John Force earns 150th No. 1 qualifying spot of his career

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Age is just a number for 65-year-old John Force.

The record 16-season NHRA Funny Car champ showed he still can get it done Saturday, earning the 150th No. 1 qualifying spot of his career for Sunday’s finals of the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Northwest Nationals in Kent, Wash.

Other top qualifiers at Pacific Raceways were other veteran drivers and multi-champions in Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel) and Allen Johnson (Pro Stock).

The final eliminations of the event begin at 11 a.m. PT.

Force had been the No. 1 qualifier in Funny Car on Friday, but daughter Courtney, who won last Sunday at Sonoma, took the top spot away from her father in the second and final qualifying session Saturday.

But John Force was not to be denied, running a track record 4.057 seconds at 307.86 mph to take back the No. 1 spot – his fourth of the season and sixth of his career at Pacific Raceways.

“I was overloaded today, had too much on my plate,” Force said, per an NHRA media release. “And then she (Courtney) bumped me. I figured Robert (Hight) would do it, he didn’t.

“(Crew chief) Jimmy (Prock) turned around and said, ‘What do you want to do?’ I said, ‘Turn ‘er up.’ We knew what it would do, but you really don’t want to show the competition what you have. If you can hold your cards and get them in the evening, then you can step on it.”

Courtney Force will start as the No. 2 seed on Sunday, based upon her 4.082 second run at 306.33 mph on Saturday.

As for Top Fuel, Schumacher set the pace with a run of 3.804 seconds at 320.20 mph.

Schumacher, who makes his 400th career NHRA start Sunday, will face rookie Jenna Haddock in the first round.

“We have a great car,” Schumacher said. “I wouldn’t want to race me tomorrow. The fact that we went down both lanes just shows what (crew chiefs) Mike [Green] and Neal [Strausburg] have been looking for for a long time.

“We just didn’t go down the track but we were first or second each session and had some .820 60-foot times. They’re making some great calls. Our initial launch is what we’ve been longing for. Everyone knows that if you get the car moving, you can apply clutch quicker.”

Reigning NHRA Top Fuel points leader Doug Kalitta earned the No. 2 spot (3.805 seconds at 320.28 mph) and will meet No. 15 qualifier Mike Salinas in Sunday’s first round.

As for Johnson in Pro Stock, he held on to the top spot with Friday’s best run of 6.535 mph at 211.86 mph, the 35th No. 1 spot of his career and third at Pacific Raceway.

By virtue of only 15 Pro Stock cars in the field, Johnson earned a rare first-round bye in Sunday’s finals.

While Johnson now has four No. 1 spots this season, he has yet to win an event where he was top qualifier in 2014.

“The guys did an awesome job here,” Johnson said. “All four rounds low and building up them baby points. That last round, the track was representative of what we will see tomorrow. We made a really good run and we just need to keep doing what we are doing and be very consistent. If the driver does his job, we can get this thing done.”

Shane Gray qualified No. 2 (6.538 seconds at 211.86 mph) and will face Travis Mazza in Sunday’s first round.

 

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Here’s the pairings for Sunday’s final eliminations in the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Northwest Nationals presented by Super Start Batteries at Pacific Raceways:

Top Fuel — 1. Tony Schumacher, 3.804 seconds, 320.20 mph vs. 16. Jenna Haddock, 4.176, 273.44; 2. Doug Kalitta, 3.805, 320.28 vs. 15. Mike Salinas, 4.158, 283.79; 3. Shawn Langdon, 3.807, 317.05 vs. 14. Clay Millican, 3.967, 305.77; 4. Richie Crampton, 3.809, 317.19 vs. 13. Terry McMillen, 3.931, 313.73; 5. Bob Vandergriff, 3.812, 318.77 vs. 12. Antron Brown, 3.884, 309.34; 6. Khalid alBalooshi, 3.813, 319.22 vs. 11. Brittany Force, 3.848, 310.84; 7. Spencer Massey, 3.815, 318.09 vs. 10. Troy Buff, 3.845, 311.41; 8. J.R. Todd, 3.827, 314.83 vs. 9. Steve Torrence, 3.834, 316.45. Did Not Qualify: 17. Ron Smith, 4.339, 269.83.

Funny Car — 1. John Force, Ford Mustang, 4.057, 308.07 vs. 16. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Solara, 4.361, 283.49; 2. Courtney Force, Mustang, 4.082, 306.33 vs. 15. Gary Densham, Chevy Impala, 4.303, 292.46; 3. Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 4.100, 302.69 vs. 14. Terry Haddock, Impala, 4.199, 292.46; 4. Alexis DeJoria, Toyota Camry, 4.101, 303.23 vs. 13. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.175, 294.18; 5. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.102, 304.19 vs. 12. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.156, 297.29; 6. Robert Hight, Mustang, 4.107, 303.91 vs. 11. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.150, 301.40; 7. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.120, 306.40 vs. 10. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.136, 298.34; 8. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.126, 296.18 vs. 9. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.131, 300.53. Did Not Qualify: 17. Bucky Austin, 4.398, 276.63; 18. Paul Lee, 4.979, 204.20.

Pro Stock — 1. Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.535, 211.86 vs. Bye; 2. Shane Gray, Chevy Camaro, 6.538, 211.96 vs. 15. Travis Mazza, Ford Mustang, 8.038, 129.28; 3. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.549, 211.36 vs. 14. Mark Wolfe, Mustang, 7.060, 205.57; 4. Jeg Coughlin, Dart, 6.553, 211.13 vs. 13. Larry Morgan, Mustang, 6.695, 207.82; 5. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.556, 211.56 vs. 12. Deric Kramer, Dodge Avenger, 6.615, 209.85; 6. V. Gaines, Dart, 6.561, 211.26 vs. 11. Matt Hartford, Avenger, 6.597, 210.67; 7. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 6.562, 211.46 vs. 10. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.588, 210.57; 8. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.569, 210.73 vs. 9. Dave Connolly, Camaro, 6.587, 210.60.

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Castroneves obliterates track record for Phoenix pole (VIDEO)

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AVONDALE, Ariz. – Helio Castroneves has shattered the previous track record at Phoenix International Raceway en route to his second pole of the Verizon IndyCar Series season and Team Penske’s fourth in four races to kick off 2017. In the process, he also won his 49th pole of his INDYCAR career (7 CART/42 IRL/IC), which puts him in a tie for third all-time in series history with Bobby Unser.

The Brazilian, driving the No. 3 REV Group Chevrolet, also set the pole at Phoenix last year but at a two-lap average of 192.324 mph.

Tonight, under the lights with temperatures of 72 degrees Fahrenheit ambient and 83 for track, Castroneves’ average was a staggering 194.905 mph.

“People don’t realize that qualifying is extremely difficult,” he said. “I took it to the limit – I had one eye closed and one eye open. Experience is a big part of this and today was really, really good. The conditions were really difficult today in practice – the gusting winds were horrendous. We worked mostly on the race setup (in practice). My engineer did a phenomenal job and obviously everybody at Team Penske – the REV Group car was really fast. Qualifying is one thing – the race is another – but I’m really confident going into tomorrow.”

Teammate Will Power starts second for Saturday night’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Power was only the second car to run, but put down what looked to be an incredible two-lap average of his own – the first driver over 194 mph – before Castroneves beat him under slightly cooler and less windy conditions later in the session.

Young Americans JR Hildebrand, in his first race back after missing Barber, and Barber winner Josef Newgarden will share Row 2 with Simon Pagenaud fifth in Chevrolet’s first top-five qualifying sweep of the season, a result which was somewhat expected given Chevrolet’s edge in the aero department on a downforce-heavy short oval aero kit package at Phoenix.

It was Tony Kanaan, who was feted along with Castroneves on Thursday night in a separate event at the Heard Museum honoring both drivers’ 20 years in IndyCar, who led Honda’s charge in sixth. Mikhail Aleshin, Scott Dixon, Marco Andretti and points leader Sebastien Bourdais completed the top 10.

Of note, Long Beach winner James Hinchcliffe was 11th, his worst start thus far this year, and Ed Carpenter’s team was able to get his No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet back out after a fuel leak in practice, and a rapid fuel cell change. But his luckless run in his oval races continues and he’ll start 21st and last tomorrow night.

Qualifying results are below.

AVONDALE, Arizona – Qualifying Friday for the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 1.022-mile Phoenix Raceway, with qualifying position, car number in parentheses, driver, aero kit-engine and speed:

1. (3) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 194.905
2. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 194.017
3. (21) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 193.912
4. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 193.676
5. (1) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 193.414
6. (10) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 192.539
7. (7) Mikhail Aleshin, Honda, 192.327
8. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 192.050
9. (27) Marco Andretti, Honda, 191.387
10. (18) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 191.349
11. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 191.194
12. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 190.799
13. (8) Max Chilton, Honda, 190.768
14. (83) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 190.565
15. (98) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 190.405
16. (19) Ed Jones, Honda, 190.029
17. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 189.786
18. (26) Takuma Sato, Honda, 189.779
19. (14) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 189.301
20. (4) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 188.536
21. (20) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, 186.360

Phoenix weekend, Friday notes

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AVONDALE, Ariz. – Days are weird when the track activity for the Verizon IndyCar Series doesn’t start until 4 p.m. PT and local time. Qualifying is tonight from 8 to 9 p.m. PT and local time, online via NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports App at http://indystream.nbcsports.com.

That then makes the notes we gather a little different.

  • Thursday night kicked off the weekend with an honoring and fun night of storytelling from Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan, moderated by veteran open-wheel and NBA reporter Gary Gerould. The event, held at the Heard Museum in downtown Phoenix, offered a lot of camaraderie, laughs and memories shared for the pair of Brazilians. We’ll have a full recap of the event on Saturday.
  • Oberto premieres on Marco Andretti’s No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda this weekend as a primary sponsor. In a “convenient coincidence,” Oberto is also on Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross’ No. 41 Beetle GRC for two-time defending champion Scott Speed in this weekend’s Red Bull Global Rallycross opener in Memphis (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, NBC). The red-and-white No. 27 car had a primary sponsorship vacancy for most races this year in the wake of hhgregg’s financial issues, with United Fiber & Data only on for selected races.
  • Fernando Alonso’s entry is getting most of the attention among one-off Indianapolis 500 cars, but he’s not the only one. Per Spanish site IndyCarAlDiaJuncos Racing is set to run at least one car on the same May 3 date as Alonso will make his debut, as Ricardo Juncos’ team gets close to making its announcement for its driver or drivers it will have in this year’s race.
  • Alonso’s livery for his No. 29 McLaren Honda Andretti is set to be revealed either the Tuesday before his test on May 2 or the morning of his test on May 3, itself. The @McLarenIndy account tweeted a sneak pic of the livery earlier this week.
  • The Jay Howard Team ONE Cure Honda-powered entry for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports doesn’t yet have its engineer set, but the team is getting close to finalizing the crew for that car.
  • Zach Veach’s No. 40 IWiT Championship Chevrolet will be revealed Wednesday night, May 10, at AJ Foyt Racing’s Indianapolis shop.
  • On a Red Bull Global Rallycross note: Andretti, Bryan Herta Rallysport and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing have both IndyCar and GRC efforts running this weekend, so four of the 10 Supercars. The rest of the GRC field features Honda Red Bull Olsbergs MSE (three cars), Subaru Rally Team USA (two cars) and Loenbro Motorsports, the former Ganassi team (one car).
  • Be on the lookout for a pair of digital pieces on NBCSports.com later this weekend. NBCSN IndyCar pit reporter Katie Hargitt caught up with Helio Castroneves for Rapid Fire, while she’ll also fill in for Anders Krohn – who’s on Red Bull GRC duty in Memphis – hosting IndyCar Paddock Pass. Hargitt caught up with Barber winner Josef Newgarden, series returnee JR Hildebrand and Hildebrand’s Barber fill-in Zach Veach in this week’s episode.

Newgarden, Chevy top Phoenix practice

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Friday’s two-hour practice for the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix started out slowly, with only a handful of drivers turning laps in the opening 30 minutes. However, the second hour, and the final 30 minutes in particular, turned into a frenzy, with drivers making several runs and completing qualifying sims.

Josef Newgarden topped the speed charts with an average speed of 192.108 mph, the only lap above the 192 mark of the session.

JR Hildebrand enjoyed a strong run on his return after suffering a broken hand at Long Beach to run second in practice. Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud, and Will Power completed the top five, making it a Chevrolet sweep of the top five spots.

Heavy winds wreaked havoc on the session, with sand blowing onto the track surface throughout practice. Conditions became severe enough that practice was halted a couple minutes prior to its scheduled conclusion.

Of note: driver Ed Carpenter, in his first race outing of 2017, suffered a shortened practice due to mechanical issues and the crew reportedly was working on swapping out the fuel cell on his No.20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet.

Times and qualifying order are below. Qualifying begins at 11:00 p.m. ET (8:00 local time).

 

 

Honda defends decision to redesign F1 power unit for 2017

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Honda Formula 1 chief Yusuke Hasegawa has defended the decision to redesign its power unit layout for 2017 despite suffering a number of reliability and performance issues at the start of the season.

Entering its third year since returning to F1 as an engine supplier, Honda looked to make gains by revising the layout of its power unit to mirror that of pace-setter Mercedes.

The decision appeared to backfire, though, with a lack of both performance and reliability leaving customer team McLaren frustrated and without a single point after three races.

Speaking in Friday’s FIA press conference in Russia, Hasegawa was asked if the decision to revise the power unit layout was a mistake, and defending the move despite admitting to the ongoing problems.

“I don’t think we made a complete mistake from last year’s performance. We knew that we have to change everything, not only the package but also the combustion, so we tried to modify all areas,” Hasegawa explained.

“Some areas we succeeded, to reduce the weight and lower the center of gravity, but yeah, definitely we couldn’t get enough power from the combustion. So, yeah, it is just an excuse, but we still need time.

“But we don’t think we made a huge mistake, the direction was right. We are very much disappointed with our current situation.

“But because the base concept is correct, we believe we can make good progress in the middle of the season.”

McLaren’s hopes of scoring its first points of the year in Russia took a hit on Friday when Stoffel Vandoorne was forced to take new elements for his power unit, triggering a 15-place grid drop for the race.