Danica who? Women already winning NHRA races

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While much focus and ink has been drawn to Danica Patrick’s pole position and eighth place finish in this year’s Daytona 500, on the other coast two women have already opened the year in Victory Lane in the NHRA.

In her second season, John Force’s daughter Courtney (right) led off the year with a win in the Funny Car division in Pomona, Calif. The win was Force’s second, after her first win in her 15th career start last year at Seattle. Courtney’s 24 and her 26-year-old sister, Brittany, is a rookie in the Top Fuel dragster category this year.

Always outspoken, John Force told AZCentral.com leading up to last weekend’s race in Phoenix that the Danica discussion is overdone.

“I get that Danica got the pole is a big deal, but it is not like she delivered the baby Jesus,” he said.

While the Force daughters progress in their years, Pro Stock also has a female winner so far in Erica Enders-Stevens. Her breakthrough season came a year ago with four wins and a career-best fourth place finish in the final points standings. She won her class at Phoenix last weekend.

“Coming off the season we had last year and starting the way that we did this year, it was kind of a gut check in that we wonder if we can ever get it done again,” Enders-Stevens said. “ But our guys proved that they can pick up where they left off, and I’m excited.”

In the NHRA, success for female drivers is nothing new. Shirley Muldowney paved the way with a legendary career that included three Top Fuel championships (1977, 1980, 1982). Angelle Sampey has also won NHRA titles in the Pro Stock Motorcycle category. Melanie Troxel is one of only 14 NHRA drivers to have won in both Top Fuel and Funny Car.

The two Force daughters follow in the footsteps of their older sister Ashley Force Hood, who was a race winner in Funny Car and has since stepped out of the cockpit to focus on motherhood.

The NHRA races next in Gainesville, Florida from March 14-17.

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans
JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images
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LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.