Photo courtesy of IMSA

Rolex 24: Action Express hang on for victory, Ganassi gets 200th win

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Although the finish of the 56th running of the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona did not produce the same no-holds-barred fight we’ve seen in recent years, there was plenty of drama as overall and class leaders battled either mechanical problems or varying fuel strategies that kept the results uncertain right to the very end.

But, at the checkered flag, the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi for Action Express, No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT, and the No. 11 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracan GT3 all claimed victories.

For Action Express, it is their third overall victory at the Rolex 24, while Ford Chip Ganassi Racing claimed its second consecutive GT Le Mans crown and gave team owner Chip Ganassi his 200th win as a team owner across all of his racing organizations. Meanwhile, GRT Grasser Racing Team took its maiden class victory, taking home GT Daytona honors.

Below are quick reports on all three classes:

Prototype

The final hours of the Rolex 24 were incredibly tense as Action Express Racing continued to battle overheating problems, notably on their leading No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac. In the hands of Filipe Albuquerque, the team asked him to back off considerably, at times shutting the car off on the banking while running lap times anywhere from three to six seconds slower than its closest challengers.

As a result, both the sister No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac, in the hands of Stuart Middleton, and the No. 54 CORE Autosport Oreca 07 Gibson, in the hands of Colin Braun, decreased the gap dramatically, with both Middleton and Braun even getting back on the lead lap in the final minutes.

However, Albuquerque was able to nurse the car home to take the win and avenge last year’s disappointment, when the team ended up second after late contact with Ricky Taylor.

Albuquerque was joined in Victory Lane by co-drivers Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi, and also gives Action Express its third win at the Rolex 24.

The No. 31 experienced drama of its own, with Middleton needing to get back in the car near the end of the race to meet his minimum drive time quota. The team thought he had met the minimum, but IMSA officials informed team officials that Middleton was just short, forcing them to call an audible and put Middleton back in the car.

Despite being the youngest and least experienced driver of the lineup, Middleton ran a clean race to the checkered flag to finish second with co-drivers Mike Conway, Felipe Nasr, and Eric Curran.

Colin Braun managed to finish third, with co-drivers Jon Bennet, Romain Dumas, and Loic Duval.

GTLM

A dominant performance by Ford Chip Ganassi Racing produced a 1-2 finish for the team that spent nearly the entire race in the GTLM lead.

After trading the lead back and forth several times between them, it was the No. 67 Ford GT of Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook, and Scott Dixon taking the victory over the No. 66 of Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller, and Sebastien Bourdais.

It is the second consecutive team victory for Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, with the No. 66 team taking the win last year. It is also the 200th victory for Chip Ganassi Racing as an organization and their eighth Rolex 24 victory (six in Prototype, two in GTLM).

The No. 3 Corvette Racing Corvette C7.R finished third with Antonio Garcia, Jan Magnussen, and Mike Rockenfeller.

GTD

A closely fought battle that saw three marques and four teams fight tooth and nail in the final hours saw GRT Grasser Racing Team bring home the GTD victory with Mirko Bortolotti, Rolf Ineichen, Franck Perera, and Rik Breuker.

Bortolotti held the the lead for GRT Grasser in the waning minutes and appeared to face a challenge from Jeroen Bleekemolen in the No. 33 Mercedes-AMG GT3 for Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports, but a late stop for fuel put an end to their chances for victory.

The win gives Lamborghini its first ever class win at the Rolex 24, and the Lamborghini Huracan GT3 was consistently one of quickest cars going back to the Roar Before the 24 test on the first weekend of January.

The No. 86 Michael Shank Racing with Curb/Agajanian Acura NSX GT3 finished second with Alvaro Parente, Katherine Legge, AJ Allmendinger, and Trent Hindman.

Third went to the No. 48 Paul Miller Racing, Lamborghini, with Andrea Caldarelli, Bryan Sellers, Madison Snow, and Bryce Miller.

The race, which featured only four full-course cautions, also shattered the records for total laps and total distance covered. The winning No. 5 Action Express Cadillac covered 808 laps and over 3,070 miles, shattering the previous records of 762 laps 2,760 miles

 

Full results

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

Photo and videos courtesy NHRA
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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.”

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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.

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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.