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NHRA: Courtney and Brittany Force reflect on 2016, ready to go for 2017

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When you think of NHRA drag racing and the name Force, you are most likely to first think of 16-time champion John Force.

But let’s not forget about the future of the sport, and that certainly encompasses the racing fortunes of John Force’s daughters, Top Fuel driver Brittany Force and Funny Car driving sibling Courtney Force.

The 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series was one filled with highlights and career bests for both of the Force girls, including:

* They both finished sixth in their respective racing classes.

* They both won races, each led the point standings of their respective classes at some point in the season and each was in contention for the championship of their respective divisions.

To say the least, while disappointed at not winning the championship, both Force daughters are happy to have 2016 behind them and are looking ahead to 2017.

Courtney Force after winning the Traxxas Funny Car Shootout. Photo by Richard Shute/Auto Imagery.
Courtney Force after winning the Traxxas Funny Car Shootout. Photo by Richard Shute/Auto Imagery.

As for season highlights, Courtney Force called her win in the Traxxas Nitro Shootout the biggest achievement in 2016.

“We won that event against seven of the top Funny Car teams that were the most competitive last season,” she said. “To know that you have a team capable of rising up for the moment really gets you motivated for future success.”

Brittany’s breakout race was her first career Top Fuel win at Gainesville, Florida, in early spring.

“I had been chasing that first win since my rookie season in 2013 and finally capturing that is something I will never forget,” she said. “That day is one of the proudest moments in my career and was also (John Force Racing’s) first Top Fuel win and first ever double-up win with teammate Robert Hight.”

Both Force teams had major personnel changes heading into the season.

Courtney’s team promoted Dan Hood (husband of another Force daughter, retired racer Ashley Force Hood) and Ronnie Thompson as co-crew chiefs on her Funny Car, while 11-time NHRA Top Fuel championship team owner and master engine tuner Alan Johnson was brought in to direct Brittany’s dragster effort.

“The entire team really gelled together starting in (preseason) testing and by the end of the season we were all working great together,” Courtney Force said. “We might not have won the championship but I think everyone on my team knows we have a great foundation to move forward into next season and beyond.”

Brittany Force after her first career NHRA Top Fuel win earlier this year in Gainesville, Florida. Photo by Gary Nastase Photography.
Brittany Force after her first career NHRA Top Fuel win earlier this year in Gainesville, Florida. Photo by Gary Nastase Photography.

Added Brittany Force, “We made quite a few changes at the beginning of the year but this team learned to immediately adjust to it so well that we were able to bring our first win home just three races into our season.”

But now that 2016 is behind them, Courtney and Brittany are both ready for 2017 to begin – even though they will have to wait two-plus more months to pick up where they left off from last season.

We were No. 1 (in the standings) for four consecutive races (and) picked up a win early in Houston so we just need to get our routine down better and be more consistent,” Courtney said. “That is what we are going to push for in testing over the off-season.

“That gets us excited for next season because we have a great team, a fast car and now we have a better handle on the new Chevrolet Camaro body. We are going into next season all together and we don’t have to adjust much. We can roll into next season with some momentum and consistency.”

As for Brittany, she noted: “Looking into the 2017 NHRA season, I am most excited to see how much our team will advance in comparison to previous years. I always set goals and push to improve each year and looking back on an impressive season I’m confident we will go further next season. We plan to win more races and go after that championship.”

Brittany Force ultimately won not just her first career race last season, but added two other victories as well. You can almost immediately tell the difference in her confidence going forward.

“I am more confident in myself and my team that nothing is out of our reach,” she said. “We will push harder and push for more because we all want that number 1 on the side of our car.”

As for 2017 goals, Courtney Force says she wants to qualify again for the NHRA’s six-race Countdown to the Championship playoff, to win the U.S. Nationals for the first time, and of course, to win the overall Funny Car championship – even if it means beating out dear old dad.

“I feel like we have a team over here that could really take that dream home,” she said.

Not surprisingly, Brittany’s goals are similar.

“I plan to improve in areas that I struggle with as a driver,” she said. “I want to finish this next season a step ahead of where I am now. As a team, our goals are to win more races and go after that championship title.”

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John Force has a job for soon-to-be retired Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Photo courtesy John Force official Twitter page
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The battle for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s post-retirement services has begun.

And leave it to none other than 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force to be the first to offer Junior a job.

As a Funny Car driver, of course.

Look at the plusses: they both drive for Chevrolet, they both like beer, Junior wouldn’t have to worry about turning left or right (on road courses) any more, he’d be able to stay on the straight and narrow (drag strip, that is) and …

Perhaps the best thing of all, he could ultimately become Force’s replacement as the most popular driver in NHRA drag racing when (or if) Force ever decides to retire himself.

Check out Force’s job offer:

Several current or former Verizon IndyCar Series drivers also took to social media to pay homage to Junior — including another member of the Force family, son-in-law Graham Rahal, who is married to drag racer Courtney Force.

 

 

 

Loftus Robinson Rejoin Dreyer and Reinbold Racing for Indy 500

Photo: Dreyer and Reinbold Racing
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Indianapolis-based real estate developer Loftus Robinson will rejoin Dreyer and Reinbold Racing for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. The relationship between Loftus Robinson and DRR goes back to 2015, when they first partnered for the “500.” The partnership continues for 2017, with Sage Karam piloting the effort for the second consecutive year.

“Being an Indianapolis-based company, we felt it has been important to partner with another local company, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, in the famed Indy 500,” said Drew Loftus, co-principal of Loftus Robinson. “The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has served as a great backdrop for our business’ growth. We have enjoyed our relationship with Dennis and his racing team. They have built a tremendous infrastructure to assist us and our partners through the event. We’re anxious to see Sage back on track in the No. 24 DRR Chevrolet this May.”

Team co-owner Dennis Reinbold echoed Loftus’ enthusiam. “Loftus Robinson has been one of the Indianapolis area’s top young commercial real estate companies in recent years and we are very pleased to have them back in 2017 with our Indy 500 entry,” he explained. “Loftus Robinson has utilized our racing team’s participation in the world’s greatest auto race to formulate strong relationships with their business partners as well as developing new clients right at the track. We hope to put them in victory lane on May 28 with Sage at the wheel.”

Practice for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil begins on May 15.

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JR Hildebrand cleared to return for Phoenix

Photo: IndyCar
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After sitting out the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama last weekend, JR Hildebrand will be able to return to action for this weekend’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix (Saturday, 9 p.m. ET, NBCSN), after being cleared Tuesday to drive.

The primary driver of the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing sustained a broken bone in his left hand in a final lap accident at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 9, after a collision with Mikhail Aleshin. He was re-evaluated upon returning to Indianapolis and was not cleared to drive for the Barber Motorsports Park race.

Hildebrand was on site in Birmingham, Ala. in a driver coach role for Zach Veach, who filled in for his Verizon IndyCar Series debut. Veach started and finished 19th in his first start.

For Hildebrand, the return to Phoenix comes after he paced the series official preseason open test there in February, and comes as a great opportunity to come back from a challenging start to the year. Hildebrand had nondescript runs of 13th and 11th in the first two races but was 11th in points after Long Beach, although he fell to 21st when he missed Barber.

“It’s been a tricky couple of weeks working through this injury, I’m certainly anxious to get back in the car!” he said in a release. “I feel like I’m far enough along to be able to go for it this weekend in Phoenix. I know we’ve got a good program; I want to be able to come through for the team at an event where we should be strong. The competition there is tough, I expect we will really have to be on our game over the course of the weekend. I’m looking forward to getting back in the Fuzzy’s Vodka car! Everyone has been super helpful and I appreciate the hard work that everyone has put in to be able to get me back in.”

Meanwhile team owner Carpenter makes his first start of the season in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet as part of his oval-only program.

Spencer Pigot will be back in the No. 20 car at the INDYCAR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course on May 13, before Carpenter’s back in for the rest of the month of May leading up to and into the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

IMSA: Henzler, Bonanomi called up for drives at COTA

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Two fill-in drivers have been confirmed for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s next race at Circuit of The Americas, on May 6.

Wolf Henzler will deputize for Kevin Estre in the No. 912 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR, while Marco Bonanomi will make his IMSA Prototype class debut as a fill-in driver for Tom Kimber-Smith in the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier JS P217 Gibson.

Henzler will be in the No. 912 car alongside Laurens Vanthoor in GT Le Mans in the first “standard” two-hour, 40-minute race of the season, the Advance Auto Parts Showdown, as Estre will be on FIA World Endurance Championship duty the same day in the WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps with Porsche’s GT Team there.

Henzler’s absence means if TRG runs its Porsche 911 GT3 R at COTA in the GT Daytona class, Kevin Buckler would need a replacement for him.

There’s another potential fill-in-for-WEC driver scenario needed if Alegra Motorsports, the Rolex 24 at Daytona winners, were to run in GTD as well. Thus far Carlos de Quesada’s team has run Daniel Morad and Porsche factory driver Michael Christensen in its No. 28 Porsche in GTD through three races, but with Christensen and Estre set to share the No. 92 car at Spa, a replacement would need to be sourced there.

Bonanomi is the second replacement that is confirmed though. The Italian, who made one prior IMSA start since the 2014 merger with Fall-Line Motorsports in an Audi R8 LMS Ultra, will fill-in for “TKS,” who returns to England to take care of his mother, who is battling cancer.

“Tom will unfortunately miss the next race at Circuit of the Americas. He needs to be able to spend time back in the UK with his mother who is presently undergoing treatment for cancer,” said team principal Bobby Oergel.

“As all the drivers who have driven with PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports know, once you’re a part of our team, you’re family, and Tom is a big part of this family. It’s unfortunate that he will miss a round of the championship, but we know that family comes before racing, and we’re happy that he is able to take the time he needs to be with his family during this time.”

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Tom and his mother, and we are praying that she will be cancer free in the near future.”

Bonanomi has tested with the car and will share the car with Jose Gutierrez, who missed Long Beach as Will Owen filled in for him there.

“I was very happy to receive the call from PR1 to drive at their test at COTA. It was my first time driving the Ligier, but I think the test was very positive,” said Bonanomi.

“We tested some set up changes for the race that I think will be very good. The track itself is very demanding on the car and tires, especially with the extreme temperatures that can be present. The first practices during race week will be very critical to get everything just right in terms of set up, but after the test, I think we should be pretty close.”