here – the Austrian graduated into F1 with Jaguar in 2004 before Red Bull launched in 2005 – he never drove for Toro Rosso. Liuzzi, additionally, drove a handful of Grands Prix for Red Bull in 2005 but was never in with a shout at returning once Red Bull kept Klien alongside David Coulthard for 2006.

And that’s before you get to the countless others who Red Bull had in their “incubator” at one point or another, but never had a sniff of F1.

That includes the likes of Antonio Felix da Costa, Robert Wickens, Brendon Hartley, Neel Jani, Filipe Albuquerque, Alex Lynn, Daniel Juncadella among others (a more exhaustive list is found here).

Toro Rosso differs from its predecessor in obvious reasons. Many of the 37 drivers in Minardi’s history used the venerable Italian team as a springboard to move higher up the grid – you got your start at Minardi, you went forward from there, and you remained grateful to Faenza for giving you that first chance.

Toro Rosso? It’s a case of go big, or go home. Red Bull makes no apologies for how cutthroat its way of finding talent is, but it is interesting to note that with such short lifespans, it doesn’t give its own talent enough time to find itself before tossing them out for whomever the next flavor of the month driver may be.

That’s evident when you look around the world and see the number of ex-Red Bull folk who’ve gone on to greater things and championships in other disciplines, notably in sports car racing.

Say in a hypothetical situation that Romain Grosjean was under the Red Bull umbrella for his formative years, when he struggled in a part-time fill-in role in 2009, then drew ire from Mark Webber in 2012 with Webber’s infamous “first-lap nutcase” branding of the Franco Swiss driver. What would have happened to Grosjean’s career had he been tossed aside after a year or at most, two?

This is the precipice at which Kvyat now stands. Lewis Hamilton made the comment after Sochi that he has 17 races left, and 17 races to give Mercedes AMG Petronas teammate Nico Rosberg hell.

The same is true for Kvyat, who while offered a rare shot to continue having been the first Toro Rosso graduate to fail at Red Bull, likely only has one season left to save his F1 career… which again, seems really weird to type considering he’s only 22 years old.

But if he thrives in the now-lesser expectations bestowed on him at Toro Rosso, there could be landing places for him in 2017. It’s up to him now to seize this second chance.