Competition in the NHRA Funny Car class is hard enough with the likes of defending champion Ron Capps, 16-time champ John Force, Matt Hagan, “Fast Jack” Beckman, Del Worsham, Tommy Johnson Jr., Courtney Force, Alexis De Joria, Cruz Pedregon, Tim Wilkerson and more.
But the competition just got even tougher with the announcement that two-time defending Top Alcohol Funny Car champ Jonnie Lindberg will move up to the nitro fuel Funny Car class in the 2017 season with Head Racing.
According to NHRA.com and National Dragster, Lindberg – a native of Sweden – will take over for Chad Head, who stepped out of the driver’s seat of his family’s long-time Funny Car operation after last season to devote more time to the overall family business.
“This is a dream come true for me,” Lindberg told Kevin McKenna of NHRA.com/National Dragster. “I’ve always wanted to drive a fuel Funny Car. Last year, my goal was to win a second [Top Alcohol Funny Car] championship and then get my fuel license.
“… I thought it was a good idea to have the license just in case someone was looking for a driver. I didn’t expect that anything would happen this quickly, but I’m happy that it did.”
Lindberg has been a dominating force in Top Alcohol Funny Car – which is similar to the Xfinity Series in NASCAR, namely, one step below the NHRA’s big leagues. Not only did he win back-to-back TA/FC championships in 2015 and 2016, he also has six national event wins.
And, according to McKenna, Lindberg is the first driver in Top Alcohol Funny Car to break the 5.3-second barrier and to surpass 270 mph.
But by moving up to nitro Funny Car, Lindberg will also be making a big step: Funny Cars typically run less than four seconds and oftentimes over 330 mph down a 1,000-foot drag strip.
Per NHRA.com, the initial plan for Lindberg calls for him to compete in between 16 and 18 of the NHRA’s 24-race national event schedule, according to team owner Jim Head. Lindberg’s first race in a nitro Funny Car will be the Amalie Motor Oil Gatornationals, March 16-19, in Gainesville, Florida.
Lindberg will also be in contention for the Automobile Club of Southern California’s Road to the Future award as NHRA’s top overall rookie driver.
The two-day Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test concluded on Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Combined times after the two days of running are below, with Nico Jamin (Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires) and Oliver Askew (Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires) remaining on top from Saturday to Sunday, and Darren Keane (Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda) supplanting Andres Gutierrez at the head of that field.
Previous notebooks are linked here (Friday, Saturday), with additional Sunday notes to follow.
Several drivers pulled double duty between series, namely Parker Thompson (Exclusive Autosport in Pro Mazda and USF2000), Carlos Cunha (Juncos Racing in Indy Lights and Pro Mazda) and Aaron Telitz (Team Pelfrey in Pro Mazda, RJB Motorsports in USF2000). Telitz (above) added a run in Pro Mazda in Team Pelfrey’s No. 82 car; the Wisconsinite has done a lot of the series’ testing for the new Pro Mazda Tatuus PM-18, and had hoped to run all three series. We’ll have more meanwhile on Thompson and Exclusive’s double in the days to come; the Michael Duncalfe-led team out of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan was one of three new Pro Mazda teams adding those cars to USF2000 efforts (Pabst Racing, BN Racing) this week.
There were a handful of drivers that changed cars or teams for Sunday’s second day of the test, primarily in USF2000. While Keane ran both days at Newman Wachs, the Brian Halahan-managed team ran David Osborne and Oscar DeLuzuriaga in the Nos. 37 and 38 cars, taking over from Jake Craig and Max Peichel. Osborne switched from Team Pelfrey, where he ran Saturday, and where Jacob Loomis ran Sunday. Justin Gordon ran a second Exclusive Autosport chassis, switching to the No. 90 on Sunday after running the No. 92 Saturday.
The PM-18 best lap set by Askew is more than three seconds faster than the series’ official track record (Pato O’Ward in 2016, at 1:22.8800, 105.941 mph). Askew’s best time of 1:19.8142 averages 110.010 mph around the 2.439-mile circuit. Neither the Indy Lights nor USF2000 cars eclipsed the existing lap records in those categories.
Drivers largely extolled the PM-18’s outright pace and potential with the horsepower upgrade, in what is a significant step forward for the series. “Following prototype testing of the new PM-18, I believed that we had a special race car and this weekend’s testing confirms that,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “Based on team and driver comments, this is a fantastic race car and I am very pleased with what Tatuus, Elite Engines and my team have assembled. It fits perfectly in between the USF-17 and the IL-15 in terms of lap times and, more importantly, it takes what a driver learns in the first step and introduces higher HP, higher grip and higher aero. This will be a great training car for years to come, and seeing our program now with three excellent and well-designed cars is very satisfying to me.”
Keane, one of the few veterans (relatively speaking) within USF2000 was plugged in this weekend as the only driver outside Pabst Racing to threaten the top of the timesheets. “It’s a good boost in confidence for me heading into next year. I am really happy with how everything is going with the team. They are a great group of guys and it’s just really good to see us improving and being where we want to be,” he said.
Rinus Veekay hailed the Indy Lights Dallara IL-15 Mazda this weekend in his first test there, although the talented Dutch teenager may well focus on Pro Mazda next season and shoot to win that championship, and continue his battle with Askew established in USF2000. “The car is very nice, quick,” noted VeeKay. “You can really feel the downforce and it was a pleasure to drive.”
The MRTI is done with official running for the year, but the $200,000 MRTI Scholarship Shootout remains in December at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, the former Firebird Raceway, outside Phoenix. The winner of that will get a ticket into USF2000 for the 2018 season.
Full MRTI spring training will take place at Homestead-Miami Speedway in February 2018, with undoubtedly a bevy of driver and team announcements to come over the following months.