Kalitta, Force and Nobile all qualify No. 1 for NHRA season-opening Winternationals

0 Comments

Calling conditions “perfect,” Doug Kalitta set a Auto Club Raceway track record Saturday to earn the No. 1 qualifying spot for Top Fuel heading into Sunday’s final eliminations of the NHRA Mello Yellow Series’ season-opening Circle K Winternationals in Pomona, Calif.

Kalitta covered the drag strip in his Mac Tools dragster in 3.713 seconds at 327.98 mph for the 37th top qualifying spot of his career and the fourth time he’s been No. 1 at the Winternationals over the years.

“We came out of the box strong,” Kalitta said. “It’s great to have four strong runs in qualifying at the start of the year. We’re really looking forward to seeing what we can do with it tomorrow.”

Behind the wheel of his signature Castrol GTX Ford Mustang, defending Funny Car champion John Force grabbed the No. 1 spot in his category for Sunday’s eliminations by virtue of Friday’s national record-setting run of 3.966 seconds at 324.12 mph.

It was the 147th career No. 1 and 10th top spot at the Winternationals for Force, at 64 the oldest pro champion in NHRA history.

“We pushed it hard,” Force said. “We got the record, it’s points, and that’s all we can say.”

While Force was happy with his effort, it was not a good day for one of Force’s former drivers, Tony Pedregon. A former two-time Funny Car champ and two-time Winternationals winner, Pedregon failed to qualify for the final 16-driver field in his four attempts.

Also of note, Alexis DeJoria became the first female Funny Car driver in NHRA history to run a sub-4.0 second time, covering the track in 3.997 seconds at 318.32 mph.

Rounding out the top three pro categories, Vincent Nobile and his Mountain View Tire Chevrolet Camaro earned the No. 1 spot atop the Pro Stock ladder for Sunday’s eliminations at 6.510 seconds at 212.73 mph. Nobile is going for a second consecutive Winternationals title, having won last year’s event, as well.

“It’s definitely a great start to the season, we put four great runs together,” Nobile said. “Tomorrow’s a new day though and we need to put together another four good runs and hopefully come home with a trophy.”

Pro eliminations begin Sunday at 11 am PT. The first round pairings for all three classes are:

Top Fuel — 1. Doug Kalitta, 3.713 seconds, 328.86 mph vs. 16. Sidnei Frigo, 3.872, 313.58; 2. Shawn Langdon, 3.715, 328.70 vs. 15. Troy Buff, 3.850, 309.34; 3. Antron Brown, 3.731, 326.00 vs. 14. Clay Millican, 3.843, 307.86; 4. Bob Vandergriff, 3.743, 328.14 vs. 13. David Grubnic, 3.830, 321.96; 5. Spencer Massey, 3.768, 324.51 vs. 12. Leah Pritchett, 3.817, 320.05; 6. Steve Torrence, 3.773, 329.02 vs. 11. Terry McMillen, 3.806, 323.66; 7. Khalid alBalooshi, 3.774, 324.59 vs. 10. Tony Schumacher, 3.793, 322.73; 8. Brittany Force, 3.778, 326.24 vs. 9. Richie Crampton, 3.786, 320.28. Did Not Qualify: 17. Steven Chrisman, 4.093, 286.44; 18. Steve Faria, 4.154, 225.41; 19. Scott Palmer, 9.507, 94.55.

Funny Car — 1. John Force, Ford Mustang, 3.966, 324.12 vs. 16. Paul Lee, Dodge Charger, 4.162, 271.41; 2. Robert Hight, Mustang, 3.996, 319.67 vs. 15. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.150, 316.23; 3. Alexis DeJoria, Toyota Camry, 3.997, 318.32 vs. 14. Gary Densham, Charger, 4.147, 301.67; 4. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.001, 311.49 vs. 13. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.132, 311.20; 5. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.014, 304.67 vs. 12. Jeff Arend, Charger, 4.097, 309.06; 6. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.040, 317.27 vs. 11. Chad Head, Camry, 4.079, 303.23; 7. Courtney Force, Mustang, 4.046, 320.13 vs. 10. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.077, 316.01; 8. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.049, 312.86 vs. 9. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.069, 316.82. Did Not Qualify: 17. Terry Haddock, 4.213, 253.04; 18. Bob Bode, 4.241, 264.29; 19. Tony Pedregon, 4.258, 245.58; 20. Phil Burkart, 5.523, 139.76; 21. Jeff Diehl, 6.064, 182.85.

Pro Stock — 1. Vincent Nobile, Chevy Camaro, 6.510, 212.73 vs. 16. Shane Tucker, Chevy Cobalt, 6.594, 210.50; 2. Allen Johnson, Dodge Avenger, 6.512, 212.96 vs. 15. Larry Morgan, Ford Mustang, 6.589, 210.73; 3. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.514, 212.63 vs. 14. Matt Hartford, Avenger, 6.574, 210.14; 4. V. Gaines, Avenger, 6.515, 212.83 vs. 13. Greg Stanfield, Camaro, 6.567, 210.97; 5. Erica Enders-Stevens, Camaro, 6.516, 212.53 vs. 12. Deric Kramer, Avenger, 6.566, 211.20; 6. Dave Connolly, Camaro, 6.519, 211.86 vs. 11. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.552, 211.69; 7. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.528, 211.89 vs. 10. Jimmy Alund, Camaro, 6.546, 211.86; 8. Jeg Coughlin, Avenger, 6.531, 212.39 vs. 9. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.541, 211.79. Did Not Qualify: 17. Paul Pittman, 6.676, 208.10.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
Joe Portlock - Formula 1/Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images
2 Comments

Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”