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NHRA: After 2 motor explosions, John Force looks for big bounce back at Gatornationals

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The start of the 2018 Mello Yello NHRA Drag Racing Series has started off with a bang – make that two bangs – for 16-time Funny Car champ John Force.

Unfortunately, the bangs have not been the good kind, and Force has suffered in the Funny Car standings as a result.

Force had a 10,000 horsepower motor explode on him during qualifying for the season-opening Winternationals in Pomona, Calif., last month.

Two weeks after that in Phoenix, the same thing happened to Force, only this time he also got hung up in the parachute cords of Jonnie Lindberg and both chassis’ crashed into the wall.

Force was taken by ambulance both times to local hospitals, checked out and returned to race another day in both instances.

John Force after last year’s win in Gainesville. (Photo: Auto Imagery)

Now, as the NHRA prepares for this weekend’s Amalie Motor Oil Gatornationals at Gainesville (Florida) Raceway, there’s a lot on Force’s plate.

First, he hopes his team has been able to figure out why the motors exploded so to prevent a third straight blow-up this weekend.

Equally as important, Force hopes to defend his win in last year’s Gatornationals, the eighth time in his career that he’s won that particular event, one of the most popular races on the 24-race NHRA national event schedule. It’s the most wins by any Funny Car driver at Gainesville in the track’s history.

And there’s one other thing that is very uncharacteristic of Force: he’s not even in the top 10 in the NHRA Funny Car standings.

He’s 11th. You’d have to go way back in his career to find the last time Force was that far down in the rankings.

But there’s also a caveat to that: he’s 99 points behind Funny Car points leader Matt Hagan.

Translated, given we’re only two races into the season, one win could potentially and quickly boost Force up to or certainly close to the top spot in the Funny Car ranks after this weekend’s race in Gainesville.

“I am ready to get back to the race track,” Force said in a media release. “We have had some struggles at the first two races but we are figuring it out.

“My team has been going over my PEAK Chevrolet Funny Car and we’ll be ready. … I am ready to get back to the fans. It was good to have some time off but now the season is really going to get started.

“I really don’t need any motivation. … I get excited every time I drive onto a race track. I won this race a lot but every year is a new year. I go after every win with the same fire in my belly. This race car does the running for me and I love being out at the track with the fans.

“I love going to all the race tracks. Gainesville has a lot of history. I won this race last year and I am looking to get another win this year.”

While Gainesville Raceway has been the sight of many wins and overall strong performances, it also is a bittersweet location for Force and his entire John Force Racing family.

It was on March 19, 2007, during testing after that year’s Gatornationals, that Eric Medlen, a Force protégé, crashed and died four days later after undergoing surgery and a valiant attempt by surgeons to save his life.

“We loved the kid,” Force said of Eric Medlen. “His dad, John Medlen, worked to build a better race car to save lives. We learn from our wrecks.

“That is why I am still in the sport at 68. I ain’t no hero, all I am trying to do is build better race cars and take my knowledge that I have learned and make it better for these kids coming up.

“That is what it is all about, especially with my girls (Funny Car driver Courtney Force and Top Fuel driver Brittney Force, who was involved in a hard crash herself at Pomona, as well, but has since returned to racing).”

Qualifying for the 49th annual Gatornationals are Friday at 2 and 5:45 p.m. ET, and Saturday at 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. Eliminations begin Sunday at 11 a.m.

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Mercedes: F1 teams need to work together to avoid split

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said Friday that Formula One teams have a responsibility to try to overcome their differences over the future of the sport in the face of a threat by Ferrari to quit because of a number of proposed changes.

Bernie Ecclestone, who ran F1 for 40 years before being replaced by new owners Liberty Media last year, has raised the possibility that Ferrari chairman Sergio Marchionne could walk away from F1 and form a breakaway series over Liberty’s future vision for the sport.

Ferrari is unhappy with Liberty’s proposal to simplify engines and redistribute prize money among F1 teams after the current contract with teams expires at the end of 2020.

Ferrari team boss Maurizio Arrivabene would not comment on the specifics of Marchionne’s previous comments at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix on Friday, but said: “My only suggestion, please take him seriously.”

Wolff is also taking the possibility of Ferrari walking away seriously. He told Britain’s Press Association before the Australian GP that he agreed with Marchionne’s concerns and that Formula One can’t afford to alienate Ferrari or lose the team.

“Don’t mess with Sergio Marchionne,” he said. “Formula One needs Ferrari much more than Ferrari needs Formula One.”

Wolff was more diplomatic on Friday, saying he hopes all sides could come together for the good of the sport.

“I think this as much a battle on track as much as it is a fight off track for an advantage,” he said. “It is clear the current governance and how the rules are being made is not very functional. There’s too much different opinions and agendas on the table and we need to sort it for 2021 for the best interest of the sport.”

Red Bull boss Christian Horner agreed there are too many competing agendas, suggesting that the FIA-Formula One’s governing body-and Liberty Media come together to decide on a set of regulations and financial framework for the next contract and the teams can then decide if they want to accept it or not.

“Trying to get a consensus between teams that have varying objectives, different set-ups, is going to be impossible,” he said. “It’s history repeating itself. It happens every five or six years, every time the Concorde Agreement comes up for renewal.”

Tempers also flared during Friday’s media conference over another issue of contention between the teams – Ferrari’s recent hiring of FIA’s ex-safety director, Laurent Mekies.

Horner believes Ferrari broke an agreement among teams at a recent meeting to institute a 12-month waiting period for any former employee of FIA or FOM (Formula One Management) to be able to start working for one of F1’s teams. The concern is that former FIA staff who go to work for a specific team could share secrets from other teams.

“Certain teams were pushing for that period to be three years, but in the end it was agreed upon being 12 months,” he said. “It almost makes those meetings pointless if we can’t agree on something and action it.”

Arrivabene defended Ferrari’s move, saying Mekies would not join its team until after a six-month “gardening leave” period.

“There is nothing wrong with that because we were absolutely respecting the local law, the Swiss local law where Laurent was hired,” he said.