Photo courtesy of IMSA

IMSA: Sebring qualifying sets track records, Vautier takes pole

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Friday’s qualifying for the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring had speed aplenty across all three classes, with track records falling in Prototype, GT Le Mans, and GT Daytona. The record-setting qualifying saw Spirit of Daytona Racing’s Tristan Vautier (Prototype), BMW Team RLL’s Connor De Phillippi (GT Le Mans), and Spirit of Race’s Daniel Serra (GT Daytona) take the pole positions in their respective classes.

Reports on qualifying from all three classes are below.

Prototype

Vautier’s pole continues a resurgence for Spirit of Daytona, which struggled in 2017 with a Riley Mk. 30 chassis before switching to the Ligier JS P217 chassis.

Now sporting a Cadillac DPi-V.R, Spirit of Daytona was immediately on pace at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, qualifying fifth and running up front before dropping out with an engine issue.

Vautier, who will share the No. 90 Cadillac with Matt McMurry and Eddie Cheever III, was able to surge into the top spot in qualifying with eight minutes left, overcoming an off-track excursion on his previous lap to do so, and he highlighted an enthusiasm for the Sebring International Raceway circuit as an important factor in the strong showing.

“I just really like this track, it has a bit of everything you need as a driver,” Vautier said after qualifying.. “There are a lot of high-commitment corners like Turn 1 and Turn 2 and Turn 17. But the other parts of the track are very technical.”

He added, “There is a kind of flow to it with the pavement changes, and some corners off camber, some with camber. No corner is the same, I have a good time driving here. Of course, we have a good car, we can’t have a pole without a super setup. We’ve been lucky to have great engineers here.”

Olivier Pla qualified second the No. 2 Nissan Onroak DPi for Tequila Patron ESM, with Acura Team Penske’s Ricky Taylor qualifying third in the No. 7 Acura ARX-05. Pipo Derani qualified fourth in the sister No. 22 ESM Nissan, while Felip Nasr completed the top five in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac for Action Express.

GT Le Mans (GTLM)

Sebring represents a dramatic turn in fortune for BMW Team RLL, which struggled for pace in their all-new BMW M8 GTLM machines.

Slight tweaks to the new car’s Balance of Performance (BoP) as well development since Daytona have seen a dramatic increase in speed from the new BMWs, with Connor De Phillippi putting the No. 25 on the GTLM pole.

“(The team) said just go out there and drive as fast as you can and you see where we ended up,” de Phillippi quipped. “That’s kind of our motto throughout the year, not think too much about the others and just do the best we possibly can every session, every day. And obviously the outcome of hard work is a pole position.”

De Phillippi’s best lap of 1:55.839 just barely bettered Risi Competizione’s James Calado’s 1:55.897, who qualified second in their No. 62 Ferrari 488 GTE.

De Phillippi’s teammate’s Jesse Krohn qualified third in the sister No. 24 BMW. Ford Chip Ganassi Racing will round out the top five, with Richard Westbrook qualifying fourth in No. 67 Ford GT and Joey Hand fifth in the No. 66.

GT Daytona (GTD)

Spirit of Race put on a display of dominance that no one saw coming, with Daniel Serra’s quick lap in the No. 51 Ferrari 488 GT3 coming in at 1:58.710 and shattering last year’s pole time – coincidentally from Vautier, who was with SunEnergy1 Racing at the time – by more than one second.

Serra was also half a second quicker than the No. 29 Montaplast by Land Motorsport Audi R8 LMS GT3, in the hands of Christopher Mies, which qualified second.

“It was an awesome session and I enjoyed every corner,’’ Serra expressed post-qualifying. “In the morning and the lap we did yesterday I could feel the car was good, it was just a matter of putting all the sectors together. I knew we could do a good lap this morning. Audi was really fast as well. I thought it would be more close, but the advantage was almost half a second. I think we could predict the balance better than the others.”

Jack Hawksworth qualified third in the No. 15 Lexus RC F GT3 for 3GT Racing, followed by teammate Dominik Bauman in the No. 15. Madison Snow rounded out the top five in the Paul Miller Racing No. 48 Lamborghini Huracan GT3.

Full qualifying results can be viewed here. The Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring rolls off at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday.

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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.