Antron Brown (Top Fuel) and Matt Hagan (Funny Car) lead Don Schumacher Racing onslaught in NHRA race at Joliet

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JOLIET, Illinois – For the second straight race, Don Schumacher Racing dominated the NHRA Top Fuel and Funny Car classes in Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts Nationals at Route 66 Raceway in suburban Chicago.

DSR driver Antron Brown earned his fourth Top Fuel win of the season, while teammate Matt Hagan won in Funny Car, defeating yet another fellow DSR teammate, Tommy Johnson Jr.

“Winner, winner, chicken dinner, can I get some gravy,” Brown laughed in his post-race press conference after defeating Brittany Force in the final round of Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts Nationals at Route 66 Raceway in suburban Chicago.

“It just feels good to bring it home for Don Schumacher, with (Chicago being) his hometown,” Brown said. “(Schumacher) doubled up in Funny Car and Top Fuel again two races back-to-back now, so DSR is definitely on the climb and all the hard work that we did in the off-season is starting to finally pay off for sure.”

It was Brown’s fourth career win at Route 66, doing so twice in Top Fuel and two other times in Pro Stock Motorcycle.

“It’s been a great race weekend,” Brown said. “We’re back.”

It was also the 29th Top Fuel triumph and 45th overall victory of Brown’s NHRA racing career.

Celebrating in victory lane was a completely different feeling for Brown than after his dragster was destroyed three weeks ago in a wreck at Atlanta.

“(Atlanta) set us back but we’re back on the march,” Brown said. “We’ve got to keep it going and keep on pushing.

“When we get in the car, we (feel) happy again.”

Brown faced Brittany Force, daughter of legendary Funny Car driver John Force, in the final round.

Ironically, it was the second time Brown and Force have faced each other in their careers, both times being in final rounds (the only final rounds Force has been in so far in her career), and Brown remains unbeaten at 2-0 now.

“When you face someone like Brittany Force in the final, you know you have to go with your A-plus game,” Brown said.

Brown did indeed bring his best stuff, with a winning run of 3.814 seconds at 317.34 mph, to Force’s 3.850 seconds run at 320.89 mph. He didn’t feel any sympathy that Force is still hunting for her first career Top Fuel win.

“It doesn’t make a difference if she wanted it to be the first win for Brittany,” Brown said. “I don’t care who it is. It could be Babaloo come out here and they could win with a tutu with their head turned backwards. We want to win every race we’re in and give it all we’ve got, and that’s what it’s all about.”

With its 12th race of 2014 in the books, the NHRA is now at the halfway point of its 24-race schedule.

Doug Kalitta is first in the Top Fuel points standings, holding a 102-point edge over Brown. Shawn Langdon is third, followed by Spencer Massey and Chicago native Tony Schumacher in fifth-place.

Hagan, meanwhile, covered the 1,000-foot dragstrip in 4.098 seconds at 310.48 mph, defeating No. 1 Funny Car qualifier Tommy Johnson Jr. (4.147 seconds at 308.50 mph).

“We went up there and raced our race car, not the guy beside of us,” said Hagan, who earned his third career NHRA event win at Route 66. “We just got to turn four win lights (for each of Sunday’s four rounds of eliminations) on this weekend.”

It was Hagan’s second final round appearance of the season (was runner-up at Bristol, Tennessee two weeks back), but his first win since the 2013 season finale at Pomona, California.

It also was his second straight win at Route 66.

“It’s been a very, very humbling year for us, for our team,” Hagan said. “Last year, we went out and won five races and you think you’re going to set the world on fire the following year.

“We’re getting there, but we still have a long ways to go. The competition is just so, so tough here in Funny Car. When you get to turn four win lights on, you don’t want this day to end. It’s just phenomenal and it makes you realize how special these things are when they come together.

“If you’re not running for a championship, Don’s (team owner Don Schumacher) not happy. We want to keep him happy and help keep going through this deal here. … We’re just glad to be defending champions and to come back and win again.”

Hagan beat fellow Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tommy Johnson Jr.

“It makes it so much sweeter (to defeat his teammate) because you know they have the same stuff, the same R&D, the same cars, the same chassis, same everything and same parts – it’s just how they put it all together,” Hagan said.

“At the end of the day, you put a little feather in your cap because one of two things happened, either one crew chief did a little better job than the other crew chief, or the driver did a little better job than the other driver. It’s a neat feeling to put your teammate on the trailer probably more so than anybody else.”

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Final finishing order (1-16) at the 17th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway:

TOP FUEL:

1.  Antron Brown; 2.  Brittany Force; 3.  J.R. Todd; 4.  Clay Millican; 5.  Shawn Langdon; 6.  Richie Crampton; 7.  Doug Kalitta; 8.  Bob Vandergriff; 9.  Steve Torrence; 10.  Tony Schumacher; 11.  Pat Dakin; 12.  Khalid alBalooshi; 13.  Billy Torrence; 14.  Spencer Massey; 15.  Terry McMillen; 16.  T.J. Zizzo.

FUNNY CAR:

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

 

Round-by-round results from the 17th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway:

 TOP FUEL:

ROUND ONE — Richie Crampton, 7.147, 68.90 def. T.J. Zizzo, 16.268, 27.97; Shawn Langdon, 3.795, 322.58 def. Steve Torrence, 3.789, 324.05; Clay Millican, 3.842, 312.21 def. Tony Schumacher, 3.868, 323.97; Doug Kalitta, 3.805, 325.22 def. Pat Dakin, 3.917, 302.69; Antron Brown, 3.803, 319.07 def. Billy Torrence, 5.487, 125.40; Brittany Force, 3.828, 319.75 def. Terry McMillen, 9.608, 88.32; Bob Vandergriff, 4.349, 236.17 def. Spencer Massey, 6.133, 102.28; J.R. Todd, 4.377, 232.15 def. Khalid alBalooshi, 4.378, 233.36;

QUARTERFINALS — Millican, 4.675, 152.93 def. Vandergriff, 9.928, 73.59; Todd, 3.861, 316.45 def. Kalitta, 8.540, 94.01; Brown, 4.813, 221.85 def. Crampton, 5.899, 175.16; Force, 3.940, 308.57 def. Langdon, 5.344, 140.55;

SEMIFINALS — Brown, 3.961, 308.64 def. Millican, 4.470, 196.30; Force, 3.889, 316.60 def. Todd, 3.906, 313.80;

FINAL — Brown, 3.814, 317.34 def. Force, 3.850, 320.89.

 

FUNNY CAR:

ROUND ONE — Robert Hight, Ford Mustang, 4.571, 285.41 def. Jeff Arend, Dodge Charger, 4.734, 209.20; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.087, 311.41 def. Tony Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 4.229, 287.90; Bob Bode, Camry, 4.633, 236.01 def. Del Worsham, Camry, 5.010, 196.70; John Force, Mustang, 4.079, 318.99 def. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.089, 308.71; Courtney Force, Mustang, 4.138, 312.93 def. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.215, 295.85; Ron Capps, Charger, 4.215, 256.70 def. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, foul; Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.086, 313.07 def. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.397, 220.48; Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.157, 267.59 def. Chad Head, Camry, 6.137, 112.87;

QUARTERFINALS — Capps, 4.179, 297.55 def. Hight, 6.361, 105.84; Hagan, 4.144, 308.07 def. Bode, 17.135, 28.35; C. Force, 4.151, 307.30 def. J. Force, 5.543, 134.52; Johnson Jr., 4.113, 304.60 def. C. Pedregon, 4.166, 296.63;

SEMIFINALS — Hagan, 4.136, 305.36 def. Capps, 4.135, 305.08; Johnson Jr., 4.186, 298.73 def. C. Force, 6.725, 100.99;

FINAL — Hagan, 4.098, 310.48 def. Johnson Jr., 4.147, 308.50.

 

Point standings (top 10) following Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway:

Top Fuel

1.  Doug Kalitta, 1,065; 2.  Antron Brown, 963; 3.  Shawn Langdon, 835; 4.  Spencer Massey, 747; 5.  Tony Schumacher, 711; 6.  Steve Torrence, 688; 7.  Brittany Force, 638; 8.  Khalid alBalooshi, 620; 9.  Richie Crampton, 600; 10.  J.R. Todd, 557.

Funny Car

1.  Robert Hight, 1,032; 2.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 786; 3.  John Force, 769; 4.  Ron Capps, 748; 5.  Alexis DeJoria, 747; 6.  Courtney Force, 732; 7.  Del Worsham, 684; 8.  Matt Hagan, 681; 9.  Cruz Pedregon, 651; 10.  Tim Wilkerson, 603.

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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