Photo: Ford Chip Ganassi Racing

Rolex 24 Grand Marshal Chip Ganassi on verge of 200th overall career win as team owner

Leave a comment

The boys are back in town and they’re ready for some serious racing action this weekend.

That best describes Ford Chip Ganassi Racing heading into Saturday’s 56th annual Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Not only are defending GTLM winners Joey Hand, Dirk Muller and Sebastien Bourdais back to defend their 2017 Rolex 24 title in the No. 66 Ford GT, team owner Chip Ganassi will be Rolex royalty, serving as Grand Marshal for the event.

And if that’s not all, Ganassi – who has been coming to Daytona since first serving as a crew member in 1985 – is going for his 200th overall race win as a team owner across all platforms he’s been involved in over his career, including IMSA, IndyCar, WEC and NASCAR.

Chip Ganassi goes for his 200th career win as a team owner in this weekend’s Rolex 24. (Photo: IMSA via LAT)

He’s also seeking his third overall Rolex win, having previously done so in both Prototype and GTLM.

“The Rolex 24 At Daytona is always a special race to me, not only because it signifies the beginning of the racing season but more importantly because of the magnitude of the event itself,” Ganassi said. “There are few races in the world that capture the imagination of race fans everywhere as well as the automotive industry and the Rolex is one of them.

“It also has a diverse group or manufacturers and drivers alike and when you win the Rolex 24 At Daytona, you know you have accomplished something special.”

 

The No. 66 will start Saturday’s 24-hour endurance race second in the GTLM class, just missing the top qualifying spot by 19/100ths of a second. It was on the pole for last year’s race.

“How cool would it be if we could win this thing for Chip’s 200th win after he gives us the call to start our engines?,” Hand said. “That would be something, for sure.

“In the history of Chip Ganassi Racing, they’ve always had good race cars at Daytona, so I think we have another good shot at it. Last year it came down to six or seven cars at the finish, so really it’s a no-mistakes race. You have to be clean for 24 hours. We spent a lot of time at Roar trying to make a good race car and obviously we did pretty well because we had the quickest lap.”

The No. 66 was the quickest in the Roar Before the Rolex 24 three weeks ago, while the No. 67 was third-quickest, giving them first and third choices of garage/pit space.

“The key for us on the No. 66 team is to always make a good race car, because you have to have a car you can put in position,” Hand said. “Sometimes you have to pass on the inside, sometimes on the outside. It has to be a good overall race car you can place anywhere. Hopefully we get back to the race and have a good car like we left the Roar with.”

Meanwhile, the No. 67 of Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook and Scott Dixon will start fifth in the nine-car class (it finished 10th in last year’s Rolex), having qualified with a time of 1:43:091. The team was the No. 2 qualifier for last year’s race.

“Daytona is unique and like no other track we race on,” driver Richard Westbrook said. “It’s all about a compromise of top speed on the straight to get through the traffic and carrying enough downforce to help you through the infield.

“To turn consistent quick laps, you have to be quick through the infield but also make the passes on the straight, otherwise your laps are ruined following slower traffic through the infield.”

Added Briscoe, “I think last year was a really strong performance for our cars. “We had really good pace and we proved that we could win the race.

“I think we come into this year feeling fairly confident that we have done what we can to prepare, but there are so many unknowns. We have a lot of experience with the equipment and race, but it’s always a tough one. It’s a 24-hour race and a lot can, and will, happen. We just have to trust our preparation.”

NHRA shocker in Houston: John Force fails to qualify for first time since 2008, snaps 221-race streak

Photo and videos courtesy NHRA
Leave a comment

Sunday’s eliminations in the 31st annual NHRA SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway in suburban Houston  just won’t be the same without John Force.

In one of the most stunning turn of events seen in the last decade-plus in NHRA drag racing, the legendary 16-time Funny Car champion and the sport’s all-time winningest driver on Saturday failed to qualify for Sunday’s main event of the race weekend.

It marks the first time Force, who turns 69 on May 4, failed to qualify for a race since Sept. 13, 2008 in Charlotte race, snapping a string of having made the eliminations in each of the subsequent 221 races until failing to do so Saturday.

“That is hard for me,” Force said after failing to go any faster than 222.29 mph in the four qualifying rounds for the race, two on Friday and the other two on Saturday. “You earn what you get. We didn’t put it in the show. We couldn’t get to half-track.

“We have had a lot of problems all year. At least I got my final shot to get in and I didn’t make it. I will be here tomorrow rooting on Robert, Courtney and Brittany (teammates Robert Hight and daughters Courtney and Brittany Force). I’ll be signing autographs for all the fans. I am sorry to all of you fans that I didn’t make it.”

Saturday’s failure to qualify marked only the 22nd time he’s DNQ’d in his 40-year professional drag racing career. He set a drag racing record by qualifying for 395 consecutive events from 1988 until April 2007.

“I am bummed that the boss didn’t get in. That was quite a streak he had going,” Hight said of hoss and father-in-law. “There is nobody better at rallying a team and leading a comeback than John Force.

“He loves the fight and he will do whatever it takes to get his team back on top. It really isn’t something to worry about because two of our Chevys are No.1 and No. 2 right now.

“We have good combinations and we just have to duplicate one of those set ups for John’s PEAK Funny car. He’ll be back next week in Charlotte.”

****************************************
As for the other classes (information courtesy NHRA Media Relations):Leah Pritchett set a new Top Fuel track record during the final qualifying session on Saturday to secure the top spot in Top Fuel heading into Sunday.Hight (Funny Car) and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) are also No. 1 qualifiers in their respective categories at the fifth of 24 events on the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.

Defending event champion Pritchett raced her Mopar Dodge dragster to a pass of 3.680-seconds at 326.00 mph. This is her first No. 1 qualifier of the season and eighth of her career.

“We’ve been developing our confidence the last couple of races,” Pritchett stated. “To be able to put it on the track is phenomenal. We know we need to be exceptional because our competition is exceptional.”

Pritchett will line up against Terry Brian in round one of eliminations on Sunday. Defending world champion Brittany Force locked-in the No. 2 spot after a 3.701 at 313.80 in her Monster Energy dragster. Tony Schumacher is seeded third and will face William Litton.

Hight’s final qualifying pass of 3.894 at 317.27 in his Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro took him to the top of the Funny Car category. This is his first No. 1 qualifier of the season, second at Houston and 58th of his career.

“This is going to be a new ball game tomorrow,” Hight said. “With fresh asphalt and the sun being out; these cars are going to spin. It’s definitely going to be fun. Two of our Chevy’s are one and two (in Funny Car) which shows we have good combinations.”

Hight will face-off against Todd Simpson Sunday morning in the first round. Teammate Courtney Force sits in the No. 2 position with a pass of 3.911 at 295.14 in her Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro and two-time world champion Matt Hagan rounds out the top three.

Anderson, four-time Pro Stock world champion, remained atop the field Saturday with his pass of 6.492 at 213.00 in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro from the first qualifying session on Friday. He notched his third consecutive No. 1 qualifier of the season and is seeking his first victory of the year.

“I haven’t had great Sunday’s yet,” Anderson stated. “I know I’m going to break through one of these days though. The weather is going to be great again tomorrow. I feel good about it, I’m excited and so far it’s just been a great weekend.”

Anderson will race Steve Graham in the first round of eliminations. Jeg Coughlin Jr. qualified in the No. 2 position with a pass of 6.504 at 212.36 in his JEGS.com/Elite Performance Chevrolet Camaro and Tanner Gray is third.

Eliminations at the NHRA SpringNationals begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday at Royal Purple Raceway.

****************************************
SUNDAY’S FIRST-ROUND PAIRINGS FOR ELIMINATIONS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Leah Pritchett, 3.680 seconds, 326.00 mph vs. 16. Terry Brian, 4.275, 284.62; 2. Brittany Force, 3.701, 320.20 vs. 15. Terry Haddock, 4.081, 287.17; 3. Tony Schumacher, 3.703, 322.73 vs. 14. Bill Litton, 3.927, 306.60; 4. Billy Torrence, 3.737, 317.87 vs. 13. Kebin Kinsley, 3.819, 313.51; 5. Antron Brown, 3.740, 324.98 vs. 12. Terry McMillen, 3.783, 314.31; 6. Clay Millican, 3.746, 315.78 vs. 11. Mike Salinas, 3.766, 313.73; 7. Doug Kalitta, 3.748, 320.05 vs. 10. Richie Crampton, 3.766, 316.23; 8. Scott Palmer, 3.754, 318.17 vs. 9. Steve Torrence, 3.759, 313.88. Did Not Qualify: 17. Terry Totten, 4.636, 216.34.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.894, 317.27 vs. 16. Todd Simpson, Dodge Charger, 4.318, 288.33; 2. Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.911, 313.58 vs. 15. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Camry, 4.151, 283.49; 3. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.913, 311.85 vs. 14. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.077, 305.77; 4. Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.918, 317.42 vs. 13. Richard Townsend, Camry, 4.026, 308.99; 5. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 3.918, 301.94 vs. 12. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.017, 307.51; 6. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.925, 311.41 vs. 11. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 3.994, 311.34; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.926, 313.00 vs. 10. J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.989, 313.37; 8. Jonnie Lindberg, Camry, 3.927, 316.52 vs. 9. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.938, 314.09. Did Not Qualify: 17. Jim Campbell, 4.341, 273.05; 18. John Force, 4.625, 222.29.

PRO STOCK: 1. Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.492, 213.00 vs. 16. Steve Graham, Camaro, 6.775, 205.60; 2. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.504, 212.36 vs. 15. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.621, 208.65; 3. Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.507, 211.99 vs. 14. John Gaydosh Jr, Chevrolet Camaro, 6.592, 210.93; 4. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.513, 212.29 vs. 13. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.548, 210.67; 5. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.518, 211.99 vs. 12. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.545, 210.50; 6. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.525, 212.79 vs. 11. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.532, 212.73; 7. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.527, 212.29 vs. 10. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.532, 211.79; 8. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.528, 211.93 vs. 9. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.530, 211.33.