(Photos courtesy NHRA)

2016 NHRA season in review: Top Fuel driver Doug Kalitta

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Over the next three-plus weeks, MotorSportsTalk will feature season-ending reviews of the top drivers of the 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.

Each day, we’ll have one in-depth review of a driver that finished in the top-five in each of the four professional classes (Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle), as well as a compendium of select other drivers that did not finish in the top-five.

The list of drivers we’ve already posted is below. Today, we feature Top Fuel driver Doug Kalitta.



Driver: Doug Kalitta

Age: 52

Hometown: Ann Arbor, Michigan

Team: Kalitta Motorsports

Sponsor/car: Mac Tools dragster

Crew chief: Jim Oberhofer

2016 season finish: Second in Top Fuel.

2016 season statistics: 24 races, 4 wins, 2 runner-up, 7 semifinals, 8 quarterfinals. No. 1 qualifier four times. Round-by-round record: 44 wins, 20 losses.

Career statistics: 441 races, 42 wins, 45 runner-up, 76 semifinals, 135 quarterfinals. No. 1 qualifier 47 times. Round-by-round record: 589 wins, 392 losses. 7 DNQ.

What went right in 2016: Kalitta had a great season, finishing second in the Top Fuel standings for the third time in his career. … For much of the season, it looked like Kalitta may go on to win his first Top Fuel championship, but a late surge by Antron Brown kept Kalitta from achieving his goal. … Still, the former sprint car driver reached the final round in one-fourth of the 24 races (four wins, two runner-up). Was part of major drag racing history, defeating teammate J.R. Todd in the closest Top Fuel final round finish — .000 seconds — at Southern Nationals in Commerce, Ga.

What went wrong in 2016: Kalitta’s championship hopes faded when he suffered three consecutive second-round losses in the Countdown to the Championship (St. Louis, Reading and Dallas). … Antron Brown clinched the championship in the second-to-last race (Las Vegas). If he had not, Kalitta may have had a last-gasp chance in the season finale, which he ultimately won, defeating teammate J.R. Todd. … Kalitta had three first-round exits in the first 18 races.

What to look for in 2017: With the success he had in 2016, Kalitta will have good momentum coming into the new season. He’ll have a new teammate (Troy Coughlin), who will replace J.R. Todd (moves to replace the departed Del Worsham in one of the Kalitta Motorsports’ Funny Car entries). Kalitta has the team, resources and talent to finally win the championship, but drivers like two-time defending champ (and three-time champion overall) Antron Brown and eight-time champ Tony Schumacher will be among the top obstacles for Kalitta to overcome. But the nephew of team owner Connie Kalitta has one thing to offer inspiration: good friend Ron Capps had to wait for more than 20 years and endure four season runner-up finishes before he finally won his first championship in 2016.

Season reviews already posted:

— Antron Brown (12/12)

— Ron Capps (12/13)

— Jason Line (12/14)

Jerry Savoie (12/15)

Doug Kalitta (12/16)

Tommy Johnson Jr. (12/17)

Greg Anderson (12/18)

Eddie Krawiec (12/19)

Steve Torrence (12/20)

— Matt Hagan (12/21)

— Shane Gray (12/22)

— Andrew Hines (12/23)

— J.R. Todd (12/24)

— John Force (12/25)

— Bo Butner (12/26)

— Angelle Sampey (12/27)

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Pippa Mann returns to Dale Coyne Racing for seventh Indianapolis 500 bid

Photo courtesy Dale Coyne Racing
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Pippa Mann announced Tuesday that she plans to drive in her seventh Indianapolis 500 on May 27.

The native of Ipswich, England will once again return to race for Dale Coyne Racing, with new sponsorship by Donate Life Indiana.

She had previously been sponsored the last four years in the 500 by the Susan G. Komen organization. She’ll continue to carry logos of that organization on the front wing of her car in the 500, Mann said.

Mann, 34, has raced six times in the 500, with a best finish being 17th in last year’s race.

Mann will fill out the four-car Dale Coyne Racing field for the Greatest Spectacle In Racing. She’ll be teammates with Sebastien Bourdais (No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda in a partnership with Vasser-Sullivan), Pietro Fittipaldi (No. 19 The Paysafe Car Honda) and Conor Daly (No. 17 U.S. Air Force Honda in a partnership with Thom Burns Racing).

Mann will make her first practice laps for this year’s 500 on Tuesday, May 15. Qualifying is May 19-20.

Mann’s No. 63 Honda will have a significantly different look than in the last few years. Instead of pink, her car will feature a silvery blue and light green paint scheme wrapped around a Donate Life Indiana logo.

“I am honored to have been asked to drive the Donate Life car this May and to partner with Donate Life Indiana as an ambassador to raise awareness on our mission to help reach even more Hoosiers through our education efforts,” Mann said in a media release. “This is obviously a campaign with a pretty deep personal meaning for me, and I am humbled to have the opportunity to join the racers carrying this cause forward.

“I also want to thank Dale and Gail Coyne for once again giving me this opportunity to pilot one of their entries this May. This will be my sixth year with Dale Coyne Racing and I’m truly grateful that they allow me to do this every year.”

Mann will also serve as a spokesperson for the organization and to raise awareness for youth education initiatives in Indiana, most notably organ, tissue and eye donor registration.

In addition to her driving duties in the 102nd running of the 500, Mann will also visit schools across the Hoosier State to speak about the importance of organ donation and transplantation.

“Our education team is committed to partnering with Pippa and students and teachers across the state to bring the message of organ donation and transplantation to as many students as possible,” said Steve Johnson, board chairman for Donate Life Indiana.

Follow @JerryBonkowski