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

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Hunter-Reay, Rahal complete Acura NSX GT3 lineup at Rolex 24

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Verizon IndyCar Series stars Ryan Hunter-Reay and Graham Rahal will complete the eight-driver lineup for the 2017 Rolex 24 at Daytona in the pair of Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3s.

These two drivers join the previously announced six-pack of Andy Lally, Ozz Negri, Jeff Segal, Katherine Legge, Mark Wilkins and Tom Dyer. The first four are the full-season drivers while Wilkins and Dyer are the third drivers for the full Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup slate of races. Daytona, as a 24-hour race in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship schedule, makes up the longest round where four drivers are expected for most entries.

Exact lineups are yet to be determined. Both Hunter-Reay (No. 28 DHL Honda) and Rahal (No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda) run Hondas in IndyCar, and switch from their previous teams in IMSA. Hunter-Reay was third driver in the No. 90 Visit Florida Racing Corvette DP last year, Rahal the fourth driver in one of the BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLMs.

Both Hunter-Reay and Rahal will test the car at Daytona next week.

“We’re thrilled to have Graham and Ryan join the Michael Shank Racing effort at Daytona,” said Art St. Cyr, president of Honda Performance Development (HPD), the racing arm for Acura in North America. “The debut of the NSX GT3 at the prestigious Rolex 24 will mark the return of the Acura brand to IMSA sports car competition. The addition of Graham and Ryan to an already excellent driver lineup, coupled with the experience provided by Michael Shank and his team, will make the NSX GT3 a serious contender for the GTD class victory at Daytona.”

Jenson Button receives honorary degree from University of Bath (VIDEO)

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 25:  Jenson Button of Great Britain and McLaren Honda in the garage during practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 25, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Jenson Button became ‘Dr. Jenson Button’ earlier this week when he was awarded an honorary degree by the University of Bath in England.

Button, 36, made what looks set to be his final Formula 1 appearance at the end of last month in Abu Dhabi, drawing the curtain on a 16-year stint at the pinnacle of motorsport.

The Briton won the F1 drivers’ championship in 2009 and was runner-up in 2011, as well as winning 15 grands prix.

Button added to his list of achievements by picking up an honorary degree in engineering from the University of Bath earlier this week.

“I didn’t go to university and work hard in my early years, but I would say that a lot of my achievements in motorsport are down to my engineering understanding of a racing car,” Button said when addressing the audience at the ceremony.

Button does have a contract to race for McLaren in 2018 should both he and the driver be keen, but looks unlikely to return.

Button does remain keen to race occasionally through 2017, expressing an interest in racing in Super GT and rallycross.

Williams expecting Stroll to make mistakes through debut F1 season

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 24:  Lance Stroll of Canada and Williams talks in the Paddock  during previews for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 24, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Williams Formula 1 chief technical officer Pat Symonds says he expects 18-year-old Lance Stroll to make mistakes during his rookie season in 2017.

Williams announced last month that Stroll would be stepping up from Formula 3 to a full-time F1 seat for 2017, replacing the retiring Felipe Massa.

Stroll has an impressive track record through his junior racing career, becoming the youngest ever FIA F3 champion in 2016.

However, his on-track actions have caught attention for the wrong reasons at times, with the Canadian receiving a race ban in June 2015 for causing an accident.

Speaking to Reuters, Symonds said that Williams is braced for Stroll to make mistakes during his rookie campaign as he gets to grips with life in F1.

“Of course he’ll make mistakes and we’ll be repairing cars. These things happen as part of the process,” Symonds said.

“If you look at his Formula 3 career, in 2015 he was having quite a few accidents in that. The Monza one is just staggering.”

However, Symonds has no doubt in Stroll’s talent, believing the youngster to have proven himself during his two-year stint in F3.

“He hasn’t won that championship with anything other than a lot of skill and maturity,” Symonds said.

“For a guy that young, he’s driven really well in pretty well every condition. He’s raced well, he’s led at the front. He’s come through the field a bit, he’s driven well in the wet.

“He is the real deal.”

Besides his F3 commitments, Stroll has also completed an extensive F1 testing program through 2016 that saw him conduct running in a 2014-spec Williams in order to prepare him for his race debut in Australia next March.

Ecclestone: Rosberg not among F1 greats, ‘a world champion and nothing else’

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 Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Formula 1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone does not believe that the recently-retired Nico Rosberg will be remembered as one of the sport’s all-time greats, saying that the German is “a world champion and nothing else”.

Rosberg won his maiden F1 drivers’ championship two weeks ago in Abu Dhabi before sensationally announcing his immediate retirement from racing just five days later.

The news came as a shock to the F1 community, including Ecclestone, and has raised questions about the legacy that Rosberg will leave.

Speaking to Press Trust of India, Ecclestone said that he would not place Rosberg in the same realm as many of his peers who have won multiple titles, including Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso.

“Let’s just say he is a world champion. The other names that you mentioned have obviously won more than a few times and have achieved more,” Ecclestone said.

“So I would just call Nico a world champion and nothing else.”

Ecclestone did concede that not having the defending World Champion on the F1 grid in 2017 would not help the sport, a situation that has not arisen since 1994 following Alain Prost’s final title win.

“[He’s] not as popular as Lewis but Nico was a very popular driver,” Ecclestone said.

“So his absence is certainly not good for Formula 1.”

Rosberg became the fourth driver to retire after winning the World Championship, following in the footsteps of Prost (1993), Jackie Stewart (1973) and Mike Hawthorn (1958).