John Force isn’t in contention for any Grammys, but that’s not keeping the 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion from “putting the band back together” in hopes of making some great music on the drag strip in 2017.
Force announced Friday that former crew chief Jimmy Prock, who led Force to his most recent championship in 2013, has returned to the John Force Racing fold after spending the last two seasons with Don Schumacher Racing as crew chief for “Fast Jack” Beckman.
Prock, who previously spent 14 years with JFR, will return to his former role as the crew chief for the 2017 season for Force’s PEAK Chevrolet Camaro SS, with Chris Cunningham serving as co-crew chief.
“I’m putting the band back together,” John Force said. “Jimmy Prock is returning home, and Chris Cunningham is coming with him. This is a great opportunity to grow the company as NHRA continues to grow, too. To bring talents like Jimmy and Cunningham will make John Force Racing stronger. And it will make the PEAK Chevrolet a NHRA Mello Yello championship contender.”
Prock earned 39 victories as a crew chief in his previous stint with JFR: 27 with Robert Hight, eight with Gary Densham and four with John Force.
“I’m very excited,” Prock said. “I worked here for a long time, and we’re excited to be back working with the JFR brain trust. Plus, with all the of Chevrolet’s support and engineering, this is a whole new adventure. We’re working hard to try to get a championship and win as many races as we can.”
As for the rest of JFR’s four-car lineup for 2017:
* Mike Neff will return as crew chief for Robert Hight’s Funny Car, with Jon Schaffer and Jason McCulloch as co-crew chiefs. Schaffer spent the last two seasons as John Force’s crew chief.
* Danny Hood returns as crew chief, as well as Ronnie Thompson as co-crew chief for Courtney Force’s Funny Car team.
* Brian Husen remains as crew chief, with 11-time championship team owner/tuner Alan Johnson as consultant for Top Fuel driver Brittany Force.
“A good football team builds its strength on many levels: from the head coach to coordinators to players,” Force said. “You need depth at every level, and these moves makes us deeper and stronger.
“Every one of my crew chiefs and co-crew chiefs can run a successful team, and to have them all under one roof just makes us better as a whole and as individual teams.”
John Force also announced that Jimmy Prock’s son Austin has joined the organization in its driver development program. The younger Prock, a 21-year-old third-generation racer, has spent the last few years racing sprint cars and midgets, including winning the 2014 STARS national midget championship.
“I’ve watched Jimmy’s sons grow up,” John Force said. “It just fits for John Force Racing. The opportunity to bring him into drag racing is great.
“He’s talented, he’s personable, good-looking, lightweight like a jockey and loves auto racing. I know he can drive a race car. It’s in his DNA, in his blood.”
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.