Tommy Johnson Jr. 10th Funny Car driver in NHRA history to make sub-four second run, qualifies No. 1 at Joliet

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Tommy Johnson Jr. became the 10th driver in NHRA Funny Car history to record a sub-four second run in Saturday’s final two rounds of qualifying for the O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Illinois.

With his 3.999 second pass at 317.19 mph, Johnson also secured the No. 1 qualifying position for Sunday’s final eliminations (which begin at 11 am CT), joining fellow top qualifiers Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel), Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Johnson, who won two weeks ago at Bristol, Tennessee, will face two-time NHRA Funny Car champ Tony Pedregon in the opening round Sunday.

“The conditions out here were difficult,” Johnson said of his big run and the 10th No. 1 qualifying position of his career, per an NHRA post-race media release. “It’s hot and humid. Personally, I didn’t think we could do it. But the guys were swinging for the fence, they were going for it.”

* In Top Fuel, Kalitta took the top qualifying spot, his fifth of the season and 41st of his career, with a 3.767 second pass at a stout 327.43 mph.

“I think the fans got a good session out of that,” said Kalitta who will face Pat Dakin in Sunday’s first round.

* In Pro Stock, Allen Johnson’s 6.485 second (at 212.79 mph) effort from Friday held up throughout Saturday’s final two qualifying rounds to maintain his No. 1 position.

“Conditions today weren’t as favorable as they were last night; it was a bit warmer and more humid but the track stayed awesome,” said Johnson, who will face Mark Hogan in Sunday’s first round. “Our Mopar crew did a heck of a job and we were No. 1 in three of four runs. We really like racing in these conditions.”

* In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Krawiec’s No. 1 qualifying mark and track record of 6.872 seconds at 194.86 mph held up Saturday, putting him at the top of the heap heading into Sunday’s first round meeting with L.E. Tonglet.

“Today it was a little hotter and more humid, but the track was great,” Krawiec said of his fourth No. 1 qualifying position in as many races and 18th of his career. “My hat’s off to NHRA and the Route 66 Raceway crew. They did a great job with the racing surface.”

 

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Here’s the first-round lineup for Sunday’s final eliminations in the O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Illinois:

 

Top Fuel — 1. Doug Kalitta, 3.767 seconds, 327.43 mph  vs. 16. Pat Dakin, 3.914, 314.31; 2. Tony Schumacher, 3.775, 325.61  vs. 15. Clay Millican, 3.887, 316.38; 3. Antron Brown, 3.783, 319.75  vs. 14. Billy Torrence, 3.875, 317.64; 4. Brittany Force, 3.791, 324.51  vs. 13. Terry McMillen, 3.868, 321.50; 5. Steve Torrence, 3.791, 322.65  vs. 12. Shawn Langdon, 3.865, 315.93; 6. Richie Crampton, 3.792, 324.20  vs. 11. T.J. Zizzo, 3.852, 318.39; 7. Spencer Massey, 3.793, 324.83  vs. 10. Bob Vandergriff, 3.840, 316.01; 8. Khalid alBalooshi, 3.833, 316.60  vs. 9. J.R. Todd, 3.837, 300.86.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Chris Karamesines, 3.992, 300.53; 18. Luigi Novelli, 5.213, 134.18; 19. Tim Cullinan, 11.134, 133.78.

 

Funny Car — 1. Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 3.999, 318.32  vs. 16. Tony Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 4.216, 289.76; 2. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.023, 315.19  vs. 15. Bob Bode, Camry, 4.165, 301.07; 3. Robert Hight, Ford Mustang, 4.026, 317.64  vs. 14. Jeff Arend, Charger, 4.146, 307.23; 4. John Force, Mustang, 4.036, 316.90  vs. 13. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.142, 307.23; 5. Courtney Force, Mustang, 4.038, 322.50  vs. 12. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.139, 303.16; 6. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.040, 312.50  vs. 11. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.101, 308.35; 7. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.048, 315.64  vs. 10. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.095, 311.92; 8. Chad Head, Camry, 4.067, 315.05  vs. 9. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.093, 303.50.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Brian Stewart, 4.361, 237.50; 18. Dale Creasy Jr., 4.439, 231.79; 19. Justin Schriefer, 5.792, 157.15.

 

Pro Stock — 1. Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.574, 209.82  vs. 16. Mark Hogan, Pontiac GXP, 6.768, 205.32; 2. Erica Enders-Stevens, Chevy Camaro, 6.594, 209.65  vs. 15. Dave River, Chevy Cobalt, 6.766, 204.17; 3. Jeg Coughlin, Dart, 6.604, 209.30  vs. 14. Larry Morgan, Ford Mustang, 6.695, 207.27; 4. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.604, 209.14  vs. 13. Mark Martino, GXP, 6.657, 207.59; 5. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.605, 209.04  vs. 12. V. Gaines, Dart, 6.642, 209.01; 6. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.610, 208.94  vs. 11. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 6.637, 208.81; 7. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.611, 208.81  vs. 10. Shane Tucker, Camaro, 6.628, 209.14; 8. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.612, 208.91  vs. 9. Dave Connolly, Camaro, 6.613, 208.62.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Kevin Lawrence, 6.798, 203.55.

 

Pro Stock Motorcycle — 1. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.872, 194.86  vs. 16. LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 7.057, 189.20; 2. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.941, 192.91  vs. 15. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 7.055, 190.19; 3. Scotty Pollacheck, Buell, 6.943, 193.40  vs. 14. Craig Treble, Buell, 7.051, 190.32; 4. Matt Smith, Buell, 6.943, 192.11  vs. 13. Chaz Kennedy, Buell, 7.021, 189.26; 5. Hector Arana, Buell, 6.959, 192.99  vs. 12. Michael Ray, Buell, 7.011, 189.07; 6. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.959, 192.36  vs. 11. Shawn Gann, Buell, 7.010, 191.38; 7. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.983, 191.43  vs. 10. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 7.006, 191.62; 8. John Hall, Buell, 6.991, 190.67  vs. 9. Angie Smith, Buell, 7.005, 191.10.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Adam Arana, 7.081, 191.48; 18. Justin Finley, 7.093, 189.47; 19. Mike Berry, 7.177, 184.32; 20. Joe DeSantis, 7.178, 186.36; 21. Elvira Karlsson, 7.204, 183.07; 22. Redell Harris, 7.249, 189.95.

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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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