John Force has taught his racing daughters – Ashley (retired), Brittany and Courtney – quite a few lessons about drag racing over the years.
One of the most important lessons Papa John has imparted on his daughters is how to do a major league burnout. After all, the 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion is the undisputed king of burnouts in the sport.
It’s obvious his daughters have learned their lessons well, particularly Courtney.
Having just celebrated the one-year anniversary of her wedding to Verizon IndyCar Series driver Graham Rahal, Courtney Force had a chance a few days ago to put her burnout talents on display.
And boy, did she ever. She generated so much smoke from her rear tires that the fire department should have been on hand.
We’re almost ready to say that if John is the king of burnouts, Courtney is now the queen.
Courtney was loaned a brand new, red-hot (both its paint scheme, as well as the 650 horses it has under the hood) 2017 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 to do some burnouts and quarter-mile passes at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California.
She literally smoked the tires off the Camaro with one of the most spectacular burnouts you’ll ever see come from a street car. If you think NASCAR drivers do great burnouts, wait until you see when Courtney mashed the pedal. Her car disappeared for several seconds in a massive display of burnout smoke before re-emerging.
“The best part about racing is the burnout,” Courtney Force said from behind the wheel. “For me, this is like a dream come true car. It’s a street-legal car that you can take right from the street and take it to a drag strip and race it.”
Thankfully, cameras were on hand to record the fun Courtney had, with NHRA reporter Amanda Busick – who appeared a bit apprehensive before climbing into the car – riding shotgun.
Force, who recently signed a multi-year major sponsorship deal with Advance Auto Parts, consistently ran sub-eight second laps at over 100 mph in her flashy Chevy.
Needless to say, the fun only served to further whet Courtney’s appetite for the 2017 NHRA racing season, which begins in less than two months with the season-opening Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway.
“I’m already looking forward to testing in Phoenix (in late January),” said Courtney Force, who finished sixth in 2016, but has much higher goals for 2017.
“We’re going for a championship and I can’t wait to get to testing,” she said with a big smile on her face.
“We’re hoping to give Toronto and Ontario and Canadian sports fans in general something to cheer about over the next season,” Hinchcliffe quipped during a teleconference on Wednesday.
Granted, there are likely to be several challenges to overcome, notably for Wickens, who returns to single-seater competition for the first time since 2011, when he was a champion of the Formula Renault 3.5 series and served as test driver for the now defunct Manor Racing (then known as Marussia Virgin Racing).
Having spent every year since then in DTM, where he won a total of six races and finished as high as fourth in the championship (2016), Wickens knows returning to open wheel competition will be an adjustment. However, he explained that the history of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, specifically its Indy Lights history, speaks to their ability to help a driver adapt, and he rates the program they’re putting together very highly.
“I think Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have a fantastic driver development program. They showed that in their multiple Indy Lights championships along the way. I think we will have a strong program in place. I have a feeling that the simulator will be my new best friend,” Wickens said when asked about getting reacquainted with an open-wheel car.
Of course, having an experienced teammate like Hinchcliffe to lean on will undoubtedly help the transition, something Wickens readily admitted.
“I’m very fortunate that I have James as my teammate because he’s so experienced, I can learn off him. Because we already have such a good off-track relationship, I feel like you can just take his word, trust him, kind of move forward with it,” he revealed.
They’ve been teammates before, both in karting where they first met in 2001, and then in the now-defunct A1 Grand Prix series in 2007-2008, a series that pitted nations against each other in spec open-wheel cars. Funnily, that A1GP type of vibe returns as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports now has that with its “Team Canada” mantra while all four of Andretti Autosport’s full-season drivers are American.
For Hinchcliffe, Wickens’ background, even if it hasn’t been in the single-seater realm since 2011, was a big selling point in adding him to the team.
“In Robby, we have a proven winner at a very high level. The level of technical expertise that he comes with from his time in DTM is very impressive,” he said of Wickens’ technical background.
Hinchcliffe revealed that Wickens’ feedback to the team and his ability to quickly adapt to the chassis took everyone somewhat by surprise.
“We did our ride swap. He had two hours in the car, hardly anything even resembling a test day, and his performance was pretty impressive. No doubt the time in Road America helped because that really gave us a better sense of his technical feedback, integrated with the team a little bit more. Everybody was happy to work with him on that day,” said Hinchcliffe.
Further still, Hinchcliffe is firm in his belief that the 2018 aero kit and its reduction in aerodynamic downforce will fall right into Wickens’ wheelhouse, based on Hinchcliffe’s own take after sampling Wickens’ DTM Mercedes earlier this year.
“In all honesty, I was saying earlier today, the 2018 car is probably better suited for him than the 2017 car because of the experience he’s had the last handful of series,” Hinchcliffe asserted.
“The (aero kit) was such high downforce, it would be a big change coming out of DTM. But with the loss of downforce that we’ve seen, the car is moving around a little bit more, brake zones, things like that, it won’t be as big a transition I think. Just based on the experience that I got in our ride swap, I think he’s going to adapt very quickly, be comfortable very quickly, and as a result be competitive very quickly. So it’s going to be exciting.”
As for expectations heading into next year, team co-owner Schmidt did not mince words and expects the team’s performance to resemble what they did in 2012, 2013, and 2014, when they won a total of four races (with driver Simon Pagenaud) and finished in the top five in the championship each year.
“We had a stint in ’12, ’13, ’14 where we finished fifth in the points (or better. I think we want to get back to that level of competition,” Schmidt added. “We felt like we were missing things in having two cars with equal funding and equal drivers and equal capabilities. We think this gets back there.”