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What Drivers Are Saying about Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach

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Here’s what drivers are saying about this weekend’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach:

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, Verizon IndyCar Series points leader): “What a win for Team Penske at Phoenix. We feel that coming off that win, we’re going to be strong heading into Long Beach. The crew has worked hard on our street course program since St. Petersburg and we’re ready for the challenge. I know that it’s a race my team and I really want to win and we’re ready to put the No. 1 Verizon Chevy in the best spot to make that possible. Street courses are always fun but Long Beach is really special with the history of that place. It’s also awesome that Team Penske’s IMSA program will also be racing this weekend which gives fans even more to be excited about and we’ll all be cheering them on.”

MATHEUS “MATT” LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “I’m really excited for the next round, the second street race of the year. The ABC Supply car was very fast in St. Pete. Hopefully, we will have a great car in Long Beach as well. It’s a track and a place I’ve never been to before so I’m pretty excited. We’ll work hard to minimize the problems we had in Phoenix. I think we have a fast car, we just need to concentrate and do a great job in the races.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda, 2017 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach winner): “I always say this, but we look forward to Long Beach every year. It’s one of the greatest events on the calendar, one of the longest-running events, one of the best attended… it’s definitely a highlight of the year. Last year was obviously pretty special taking the win! The entire team has had a really strong start to the season, and St. Pete went well for us, so we’re cautiously optimistic that our street course package is going to be strong. That said, Long Beach is a different racetrack than St. Pete, and with this new car, everyone is constantly improving, so we’re certainly not taking anything for granted. We’re going to have to work really hard to get the Arrow Electronics car at the front this weekend, but the team’s been doing an incredible job so far and hopefully, we can keep the momentum going.”

ROBERT WICKENS (No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda): “Life right now in INDYCAR is pretty good. I definitely can’t complain with how competitive we’ve been in the first two races. Long Beach is going to be a new challenge. We’re going to have to start from zero again, but I’m really happy with where we are as a team and how we’re working together. Hopefully, we can keep this little run of performance going and try to score some good points in the Lucas Oil car.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “Long Beach has such an amazing history. It’s a truly iconic American event that started gaining a lot of popularity with Formula 1 back in the day. With the layout of the track, it’s one of the best street circuits anywhere around, and more importantly, you actually get to race there. It took me forever to get to victory lane there but we managed to accomplish that a few years ago, and I hope we can return to that form again this year in the PNC Bank car.”

ED JONES (No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “I’m excited for Long Beach this weekend. I won there in Indy Lights and finished really well there last season in (the Verizon) IndyCar (Series) so it’s been a good circuit for me. I’m really pleased with the progress we’re making together as a team. We had the NTT DATA car in the right position in Phoenix heading toward the end, and I expect to continue to build off of that momentum. The team did an amazing job in the pits and on the strategy calls as well. We have a huge amount of potential right now with our program and we’ll be looking to make the most of it on Sunday.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “Last weekend at Phoenix was really unfortunate but we’re ready to head to Long Beach with a fresh start. Long Beach is a really fun street course that I really enjoy. The area is also full of great race fans which makes it even better. The No. 12 Verizon Chevy team has been working hard since St. Petersburg to work on our setup for street courses and I know we’re going to be bringing a really strong car. It’s also exciting that Team Penske’s IMSA program will be racing with us this weekend, so I’m looking forward to seeing how the team performs on that side too.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “Long Beach is our most prestigious street course and one of the coolest races that we go to during the year. It’s a technical place with different types of pavement, long straightaways and some very tight turns that require a lot from the setup of the car and also from the driver. It’s where I got my first pole-position in Indy car back in 1999 and also where AJ Foyt Racing got their last win, and we’ll be working hard to put the No. 14 ABC Supply Chevy where it deserves.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Total Honda): “I think we should be competitive at Long Beach. St. Pete wasn’t the best for us so from a street course perspective, I think we have some work to be done but I also know that Tom (German, race engineer) and everyone is working hard to find a solution to make the cars perform more competitively than we did in St. Pete. I think that with the universal aero kit, the Indy cars are going to be way quicker on the straightaways, and I think Long Beach is going to highlight that. I’m excited about getting on track in the Total Honda and showing that. I think the fans are really going to enjoy it. I think it’s going to be great for passing on the front straights and other places and I also think that with the tire degradation that we saw at St. Pete, and having a similar tire in Long Beach, it should make the racing really, really interesting. With three in a row, this is an important time. We obviously got some good points in Phoenix, but we would have obviously liked to have been better but Long Beach is going to be important to continue that momentum and not lose any ground. It’s good for us to be fourth in points and to be as close as we are because historically that hasn’t been our strength. Historically we have not been good at starting off the season, so we’re in a better position that we have been in probably ever so I’m excited about that and I think that’s going to help us. Outside of the Indy 500, Long Beach is the biggest race for us. Forty four years of a lot of history for Indy car racing and a lot of close calls for the Rahals in Long Beach, so hopefully this year we can make it happen and get a win after a lot of second-place finishes.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda): “Long Beach is historically a track where I have had a lot of success and I have always enjoyed racing there. It is a great event. It’s going to be a matter of finding the two or three tenths of a second we were missing at St. Petersburg. Obviously, we’re in it (the championship race) so we just need to keep digging and see where we can take things, but it seems pretty clear that we have a good shot. We were obviously competitive at St. Pete, but I really wasn’t expecting us to be that strong at Phoenix. So we will just keep working and see how far we can go.”

ZACHARY CLAMAN DE MELO (No. 19 The Paysafe Car Honda): “I’m looking forward to getting back in the Paysafe Car. Watching Phoenix from the timing stand really made me itch to get back in. I have never been to Long Beach before so it’s definitely going to be a challenge, but I’ve been preparing and have spent some time on the simulator getting to know the track. I’m looking forward to the weekend.”

JORDAN KING (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “I am really looking forward to getting into the car again after spending last weekend watching Ed (Carpenter) and Spencer (Pigot) drive at Phoenix. I’ve only driven Long Beach on the simulator, so I’m excited to see what it holds in real life. It certainly looks like a great circuit. I’m sure we will have a positive weekend.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Preferred Freezer Service Chevrolet): “I’m very excited to head back to Long Beach. This race has so much history and it’s an honor to be a part of it. We had a lot of positives to take away from the first street race in St. Pete and we’re looking forward to continuing that form this weekend. We are going to have a lot of guests from Preferred Freezer Services at the track and are ready to give them a good show.”

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet): “I’m really excited to go back to Long Beach. It’s one of the events I look most forward to on the schedule because of the track and the area. It’s even more fun that my Team Penske IMSA teammates will also be sharing the race weekend with us. We had a lot of performance in Phoenix this past weekend, but unfortunately, I made a costly mistake in the pits early in the race. This weekend, we’re putting that behind us and look ahead to putting a great performance together in the No. 22 DXC Technology Chevrolet. My team has been working hard as we go into the second race of this three week, back-to-back stretch.”

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet): “I’ve been coming to the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach for a long time-even before I was driving-and I have to say, it never gets old. There’s just a special energy here, and of course, it’s great to have family and friends come in for the race. The No. 23 team made a lot of progress from Race 1 to Race 2, and even more from the green to checkered last weekend in Phoenix. I think if we keep making these improvements, we’ll be able to put ourselves in a good spot in the field. The Long Beach race hasn’t always treated me well in the past, but I know that everyone at Carlin will be working to change our luck this weekend.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Group One Thousand One Honda): “I’m looking forward to Long Beach because it’s one of my favorite tracks. It’s where I got my first street course pole in an Indy Lights car, and almost won there – so we’ve always had some natural speed there and I’m hoping that helps me speed up the process of learning in an Indy car. Once you get to (the Verizon) IndyCar (Series), track time is so limited so that’s the beauty of having a background in Road to Indy. You get experience at these tracks and you know what you’re getting yourself into. I was lucky enough to have the team put me into the simulator to run Long Beach, so I’ve kind of been there in an Indy car. I’ve got three really strong teammates, and just like every weekend, I’m learning from them every session. We have two 16th-place finishes now, so I’m hoping for a top 10 in Long Beach.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda): “It’s the second race weekend in five days and this time it is one of my favorite tracks on the calendar. It is hard to beat the atmosphere and energy of Long Beach. With it being a Southern California race, it is sort of a home race for me, so I will have lots of friends and family down for the weekend. We will be looking to finish what we started last year and hopefully, we can put the NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda on the top step.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “Long Beach is one of my favorite races of the year. It’s one of the cornerstone events for the series with a great fan base and great racing. We have a win there from 2010, started on pole in 2014 but still feel like we have unfinished business after last year with the car shutting off on us while running up front. We have some work to do. We have two top-five finishes so far this year, but we’re not satisfied with that, which is a good thing.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda): “I believe the competitiveness from St. Pete will transfer to Long Beach. The track characteristics are obviously not the same and Long Beach has lower grip, but most of the parts are similar. It’s disappointing that I couldn’t have a good result in St. Pete, but that’s motor racing and we will sometimes have bad luck and sometimes good. Long Beach is everyone’s favorite. It’s so special. It has a lot of history, a great location, food and atmosphere. It’s so gorgeous and a lot of fun both on track and off track. I am really lucky to win two of the top races in the series (2017 Indy 500, 2013 Long Beach) but of course, I want to add more. People really enjoy the event and so do I — especially winning the 2013 race which was so special for me and makes me very happy thinking about that race. I was at A.J. Foyt’s team back then but shared the podium with my current teammate Graham so I would love to repeat that this year too.”

MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet): “I’m a big fan of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. It’s really fun to see a race with so much history continue to be embraced by the west coast fans, and it doesn’t hurt that we’re able to put on such a good show with the close racing around there. I’ve had very similar qualifying and race results here the last two years that saw me move up quite a few spots from my qualifying position, so I’m hoping the No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet can continue that progress even further this weekend. We had a challenging weekend in Phoenix, but we took so many of the positives that came out of that weekend and are bringing them straight into Long Beach to build on. We’re just excited as a team to keep moving forward every race weekend to get to where we want to be.”

JACK HARVEY (No. 60 AutoNation Sirius/XM MSR with SPM Honda): “It was nice to see how much pace the team had at St. Pete because we can hopefully translate that into Long Beach. I’m expecting a better performance from myself going into the race weekend. Long Beach is also a track which I’ve been quick at before, put it on pole in 2015 but unfortunately didn’t get through the first corner. Long Beach is a great event and it’s in a great city. The event has a lot of history behind it from when Formula 1 was there back in the day. I’m really looking forward to heading back there and getting back on track.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 U.S. Concrete / Curb Honda): “We’ve had a decent start to the season, but our pace is much better than our first two results have shown. We need to climb into the top five in points with a podium or a win in Long Beach. We’re not happy with sitting 10th in the championship. Long Beach is my favorite street course, so it is the best setting to put the U.S. Concrete car in contention. The fans are great in Long Beach and they deserve a good show. I know this 98 team can give it to them.”

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.