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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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Recap: Green Bay Packers QB Brett Hundley takes in Kohler Grand Prix

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When professional athletes decide to experience sports outside of the one where they make their living, it never ceases to entertain. Case and point: Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Hundley.

The 24-year-old Hundley spent the weekend at Road America, taking in the Kohler Grand Prix. His time at the facility began on Thursday, where he first paid a visit to Team Penske driver Will Power, who gave him a quick tutorial.

Will Power shows Brett Hundley a steering for a Verizon IndyCar Series machine. Photo: IndyCar

The next part of Hundley’s day saw him take a two-seater ride with none other than Mario Andretti. And, unsurprisingly, it left a big impression.

Mari Andretti takes Brett Hundley around Road America in the Verizon IndyCar Series two-seater. Photo: IndyCar

“The first lap, I’m screaming, and it’s the warm-up lap! And then the second lap: I’m just bright-eyed, going through corners. I give so much respect, that’s an awesome sport, man!” Hundley said in a media debrief afterward.

However, the day was not finished. Later on, Hundley showed off his arm strength and throwing accuracy by attempting to throw a football through the passenger side window of a moving Chevrolet Corvette. And while it took a few attempts, he eventually hit his mark.

Hundley stayed through Sunday and dawned a photographer’s bib in order to take in more of the action.

In fact, he even inadvertently photobombed second-place finisher Josef Newgarden during his post-race interview.

A video chronicling Hundley’s visit can be viewed here and additional photos from his weekend can be found on his Instagram page.

 

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Merhi confirmed for WEC return with Manor at the Nürburgring

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CEFC Manor TRS Racing has confirmed that Roberto Merhi will return to the FIA World Endurance Championship for next month’s 6 Hours of Nürburgring, replacing Jean-Eric Vergne.

Merhi previously raced for Manor in both Formula 1 and the WEC, making his most recent appearance with the British marque at last November’s 6 Hours of Bahrain.

Merhi’s last racing outing came in the Formula 2 double-header in Spain and has flirted with a move into Formula E, but was confirmed on Wednesday to be making his racing return at the Nürburgring on July 16.

Merhi will deputize for Vergne in the No. 24 Oreca 07 Gibson while the Frenchman is in New York for the city’s inaugural Formula E event.

FIA to re-examine Vettel/Hamilton Baku F1 clash

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The FIA has confirmed that it will re-examine the clash between Formula 1 title rivals Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton in Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix to see if further action is warranted.

Vettel and Hamilton made contact twice behind the safety car in Baku, with the second incident deemed to be an act of dangerous driving on Vettel’s part.

The FIA stewards in Baku handed Vettel a 10-second stop/go penalty for the clash – the harshest available penalty besides disqualification – but faced calls to issue a stricter punishment post race.

Hamilton said that the incident set a dangerous precedent for F1 and wider motorsport, but Vettel believed his rival deserved a penalty for allegedly brake testing him.

On Wednesday, the FIA confirmed that it would be re-examining the incident in a meeting on July 3, with a verdict set to be delivered ahead of the Austrian Grand Prix.

“Following the recent incident at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in which Car 5 (Sebastian Vettel) was involved in a collision with Car 44 (Lewis Hamilton), on Monday 3rd July, the FIA will further examine the causes on the incident in order to evaluate whether further action is necessary,” a short statement from the FIA read.

“A statement regarding the outcome of this process will be made available before the upcoming Austrian Grand Prix (7-9 July).”

Wickens not interested in full-time IndyCar switch despite practice run

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Robert Wickens is not interested in making a full-time switch to the Verizon IndyCar Series in the near future despite his practice run-out at Road America last weekend for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

Mercedes DTM driver Wickens was called up for Friday practice at the KOHLER Grand Prix in the No. 7 Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda after Mikhail Aleshin was unable to make it in time due to immigration issues.

Aleshin was able to return to the United States in time for Saturday’s final practice and qualifying at Road America, with Wickens stepping back down.

The Canadian got his first taste of an Indy car in a car swap with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe in March, paving the way for his practice appearance at Road America.

However, Wickens is not looking to make a full-time move over to IndyCar anytime soon despite enjoying his run-out, with his focus lying with DTM.

“Not really, to be honest,” Wickens said when asked if IndyCar was something he would like to move into in Mercedes’ ‘Tales from the Paddock’ press newsletter.

“I just want to race cars. That’s the main thing. I have no urge to leave the DTM at the moment.

“Everything is going well, and I’m really happy with Mercedes.”

Wickens also went into detail about how rapidly things moved with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, having only been told the day before practice that he was required for the running.

“I planned on having a relaxing weekend at home, but on Thursday afternoon I got a call from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, which is the team that we did the ride swap with involving James Hinchcliffe back in April,” Wickens said.

“They asked if I could go to Road America and fill in for Mikhail Aleshin who had immigration issues. Fortunately, Toto [Wolff] was happy for me to do it and I was able to jump on a plane and get to Wisconsin.

“We didn’t get to the hotel until about 10pm on Thursday, and Free Practice 1 was on Friday morning very early. It took some getting used to.

“The practice itself was fun. The track was really good. It would be amazing to have a DTM race there one day.

“I definitely wanted to do the full weekend, but the full-time driver got his immigration stuff sorted and he made it to the race track by Friday night. My duties were finished, but it was still a really fun Friday.”