Pedregon (FC), Langdon (TF), Connolly (PS) and Ray (PSM) lead way into Sunday’s NHRA Gatornationals eliminations

0 Comments

NHRA Funny Car driver Cruz Pedregon may be a California native, but there’s something about Gainesville, Fla., that just seems to bring out the best in him.

Pedregon posted a 4.068 second run (at 308.21 mph) to earn the No. 1 qualifying position for Sunday’s final eliminations of the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Auto-Plus Raceway.

“I looked at the time slip at the finish line and noticed that it ran really well to each increment,” Pedregon said of his 55th career No. 1 qualifying position. “It gave me the confidence to say, ‘I don’t think anybody is going to run this.’

“From what I could see, we pretty much got all of it that we could. It had good splits, fast speed through the middle, and ran to the finish line. That was basically like, ‘If you want some, come get some.'”

It’s the third straight year in a row and the fifth overall that Pedregon has been the Gatornationals’ No. 1 Funny Car qualifier. He’s looking for his second career event win at Gainesville, having done so the first time in 1998.

Pedregon will face 16-time and defending 2013 Funny Car season champion John Force in the first round Sunday. In earning No. 1 honors, Pedregon snapped Force’s string of five consecutive top qualifying positions dating back to last season.

The 1992 and 2008 Funny Car world champ is looking to bounce back from a disappointing start in the 24-race season’s first two events at Pomona (Calif.) and Chandler (Ariz.).

“We changed maybe one thing too many in the offseason,” Pedregon said. “We made one good run out of five in Pomona and blew up for our troubles. In Phoenix, the component we changed in the clutch management system told us in no uncertain terms that it was going to take too many races to figure it out. We went back to our regular setup.”

Other top qualifiers heading into Sunday’s eliminations – which begin at 11 a.m. ET – were Shawn Langdon (Top Fuel), Dave Connolly (Pro Stock) and Michael Ray (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

With the best overall performance in Friday’s first round of qualifying, Langdon was even better Saturday, with a 3.776 second run at 320.58 mph. It was Langdon’s first No. 1 spot at Gainesville and the 14th of his career.

“We were able to take our 3.78 from yesterday and make a couple small, minor adjustments to go 3.77,” said Langdon, who is in pursuit of his first career Gatornationals event win. “Brian [Husen, crew chief] did an excellent job this weekend of making the right calls.”

In Pro Stock, Connolly earned his first No. 1 qualifying spot since 2008 (eighth overall in his career) with a career-best run of 6.476 at 213.98 on Friday that held through Saturday’s two sessions.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Ray saved his best for last, earning the No. 1 spot in his final qualifying attempt with a career-best run of 6.793 at 197.74 mph.

“We hadn’t shown our potential until then but we knew it was out there,” Ray said. “It wasn’t a bunt or even a hard single. George [Bryce, team owner and crew chief] decided to swing for the fences and he connected.

“He told me that if I would hold low gear for another ten feet it would go 6.7s and he wasn’t lying. I went as far as I could before hitting the [shift button] and had my career-best E.T.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Sunday’s first-round pairings for eliminations for the 45th annual Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville, the third of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.  Pairings based on results in qualifying, which ended Saturday. DNQs are listed below pairings.

Top Fuel — 1. Shawn Langdon, 3.776 seconds, 325.37 mph  vs. 16. J.R. Todd, 3.936, 304.74; 2. Antron Brown, 3.804, 320.43  vs. 15. Sidnei Frigo, 3.920, 301.00; 3. Richie Crampton, 3.816, 322.34 vs. 14. Morgan Lucas, 3.867, 319.45; 4. Doug Kalitta, 3.819, 321.04  vs. 13. Brittany Force, 3.865, 315.93; 5. David Grubnic, 3.823, 312.78  vs. 12. Clay Millican, 3.861, 308.71; 6. Bob Vandergriff, 3.831, 320.51  vs. 11. Spencer Massey, 3.861, 320.36; 7. Tony Schumacher, 3.839, 323.19  vs. 10. Leah Pritchett, 3.843, 317.64; 8. Steve Torrence, 3.839, 319.22  vs. 9. Khalid alBalooshi, 3.840, 316.97.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Pat Dakin, 4.015, 240.98; 18. Terry McMillen, 4.315, 206.86; 19. Ike Maier, 4.448, 186.98.

Funny Car — 1. Cruz Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 4.068, 308.21  vs. 16. John Force, Ford Mustang, 4.380, 246.98; 2. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.103, 304.39  vs. 15. Blake Alexander, Dodge Charger, 4.292, 287.84; 3. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.108, 305.15  vs. 14. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.212, 286.74; 4. Chad Head, Camry, 4.115, 300.46  vs. 13. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.162, 299.60; 5. Courtney Force, Mustang, 4.121, 308.85  vs. 12. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.144, 295.01; 6. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.121, 302.14  vs. 11. Jeff Arend, Charger, 4.139, 301.54; 7. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.127, 285.41  vs. 10. Robert Hight, Mustang, 4.132, 303.78; 8. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.128, 307.23  vs. 9. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.130, 309.20.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Dave Richards, 5.070, 161.15.

Pro Stock — 1. Dave Connolly, Chevy Camaro, 6.476, 213.98  vs. 16. Matt Hartford, Dodge Avenger, 6.591, 211.39; 2. Erica Enders-Stevens, Camaro, 6.483, 214.69  vs. 15. Robert Patrick, Ford Mustang, 6.568, 211.06; 3. Jeg Coughlin, Dodge Dart, 6.484, 214.62  vs. 14. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.558, 212.53; 4. Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.487, 214.04  vs. 13. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 6.554, 212.16; 5. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.495, 213.60  vs. 12. Steve Kent, Camaro, 6.536, 212.43; 6. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.510, 212.56  vs. 11. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.533, 214.04; 7. V. Gaines, Avenger, 6.518, 213.30  vs. 10. Larry Morgan, Mustang, 6.529, 212.66; 8. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.525, 213.20  vs. 9. Jimmy Alund, Camaro, 6.525, 212.90.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Shane Tucker, 6.617, 211.53; 18. Kenny Delco, 6.634, 210.24; 19. Lewis Worden, 6.639, 210.83; 20. Mark Hogan, 6.653, 208.39.

Pro Stock Motorcycle — 1. Michael Ray, Buell, 6.793, 197.74  vs. 16. Fredrik Fredlund, Suzuki, 6.979, 193.99; 2. Matt Smith, Buell, 6.800, 196.96  vs. 15. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.919, 194.38; 3. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.806, 196.47  vs. 14. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 6.895, 196.02; 4. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.813, 195.68  vs. 13. Chaz Kennedy, Buell, 6.892, 194.46; 5. John Hall, Buell, 6.830, 196.27  vs. 12. Adam Arana, Buell, 6.891, 196.53; 6. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.846, 195.96  vs. 11. Shawn Gann, Buell, 6.882, 195.48; 7. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.849, 196.62 vs. 10. Katie Sullivan, Suzuki, 6.874, 196.96; 8. Scotty Pollacheck, Buell, 6.858, 195.36  vs. 9. Hector Arana, Buell, 6.868, 195.22.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Eddie Reed, 6.996, 190.35; 18. Mike Berry, 7.004, 191.81; 19. Freddie Camarena, 7.026, 193.57; 20. Elvira Karlsson, 7.028, 190.06; 21. Joe DeSantis, 7.071, 189.07; 22. James Surber, 7.082, 187.26; 23. Odolph Daniels, broke.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Tom Blomqvist keeps eye on IndyCar during impressive rise: ‘ I would love to give it a go’

0 Comments

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – In between two of his latest superstar-driver-in-waiting performances, Tom Blomqvist walked through the Daytona International Speedway garage in anonymity.

“Nobody knows who the (expletive) I am,” he said to a team member with a laugh (and without a trace of being miffed), evincing the cheeky humor of someone born in England, raised in New Zealand and also of Swedish descent.

The lack of recognition in the garage might have been because he was clad in a relatively nondescript shirt, hat and sunglasses instead of a colorful firesuit covered by sponsor logos. But he also was on the way to a Friday race eve media availability where his entrance was greeted by only one reporter (after a few minutes).

During a news conference a day earlier, he sat patiently on the dais while his Indy 500-winning teammates and car owner fielded nearly all the questions – even though Blomqvist had turned maybe the most impressive lap of the month to win the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole position in the debut of the Grand Touring Prototype category.

The Meyer Shank Racing driver still might lack the attention commensurate with his already world-class CV (which expanded Sunday with his second consecutive Rolex 24  victory for MSR), but Blomqvist, 29, clearly isn’t bothered by it.

He carries the quiet confidence of knowing his immense talent will ensure results that will make him impossible to ignore.

“To a degree, I guess, it’s definitely ramped up a lot for me,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports. “In America, I’m starting to get a lot more (attention). In the last year, I’ve quite often got a lot of maybe what you’d call the glory moments. It’s been fun. And within the paddock, there’s a lot of respect for me anyway. It’s been good.”

There have been several moments of acclaim since he joined MSR barely a year ago in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. In his first start for the team at last year’s Rolex 24, Blomqvist turned in a Herculean performance to position the No. 60 Acura for the victory (giving way to Helio Castroneves because he was too “cooked” to complete the last 74 minutes).

He was even better this year at Daytona.

He ripped off a monster “one and done” pole-winning lap to beat the clock in qualifying on the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course. During the race, Blomqvist was as dominant in his first stint as his last in the ARX-06 while taking the checkered flag. He set the mark for the fastest time on Lap 6 that no one topped over the final 755 laps.

The 10 fastest laps in the race belonged to Blomqvist, carrying over his speed from the 2022 when he won the Petit Le Mans season finale to clinch the premier prototype championship at Michelin Road Atlanta.

A year earlier at the same track, he had burst onto the radar of car owner Mike Shank, who was intrigued by Blomqvist’s results as a BMW factory driver in the Formula E and DTM series. In 2014, Blomqvist also finished between second in F3, between champion Esteban Ocon (now with Alpine’s F1 team) and Max Verstappen (who has won the past two Formula One championships).

“He did a lot of high-level stuff, and then kind of fell out of favor, or I don’t know what happened, but he was a free agent,” Shank said. “I started looking at his numbers, and I’m like, ‘We should test this guy. So I take him to Road Atlanta in the fall of ’21, and he got in the car and just slayed it.”

Within minutes, he had called co-owner Jim Meyer.

“I’ve got our guy,” Shank said. “This is our guy. There’s no question about it.

Honda Performance Development president David Salters hugs Tom Blomqvist after the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

“Now what’s happened, though, and I think if you look back at the Rolex here last year (and) what he did, he’s a gold nugget. He reminds me a little bit when (Robert) Wickens came into IndyCar out of DTM (as a rookie in 2018).

“He truly believes he’s the fastest guy out there, and he proved it (at the Rolex 24).”

Said David Salters, president for Honda Performance Development: “We love Tom. He’s the real deal, isn’t he? Immensely talented, super smart, and on it.

The great thing about our teams, the strength in depth is tremendous. But if you look through the sports car racing now, that’s the standard you have to have. Tom, brilliant, Filipe (Albuquerque), brilliant. Ricky (Taylor). You can go through that list. They’re all superstars. Tom is awesome. His lap in qualifying quite frankly was unbelievable.”


Having conquered one of the world’s greatest endurance races twice with Acura, Blomqvist could be ticketed for the world’s biggest race next – the Indy 500 — with HPD’s primary brand.

He tested a Dallara-Honda for MSR last October at Sebring International Raceway, and while he plans to focus solely on IMSA this season, he remains very intrigued by IndyCar.

And with Castroneves, 47, beginning a one-year deal with MSR’s IndyCar team, there could be an obvious opening in 2024.

“Obviously, it’s not in the cards this year,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports the day before the Rolex. “Yeah, I would love to give it a go. To be honest, I think that would be an amazing step for me in my career. I enjoy the sports car stuff so much. It’s been really good to me lately. I really enjoyed the style of racing.

“But I feel like IndyCar would be a step up for me and my career. It would be fantastic if I could get that opportunity. But yeah, I guess I have to keep pushing Mike or something to give me a shot. But obviously for now, the focus is here in the sports car stuff. It’s not really down to me at the end of the day. And I’ve got to do my job and then the people who pay the bills and make the decisions obviously have to decide if that’s something worth pursuing.

“But yeah, I’d love to give it a go, and I definitely would be up for it.”

Tom Blomqvist after winning the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole on the final qualifying lap (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

A transition from IMSA to IndyCar naturally would be easier than switching teams, but it also would be comfortable because Blomqvist already seems such a good fit at MSR.

It might have seemed an unusual pairing given his European-heavy background, but Blomqvist likes the Midwestern culture that’s been built at MSR. Based just outside Columbus, Ohio, the team’s shop has “no egos, and that just enables each and every one of to reach our potential.

“Obviously, with Honda, we obviously have some great resources, but we’re up against Porsche, BMW and some big heavy hitters in the motorsports world,” he said. “I wouldn’t say we’ve got a huge team compared to them, but we’ve obviously got a very capable team, and I think that’s what has been so impressive and really, really nice to see about the work that’s been done. No stone has been left unturned.”


Blomqvist still is living in Europe and planning to commute for the nine-race GTP schedule (which has a nearly two-month break after the Rolex 24 until the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring). But though he’s “got good friends in America, so I do have places to stay,” he seems open to being based more permanently near MSR in America.

“Let’s see what the future brings, and if that means me spending more time over here,” he said. “It’s a fantastic team. It’s a different environment to what I’m used to. It’s obviously now a hugely successful team, but it is a small team. It does feel like a very small family-operated team, which it is.

“I think Mike’s really just built this thing. It hasn’t happened overnight. Mike’s a great guy and put a lot of trust and faith in me, and I played a relatively good part in some of the success last year. I was able to reward him and give him my all every time I’m on track, and he respects that. But we are still a small team. In the grand scheme of things, we still are a really, really small team.”

Blomqvist said the BMW factory program would have two or three times the staffing of MSR – just on one of its two GTP cars.

“But it’s not the number of people that makes a difference, it’s the quality of people, and obviously Mike and HPD are a fantastic operation to go racing,” Blomqvist said. “We’re racers at heart.

“I’ve been part of some big outfits, and the European way of working is very, very different to how people go about racing in America. I’d say it’s more seat of your pants. A lot of emotion and kind of rides on that competitive spirt, competitive nature and on their personalities. It’s a lot more pure. It feels very pure. You want to win, so we go out and don’t cut corners on trying to win.”

Though it’s aligned with Liberty Media and has big-budget backing and support from Honda Performance Development, MSR also is much less corporate than most GTP teams.

A longtime and respected team owner who has built a sponsor portfolio, Shank also describes his maniacal dedication to success as “messed up,” and he’s known for dropping vulgarities into postrace interview with his blunt and self-deprecating sense of humor.

Meyer Shank Racing co-owner Mike Shank congratulates Tom Blomqvist on the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole position (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

With a more laid-back but sometimes just as biting demeanor, Blomqvist has become the team’s unquestioned leader behind the wheel

“I definitely feel a lot more immersed,” he said. “Within the team, I was a bit more of an unknown quantity the start of last year. Obviously after last season, the team trusts me a lot. And that gives me a lot of pleasure, pride and confidence. In this sport, confidence is a huge aspect of drivers’ psychology in a way. We’re in extremely high-pressure moments where my job is to perform under the pressure of these organizations and the brand as well.

“It’s just a good, healthy team to be a part of. It’s a high-pressure environment, but the team obviously have put a lot of faith in me, and I’ve been able to deliver for them on occasions.”

Rolex 24 starting lineup
Tom Blomqvist celebrates after winning the pole in the No. 60 Acura ARX-06 (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).