UPDATED: Hight (FC), Kalitta (TF), Johnson (PS) and Johnson (PSM) storm to wins in NHRA Gatornationals

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It’s a good thing tomorrow isn’t Christmas because John Force might not give son-in-law and John Force Racing president Robert Hight a present.

After all, Hight got a bigger present Sunday, beating his boss and father-in-law in the Funny Car finals of the 45th Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals Sunday in Gainesville, Fla.

Hight beat Force, who had qualified last in the 16-car field, to the finish line with a performance of 4.074 seconds at 314.46 mph.

“If you’d have told me this morning that John and I would be in the final, I don’t know if I’d have taken that bet,” Hight said. “Our teams have worked really hard and work well together, but we were struggling.

“Fortunately for me, the Auto Club team did a good job. I wasn’t on my game in the first round or the semis. Luckily, I had a great race car.”

Force lost traction shortly after the starting line, shutting his motor down and coasting to a 6.435 seconds/118.29 mph finish.

The win evens the all-time elimination round record between Force and Hight at 15-15 overall and 2-2 in final rounds.

Hight has now won 30 times in 47 final round appearances. It was also his second win at Gainesville, having also done so in the 2012 event.

In Top Fuel, Doug Kalitta defeated Antron Brown.

Kalitta turned in a performance of 3.830 seconds at 323.74 mph, compared to Brown’s 5.106 seconds/147.50 mph showing.

“We’ve been trying to get a win all year, and we’ve been right on the cusp,” Kalitta said. “We have great support amongst all four of our teams. It’s great that they can all get in there and celebrate on the starting line.”

Kalitta and Brown are now 1-1 against each other in final round appearances, but Brown still holds an 18-13 overall elimination round record vs. Kalitta, who earned his 34th national event win and third Gatornationals triumph.

In Pro Stock, Allen Johnson stormed to his second straight Gatornationals win, besting Erica Enders-Stevens.

Johnson recorded a time of 6.566 seconds at 211.73 mph, to Enders-Stevens’ showing of 6.551 seconds at 211.96 mph.

Johnson and Jeg Coughlin were the first Pro Stock drivers to debut a new Hemi-powered 2014 Dodge Dart this weekend, replacing the Dodge Avenger, which both drove the last three seasons. It obviously passed its first test for Johnson.

“This shows what a great job the Mopar engineers and SRT did when they developed the new Dart,” Johnson said. “It’s also a testament to our crew. For the last two weeks they’ve worked non-stop, without a day off to make sure this transition was a success.”

With his 22nd national event win, Johnson is now 3-2 in final round battles and 12-7 in overall elimination round finishes against Enders-Stevens.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, veteran rider Steve Johnson, who finished runner-up in last year’s Gatornationals, rallied back in this year’s event to defeat Scotty Pollacheck.

Johnson turned in a performance of 6.912 seconds at 191.32 mph, to Pollacheck’s effort of 7.093 seconds at 190.81 mph. It was the first win by a Suzuki rider in NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle since 2011.

“Last year, I got to the final here and lost to Hector Arana Jr., and I felt like I should have won it,” Johnson said. “We’ve been close a few times, but we finally broke through.”

The win evens the career record between the two riders at 3-3, but it was the first time they had ever met in a final round.

It was also the sixth national event win in Johnson’s career, and his second win at Gainesville (the other time was back in 2005).

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FINAL FINISHING ORDER

Final finish order (1-16) at the 45th annual Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville.  The race is the third of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.

TOP FUEL:

1.  Doug Kalitta; 2.  Antron Brown; 3.  Morgan Lucas; 4.  Steve Torrence; 5.  David Grubnic; 6. Spencer Massey; 7.  Tony Schumacher; 8.  J.R. Todd; 9.  Richie Crampton; 10.  Brittany Force; 11. Khalid alBalooshi; 12.  Leah Pritchett; 13.  Shawn Langdon; 14.  Bob Vandergriff; 15.  Sidnei Frigo; 16.  Clay Millican.

FUNNY CAR:

1.  Robert Hight; 2.  John Force; 3.  Courtney Force; 4.  Ron Capps; 5.  Del Worsham; 6.  Tim Wilkerson; 7.  Jack Beckman; 8.  Bob Tasca III; 9.  Cruz Pedregon; 10.  Alexis DeJoria; 11.  Tommy Johnson Jr.; 12.  Tony Pedregon; 13.  Blake Alexander; 14.  Matt Hagan; 15.  Jeff Arend; 16.  Chad Head.

PRO STOCK:

1.  Allen Johnson; 2.  Erica Enders-Stevens; 3.  Vincent Nobile; 4.  Dave Connolly; 5.  Jason Line; 6.  V. Gaines; 7.  Jeg Coughlin; 8.  Shane Gray; 9.  Chris McGaha; 10.  Jonathan Gray; 11.  Rodger Brogdon; 12.  Steve Kent; 13.  Matt Hartford; 14.  Robert Patrick; 15.  Jimmy Alund; 16.  Larry Morgan.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE:

1.  Steve Johnson; 2.  Scotty Pollacheck; 3.  John Hall; 4.  Hector Arana Jr; 5.  Matt Smith; 6. Michael Ray; 7.  Eddie Krawiec; 8.  Andrew Hines; 9.  Shawn Gann; 10.  Katie Sullivan; 11.  Chaz Kennedy; 12.  Adam Arana; 13.  Jim Underdahl; 14.  Jerry Savoie; 15.  Fredrik Fredlund; 16.  Hector Arana.

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FINAL ROUND RESULTS:

Top Fuel — Doug Kalitta, 3.830 seconds, 323.74 mph  def. Antron Brown, 5.106 seconds, 147.50 mph.

Funny Car — Robert Hight, Ford Mustang, 4.074, 314.46  def. John Force, Mustang, 6.435, 118.29.

Pro Stock — Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.566, 211.73  def. Erica Enders-Stevens, Chevy Camaro, 6.551, 211.96.

Pro Stock Motorcycle — Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.912, 191.32  def. Scotty Pollacheck, Buell, 7.093, 190.81.

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SUNDAY’S ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS

TOP FUEL:
ROUND ONE — Tony Schumacher, 3.820, 320.36 def. Leah Pritchett, 3.855, 318.24; Doug Kalitta, 3.795, 324.67 def. Brittany Force, 3.825, 321.58; Morgan Lucas, 3.846, 321.50 def. Richie Crampton, foul; J.R. Todd, 3.801, 325.30 def. Shawn Langdon, 4.296, 306.67; Antron Brown, 3.830, 319.14 def. Sidnei Frigo, 8.088, 88.66; David Grubnic, 3.935, 273.50 def. Clay Millican, 9.530, 78.21; Spencer Massey, 3.876, 317.64 def. Bob Vandergriff, 4.561, 169.17; Steve Torrence, 3.790, 325.69 def. Khalid alBalooshi, 3.833, 320.66;

QUARTERFINALS — Lucas, 3.841, 316.82 def. Massey, 3.933, 314.31; Brown, 3.810, 321.42 def. Schumacher, 5.798, 124.20; Kalitta, 3.829, 321.12 def. Grubnic, 3.800, 316.30; Torrence, 3.856, 312.93 def. Todd, 9.377, 83.54;

SEMIFINALS — Kalitta, 3.856, 319.52 def. Torrence, 7.663, 88.07; Brown, 3.847, 315.71 def. Lucas, 5.410, 132.18; FINAL — Kalitta, 3.830, 323.74 def. Brown, 5.106, 147.50.

FUNNY CAR:
ROUND ONE — John Force, Ford Mustang, 4.075, 317.12 def. Cruz Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 4.102, 305.63; Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 4.080, 307.51 def. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, foul; Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.140, 308.14 def. Blake Alexander, Charger, 4.251, 296.24; Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.135, 307.37 def. Chad Head, Camry, 4.893, 163.16; Courtney Force, Mustang, 4.102, 315.56 def. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.307, 226.92; Ron Capps, Charger, 4.132, 308.14 def. Jeff Arend, Charger, 4.561, 194.07; Robert Hight, Mustang, 4.061, 314.02 def. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.199, 271.95; Del Worsham, Camry, 4.117, 308.92 def. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.157, 303.78.

QUARTERFINALS — C. Force, 4.140, 310.27 def. Wilkerson, 5.622, 137.67; Capps, 4.136, 307.16 def. Beckman, 5.844, 121.34; Hight, 4.140, 306.05 def. Tasca III, 6.262, 111.01; J. Force, 4.134, 303.84 def. Worsham, 4.599, 232.35.

SEMIFINALS — Hight, 4.168, 301.20 def. Capps, 7.663, 89.63; J. Force, 4.240, 266.42 def. C. Force, 6.090, 112.74.

FINAL — Hight, 4.074, 314.46 def. J. Force, 6.435, 118.29.

PRO STOCK:
ROUND ONE — Jason Line, Chevy Camaro, 6.567, 211.30 def. Jimmy Alund, Camaro, foul; V. Gaines, Dodge Avenger, 6.571, 211.56 def. Larry Morgan, Ford Mustang, foul; Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.571, 210.08 def. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.566, 211.53; Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.582, 210.11 def. Steve Kent, Camaro, 6.609, 210.47; Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.559, 211.83 def. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 6.593, 209.98; Dave Connolly, Camaro, 6.552, 211.03 def. Matt Hartford, Avenger, 6.649, 208.84; Erica Enders-Stevens, Camaro, 6.541, 211.93 def. Robert Patrick, Mustang, 6.667, 207.27; Jeg Coughlin, Dart, 6.550, 211.89 def. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.599, 210.93.

QUARTERFINALS — Johnson, 7.414, 149.88 def. S. Gray, 13.901, 60.96; Connolly, 6.584, 210.87 def. Line, 6.568, 211.39; Nobile, 6.580, 210.60 def. Coughlin, 6.591, 211.69; Enders-Stevens, 6.535, 212.59 def. Gaines, 6.571, 211.79;

SEMIFINALS — Johnson, 6.569, 211.79 def. Connolly, 6.583, 211.20; Enders-Stevens, 6.569, 212.29 def. Nobile, 6.582, 211.16.

FINAL — Johnson, 6.566, 211.73 def. Enders-Stevens, 6.551, 211.96.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE:
ROUND ONE — Scotty Pollacheck, Buell, 6.923, 191.02 def. Hector Arana, Buell, 9.750, 86.95; Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.931, 192.44 def. Katie Sullivan, Suzuki, foul; Michael Ray, Buell, 6.907, 191.54 def. Fredrik Fredlund, Suzuki, 7.274, 184.19; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.905, 193.24 def. Shawn Gann, Buell, 6.934, 192.47; John Hall, Buell, 6.878, 192.11 def. Adam Arana, Buell, 6.945, 186.38; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.899, 193.96 def. Chaz Kennedy, Buell, 6.943, 190.65; Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.901, 195.31 def. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, foul; Matt Smith, Buell, 6.880, 195.08 def. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, foul;

QUARTERFINALS — Pollacheck, 6.911, 193.02 def. Ray, 6.916, 192.41; Arana Jr, 6.915, 194.60 def. Krawiec, 6.935, 192.44; Hall, 6.900, 193.02 def. Hines, 6.944, 192.52; Johnson, 6.937, 193.60 def. Smith, foul;

SEMIFINALS — Johnson, 6.874, 195.48 def. Arana Jr, 6.906, 195.70; Pollacheck, 6.865, 195.00 def. Hall, 6.847, 195.42;

FINAL — Johnson, 6.912, 191.32 def. Pollacheck, 7.093, 190.81.

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STANDINGS

Point standings (top 10) following 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:

Top Fuel
1.  Doug Kalitta, 309; 2.  Antron Brown, 256; 3.  Steve Torrence, 230; 4.  Khalid alBalooshi, 197; 5.  Spencer Massey, 180; 6.  Shawn Langdon, 168; 7.  Brittany Force, 158; 8.  Tony Schumacher, 146; 9.  David Grubnic, 138; 10.  Richie Crampton, 123.

Funny Car
1.  John Force, 316; 2.  Robert Hight, 273; 3.  (tie) Alexis DeJoria, 187; Del Worsham, 187; 5; Bob Tasca III, 184; 6.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 168; 7.  Ron Capps, 164; 8.  Matt Hagan, 161; 9.  Jack Beckman, 151; 10.  Courtney Force, 146.

Pro Stock
1.  Allen Johnson, 282; 2.  V. Gaines, 244; 3.  Vincent Nobile, 235; 4.  Jason Line, 233; 5.  Erica Enders-Stevens, 226; 6.  Dave Connolly, 211; 7.  Shane Gray, 181; 8.  Jeg Coughlin, 148; 9.  Larry Morgan, 114; 10.  Chris McGaha, 107.

Pro Stock Motorcycle
1.  Steve Johnson, 114; 2.  Scotty Pollacheck, 93; 3.  Hector Arana Jr, 81; 4.  John Hall, 75; 5. Michael Ray, 63; 6.  Andrew Hines, 62; 7.  Matt Smith, 60; 8.  Eddie Krawiec, 56; 9.  (tie) Hector Arana, 32; Adam Arana, 32; Shawn Gann, 32; Katie Sullivan, 32.

F1 Preview – 2018 French Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
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It’s hard to believe that the French Grand Prix, the oldest grand prix event on the planet, as it dates back to June of 1906, was ever removed from the Formula 1 calendar.

Alas, not since 2008 at Magny-Cours has Formula 1 held a race on French soil. Yet, that all changes this weekend, as Formula 1 visits the Circuit Paul Ricard for its first French race in a decade.

Formula 1 teams are not strangers to Paul Ricard. It has been a popular testing facility for years, as evidenced by the below photo from 2016, featuring Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari in a wet tire test.

LE CASTELLET, FRANCE – JANUARY 26: Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Scuderia Ferrari drives during wet weather tire testing at Circuit Paul Ricard on January 26, 2016 in Le Castellet, France. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

However, in terms of racing, Paul Ricard has also been absent from the calendar for quite a long time – the last time Formula 1 race at Paul Ricard was in 1990. Alain Prost won for Ferrari that day.

1990: Alain Prost of France punches the air in celebration after passing the chequered flag in his Scuderia Ferrari to win the French Grand Prix at the Paul Ricard circuit in Le Beausset, France. Mandatory Credit: Pascal Rondeau/Allsport

As such, despite being a known quantity as a testing facility, how a race weekend will shake out is anybody’s guess.

And what’s more, it marks the beginning of three consecutive race weekends – The French Grand Prix, The Austrian Grand Prix, and The British Grand Prix – which F1 teams and drivers are calling “the triple header.”

Talking points ahead of the French Grand Prix are below.

A Journey Into the Unknown?

Like all new venues, or resurrected and refurbished ones in this case, the Circuit Paul Ricard represents somewhat of an unknown, as there’s no available race data to make predictions off of.

And the 3.61-mile, 15-turn track itself represents a range of challenges. It has fast corners, like Turns 1 and 2 (S de la Verrerie), a technical section between Turns 3 and 7 (Virage de l’Hotel through the Mistral Straight Start), and a 1.1-mile straightaway in the Mistral Straight, though it is separated by a chicane (Turns 8 and 9).

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff discussed the challenge of the circuit, highlighting the lack of data to build off of as well the tough three-race stretch ahead as especially challenging, in a preview on Formula 1’s website.

“France should be an interesting race. We don’t often get to race on a track where we have little to no historical data. It makes preparing for the weekend a bit trickier than usual, but that element of the unknown also adds to the challenge. The French Grand Prix marks the first race of the triple header, which will test all F1 teams to their limits, but also offers the chance to score a lot of points over the course of three weeks – which is precisely what we’re setting out to do,” said Wolff.

That element of the unknown makes Paul Ricard one of the biggest wildcards on the 2018 F1 calendar, and a championship shake up could be in the cards as a result.

Ferrari, Mercedes Continue Their Back and Forth

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 25: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H leads Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 on track during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 25, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Ferrari and Mercedes have traded jabs throughout the 2018 season, with neither able to pull away from the other so far through seven races.

Sebastian Vettel enters the French Grand Prix with a one-point lead over Lewis Hamilton, and holds a slight edge in victories – three to Hamilton’s two – and comes off a thorough domination of the Canadian Grand Prix.

Vettel led every lap at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on his way to victory, while Valtteri Bottas had to carry the Mercedes flag in finishing second. Hamilton languished in fifth, a surprising and disappointing result given his previous success there.

The aforementioned Toto Wolff described it as a “wake up call,” though Mercedes will roll out a power unit upgrade this weekend – Ferrari and Renault, which also powers Red Bull Racing, rolled out upgrades of their own in Canada.

With four long straightaways present at Paul Ricard, power will certainly be at a premium, so such upgrades will be vital in giving Mercedes a chance to make amends after Canada’s disappointment.

Trio of French Drivers Look to Impress on Home Soil

It comes hardly as a surprise that the three French drivers – Romain Grosjean, Pierre Gasly, and Esteban Ocon – are keen to make an impression at their home race.

And all three could certainly use a boost. Gasly has only one finish inside the points (seventh in the Monaco Grand Prix) since his stellar fourth place effort in the Bahrain Grand Prix. Ocon is coming off back-to-back points finishes (sixth in Monaco, ninth in Canada), but he has only one other finish inside the points this year (tenth, in Bahrain). And Grosjean, despite showing the speed to finish in the points, is yet to score any in 2018.

As such, all three are hoping for big things in their home race this weekend.

“I want to get a good weekend, have some luck, get my first points of the season, and get a lot of support from the fans,” said Grosjean. “I think we should be in a nice place at Paul Ricard. I’m always looking forward to jumping back in the car. I just love driving an F1 car.”

Ocon, who has raced and won at Paul Ricard in the past, expects his prior experience could be a big help.

“I did race at Paul Ricard early in my career – it was actually where I had my first victory in single seaters in 2013 so I have some fantastic memories of the place,” Ocon described. “I hope we can add some more success this weekend. Having been there in the junior categories makes getting used to a new track in a Formula One car much easier. I think I will find my rhythm quite quickly.”

Gasly’s excitement level obviously matches that of his French compatriots, with the added bonus that the return coincides with his rookie F1 effort.

“For me it will be absolutely incredible that my first full season of Formula 1 coincides with the return of a French Grand Prix to the calendar for the first time in 10 years,” said Gasly. “That has to be a reason for me to be very happy and I’m really excited to be racing in my home country. I can tell it will be a special feeling going out on track and actually, I have spoken to Jean Alesi and Alain Prost about it and they both told me that it will feel really special and something that you really have to experience as a Frenchman racing in France.”

Qualifying for The French Grand Prix begins at 9:55 a.m. ET on Saturday, with Sunday’s race at 9:30 a.m. ET.

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