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INDYCAR: What Drivers Said after Friday’s 2 practice sessions at Long Beach

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Here’s what drivers had to say after the completion of Friday’s two IndyCar practice sessions on the Streets of Long Beach, in preparation for Sunday’s 44th annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach:

MATHEUS “MATT” LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “The car was different to drive, we were having some problems in the turning in mid-corner, but it was also my first day here, learning the track and everything. Tomorrow is a new day, we can only move forward from here. Hopefully, we will have a great car tomorrow, we’ll keep working hard and hope to have a great weekend.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda, 2017 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach winner): “It was an up-and-down day. There was a really big change on the track for us from Practice 1 to Practice 2, so we struggled a lot with the car balance this afternoon. It was also really busy out there. It’s not that long of a track; 24 cars all trying to get those runs on reds (Firestone alternate tires) at the end. We only really did one lap, and I’m not sure if we got the best out of it. We’ll see what we have tomorrow. We definitely have a lot to think about overnight, but this Arrow Electronics and entire Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team has done a great job so far this season of putting it together when it counts, and hopefully, we can keep that up.”

ROBERT WICKENS (No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda): “Not the best day for us. It’s still early in the weekend, and we have a lot of hard work ahead of us. From what I remember of St. Pete, we also weren’t that strong through free practice, but we came out good in the end. We’re just going to do look over everything tonight, make some level-headed decisions, and hopefully, we can get the Lucas Oil car up front tomorrow.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “We sat around a lot in the first session and then went out, and things started to move really fast. The PNC Bank car was fast right out of the box. We went out and were quick in our first run, then improved upon that in the second run. It’s a big weekend for Honda here, so we’ll try to get the most out of it for them and for the team. The cars are so fun to drive though. The track is really awesome without the added downforce too. The braking zones are a bit bigger and the power down is impressive especially out of the hairpin corner. I think come around Lap 20, drivers are going to be screaming for new tires around here. It’s great to be back here overall, though. Great cars, great atmosphere and being out there pounding around the Long Beach city streets.”

ED JONES (No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “Obviously not the start to the weekend we wanted with the NTT DATA car. We went one direction this morning and then took another direction toward what Scott (Dixon) and the No. 9 team were doing. We have some work to do tonight, but I’m confident we can make the right changes and be up there closer to the front tomorrow.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “Decent day…trying to find the right setup. This morning was a little bit better than this afternoon.  We tried a couple different things – a big swing just to see. Friday we have two free sessions so we’re learning for tomorrow. We have a lot of work to do, but we’re still up there. We just have to keep working to improve a little bit more. All in all, it was a trouble-free day, which is quite good.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Total Honda): “It was an OK day. I think the Total Honda was good right off the bat on blacks (Firestone primary tires) comparatively.  When we went to reds (Firestone alternate tires), I think we lost the handling a little bit. We also had a really poor out lap. We were trying to get a big gap (on track ahead). We went out too early, and I didn’t even get to get any temperature in them, and I think the reds are only spectacular on one lap and we just missed it. Unfortunately, that was that. Saturday is a new day, so hopefully we can improve the Total Honda slightly and go from there. We have some work to do to catch some of the guys up front, but overall it was a good day. The car is not bad, but it’s not quite good enough. We will keep working away to try our best to get a car capable of winning here. It was a textbook Long Beach Grand Prix day; great weather and a great crowd.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda): “It was an interesting day overall for the Team SealMaster Honda No. 18. We are not exactly there yet, but I don’t know that anybody is really happy with their car. This afternoon the track temp was very high…115, 116 range, so this place, like most others, tends to be quite greasy when it gets that hot. I had one good lap going, which got a yellow flag, and that was that. I’m not exactly sure where we sit because I definitely didn’t get a good lap on the board. I think on a one-lap performance the car doesn’t seem too bad, but it seems to degrade pretty fast. We will take a look at the data and see what we want to do for tomorrow, but it is not easy. We have to keep searching.”

ZACHARY CLAMAN DE MELO (No. 19 The Paysafe Car Honda): (About his thoughts on the track) “It’s a really fun track. I’m really enjoying myself but I need to keep working on getting better. It’s a difficult track and I think most of the rookies are struggling with it from what I saw of the lap times.” (About his day): “It was a tough day and there’s some work to do, but we have another practice session tomorrow before qualifying and we’re going to use it to keep learning as much as possible.”

JORDAN KING (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “There’s definitely potential with our Preferred Freezer Services Chevy this weekend. We had an issue with the gearbox in the second practice that kind of prevented us from getting many laps. We then put a backup stack in that wasn’t optimum for what we were trying to do. That cost us a little bit, but we made good process with the balance of the car from Practice 1 to Practice 2. Hopefully we can make a similar step tomorrow.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Preferred Freezer Service Chevrolet): “It was good to learn the circuit and get into it. There’s still quite a ways to go on my side and sorting the car out. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get a run on reds (Firestone alternate tires), so it’s still a bit of an unknown going into qualifying. It’s a bit annoying, it would have been nice to be able to learn a little bit more about the reds. Then again, we had the same thing happen in St. Pete and that worked out alright.”

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet): “We worked through a lot of changes today. Max (Chilton) was pretty good this morning, so we went more his direction with the No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet. We had a couple of issues in the first practice, but we got those cleaned up for the second practice and introduced a few new issues in the second practice that we’ll need fix overnight. We had a yellow flag on what was going to be my best lap early in the second session. We can learn from what we did today and get everything ready to go for qualifying tomorrow. I think the conditions tomorrow are going to be pretty similar to today and then cooler on race day, so we’ll just have to adjust best as we can and move forward from there.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Group One Thousand One Honda): “Overall, I think it was a good first day here. Phoenix went better than St. Pete and so far, this weekend has been going better than Phoenix. So just one step at a time. I think we definitely have the speed to transfer tomorrow to the fast 12, and maybe even a chance to get to our first Firestone Fast 6. The Andretti cars are pretty quick – (Alexander) Rossi and (Ryan) Hunter-Reay are showing that –  I have a little bit of learning to do tonight, but I’m excited to show what we can do tomorrow.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda): “It was good to be P1 in Practice 2, it’s where you want to end the day on Friday. To have two team cars 1-2 is pretty awesome. We have a lot of motivation after last year to come back and really be strong here this year. We have a lot of work ahead of us still, and hopefully we can continue that over the next two days. Our main focus right now is trying to win Long Beach and get redemption on last year.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “Without a doubt this is one of my favorite races – love the place, love the layout, love everything about it. The fans, the energy, the atmosphere here are all great. We’ve had some great cars here, I’ve been very fortunate to be behind the wheel of some very fast race cars here – last year being one of them. We were closing on (James Hinchcliffe), right up on his gearbox, when the car shut off for some reason – an electrical issue. We feel like we have some unfinished business here, and I think today was a pretty good start at finishing that. We are going to need to find a gap between the cooler track temps and when it heated up. It became quite a bit more difficult to get the lap time out of the car, so we have a bit of a challenge there, but it seems like everybody has their work set out for them.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda): “We made good progress today. It was a productive day until the end of the session. We have more work to do because the lap time is not representative of what we feel we can get out of it.  We made good progress from the first session and hopefully we will continue that tomorrow.”

KYLE KAISER (No. 32 Juncos Racing Chevrolet): “I’d say we made an improvement from the first session into the second session. I’m really happy with the team and we are working well together. We are trying a lot of different stuff and with the lack of testing we have had its hard to pinpoint how to make the car better. We are having to experiment a lot, which has put us a little bit behind the rest of the field. All and all, they are doing a great job. I feel like there is a lot to learn from this. I am looking forward tomorrow. I think we are going to make some changes and try something different for the next session and hope we can find some more speed before qualifying.”

MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet): “It’s great to be back in Long Beach. I love this track, really any street course in general. We’ve been trying to build on a car setup without changing anything too fundamental and just get laps under our belts. We’ve learned that the reds (Firestone alternate tires) aren’t that strong around here, which I think everyone is seeing. We just need to take a look at the car tonight and make it better overnight for qualifying tomorrow.”

GABBY CHAVES (No. 88 Harding Group Chevrolet): “It has been a trying day so far. We have had to deal with some issues that were kind of like a curve ball being thrown at us and put us behind where we wanted to be. It has been frustrating, but I think we can utilize this afternoon to analyze what we need to do to improve and be where we should be from where we left off at St. Pete and take it from there. I’m looking forward to getting back on track tomorrow.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 U.S. Concrete / Curb Honda): “It was a difficult day to say the least. We’re definitely dealing with a mechanical issue – I am convinced I have a carry-over issue that has not yet been identified from Phoenix. We’ve tried some different things out, but unfortunately haven’t found a solution yet. Once we pinpoint what exactly is going on, I know we’ll have a fast car. Our teammates are proving we have the setup, so we really just need to fix the issue. We really want to give this U.S. Concrete car a good run.”

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

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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.