John Force earns 150th No. 1 qualifying spot of his career

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Age is just a number for 65-year-old John Force.

The record 16-season NHRA Funny Car champ showed he still can get it done Saturday, earning the 150th No. 1 qualifying spot of his career for Sunday’s finals of the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Northwest Nationals in Kent, Wash.

Other top qualifiers at Pacific Raceways were other veteran drivers and multi-champions in Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel) and Allen Johnson (Pro Stock).

The final eliminations of the event begin at 11 a.m. PT.

Force had been the No. 1 qualifier in Funny Car on Friday, but daughter Courtney, who won last Sunday at Sonoma, took the top spot away from her father in the second and final qualifying session Saturday.

But John Force was not to be denied, running a track record 4.057 seconds at 307.86 mph to take back the No. 1 spot – his fourth of the season and sixth of his career at Pacific Raceways.

“I was overloaded today, had too much on my plate,” Force said, per an NHRA media release. “And then she (Courtney) bumped me. I figured Robert (Hight) would do it, he didn’t.

“(Crew chief) Jimmy (Prock) turned around and said, ‘What do you want to do?’ I said, ‘Turn ‘er up.’ We knew what it would do, but you really don’t want to show the competition what you have. If you can hold your cards and get them in the evening, then you can step on it.”

Courtney Force will start as the No. 2 seed on Sunday, based upon her 4.082 second run at 306.33 mph on Saturday.

As for Top Fuel, Schumacher set the pace with a run of 3.804 seconds at 320.20 mph.

Schumacher, who makes his 400th career NHRA start Sunday, will face rookie Jenna Haddock in the first round.

“We have a great car,” Schumacher said. “I wouldn’t want to race me tomorrow. The fact that we went down both lanes just shows what (crew chiefs) Mike [Green] and Neal [Strausburg] have been looking for for a long time.

“We just didn’t go down the track but we were first or second each session and had some .820 60-foot times. They’re making some great calls. Our initial launch is what we’ve been longing for. Everyone knows that if you get the car moving, you can apply clutch quicker.”

Reigning NHRA Top Fuel points leader Doug Kalitta earned the No. 2 spot (3.805 seconds at 320.28 mph) and will meet No. 15 qualifier Mike Salinas in Sunday’s first round.

As for Johnson in Pro Stock, he held on to the top spot with Friday’s best run of 6.535 mph at 211.86 mph, the 35th No. 1 spot of his career and third at Pacific Raceway.

By virtue of only 15 Pro Stock cars in the field, Johnson earned a rare first-round bye in Sunday’s finals.

While Johnson now has four No. 1 spots this season, he has yet to win an event where he was top qualifier in 2014.

“The guys did an awesome job here,” Johnson said. “All four rounds low and building up them baby points. That last round, the track was representative of what we will see tomorrow. We made a really good run and we just need to keep doing what we are doing and be very consistent. If the driver does his job, we can get this thing done.”

Shane Gray qualified No. 2 (6.538 seconds at 211.86 mph) and will face Travis Mazza in Sunday’s first round.

 

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Here’s the pairings for Sunday’s final eliminations in the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Northwest Nationals presented by Super Start Batteries at Pacific Raceways:

Top Fuel — 1. Tony Schumacher, 3.804 seconds, 320.20 mph vs. 16. Jenna Haddock, 4.176, 273.44; 2. Doug Kalitta, 3.805, 320.28 vs. 15. Mike Salinas, 4.158, 283.79; 3. Shawn Langdon, 3.807, 317.05 vs. 14. Clay Millican, 3.967, 305.77; 4. Richie Crampton, 3.809, 317.19 vs. 13. Terry McMillen, 3.931, 313.73; 5. Bob Vandergriff, 3.812, 318.77 vs. 12. Antron Brown, 3.884, 309.34; 6. Khalid alBalooshi, 3.813, 319.22 vs. 11. Brittany Force, 3.848, 310.84; 7. Spencer Massey, 3.815, 318.09 vs. 10. Troy Buff, 3.845, 311.41; 8. J.R. Todd, 3.827, 314.83 vs. 9. Steve Torrence, 3.834, 316.45. Did Not Qualify: 17. Ron Smith, 4.339, 269.83.

Funny Car — 1. John Force, Ford Mustang, 4.057, 308.07 vs. 16. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Solara, 4.361, 283.49; 2. Courtney Force, Mustang, 4.082, 306.33 vs. 15. Gary Densham, Chevy Impala, 4.303, 292.46; 3. Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 4.100, 302.69 vs. 14. Terry Haddock, Impala, 4.199, 292.46; 4. Alexis DeJoria, Toyota Camry, 4.101, 303.23 vs. 13. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.175, 294.18; 5. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.102, 304.19 vs. 12. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.156, 297.29; 6. Robert Hight, Mustang, 4.107, 303.91 vs. 11. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.150, 301.40; 7. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.120, 306.40 vs. 10. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.136, 298.34; 8. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.126, 296.18 vs. 9. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.131, 300.53. Did Not Qualify: 17. Bucky Austin, 4.398, 276.63; 18. Paul Lee, 4.979, 204.20.

Pro Stock — 1. Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.535, 211.86 vs. Bye; 2. Shane Gray, Chevy Camaro, 6.538, 211.96 vs. 15. Travis Mazza, Ford Mustang, 8.038, 129.28; 3. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.549, 211.36 vs. 14. Mark Wolfe, Mustang, 7.060, 205.57; 4. Jeg Coughlin, Dart, 6.553, 211.13 vs. 13. Larry Morgan, Mustang, 6.695, 207.82; 5. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.556, 211.56 vs. 12. Deric Kramer, Dodge Avenger, 6.615, 209.85; 6. V. Gaines, Dart, 6.561, 211.26 vs. 11. Matt Hartford, Avenger, 6.597, 210.67; 7. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 6.562, 211.46 vs. 10. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.588, 210.57; 8. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.569, 210.73 vs. 9. Dave Connolly, Camaro, 6.587, 210.60.

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Alexander Rossi ‘fits like a glove’ with his new IndyCar teammates at Arrow McLaren Racing

Alexander Rossi McLaren
Nate Ryan
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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – There are more than three dozen fresh faces on the Arrow McLaren Racing IndyCar team, but there was one that Felix Rosenqvist was particularly keen to know – Alexander Rossi.

The driver of the No. 7 Dallara-Chevrolet is the most high-profile new hire for McLaren, which has expanded to a third car to pair with the No. 6 of Rosenqvist and No. 5 of Pato O’Ward.

And there is another layer than Rossi just being the new kid. McLaren marks only his second team in NTT IndyCar Series after seven seasons at Andretti Autosport, where he began with a victory in the 2016 Indy 500 and was a championship contender for several seasons.

Rossi is a mercurial talent, and when things go wrong, the red mist quickly descends (and sometimes has led to feuds with teammates). He went winless during two of his final seasons at Andretti and was out of contention more often than not, often bringing out the prickly side of his personality.

Yet there has been no trace of the dour Rossi since joining McLaren. The pragmatic Californian is quick to remind everyone he hasn’t worked with the team yet at a track (much less been in its car), and there surely will be times he gets frustrated.

But it’s clear that Rossi, who made five Formula One starts in 2015 after several years racing in Europe, already is meshing well with an organization whose England-based parent company has deep roots in F1.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised,” Rosenqvist said Tuesday during IndyCar’s preseason media availabilities. “I think Alex kind of has that bad-guy role a little bit in IndyCar. He’s always been that guy, which is cool. I think we need those guys, as well.

“Actually having gotten to know him, he’s been super nice, super kind. He fits like a glove in the team. I think it fills a role where Pato is kind of like the crazy guy, I’m somewhere in the middle, and Alex is the more engineering guy in the team. I think Alex has more experience, as well. He just feels like a guy who knows what he wants.

“Yeah, good addition to the team and great guy at the same time.”

There are many reasons why Rossi’s transition from Andretti to McLaren should be smoother than his abrupt move from F1 to IndyCar seven years ago. Namely, he no longer is the only newcomer to the team’s culture.

“It’s been kind of a good time to come in because everyone is finding a new role and position and kind of learning who’s who, finding everyone’s strengths and weaknesses,” he said.

But while Rossi might have questions about the team, he has none about the series. Unlike when he arrived at Andretti without any oval experience, Rossi joins McLaren with his IndyCar credentials secured as an established star with eight victories, seven poles and 28 podiums over 114 starts.

Even in his swan song with Andretti, Rossi still managed a farewell victory last July at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course that snapped a 49-race, three-year winless drought. It seems reasonable to believe he immediately could re-emerge in his 2017-19 title contender form.

“I know the series, and I know kind of everything that goes into American open-wheel racing vs. the European open-wheel racing, which is really the biggest transition,” Rossi said. “Certainly it’s the largest kind of team switch. I’ve obviously driven for different teams in the past in Europe, in sports cars, whatever, but never really in my full-time job. I’ve driven for the same organization for a very long time and have a lot of respect and fabulous memories with those people.

“So it has been a big kind of shift, trying to compare and contrast areas that I can bring kind of recommendations and experience to maybe help fill the gaps that exist at Arrow McLaren. Again, all of this is in theory, right? I don’t really know anything. We’ll have a much better idea and plan going into St. Pete (the March 5 season opener).”

He has gotten a good handle on how things work at its Indianapolis headquarters, though, and has been pleased by the leadership of new racing director Gavin Ward (who worked in F1 before a championship stint with Josef Newgarden at Team Penske). McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown also seems omnipresent on both sides of the Atlantic, making appearances at IndyCar races seemingly as much as in the F1 paddock.

“I think what’s very cool about Arrow McLaren is we do have the resources of the McLaren F1 team,” Rossi said. “They very much are being integrated in a lot of respects. It’s not two separate entities. McLaren Racing is one organization that has its people and resources and intellect in kind of everything. It’s been pretty cool to see how that can be an advantage to us in terms of people, resources, simulations, software, kind of everything. We’ve been able to kind of rely on that and use that as a tool that maybe other teams certainly don’t have.”

That will be helpful for Rossi with the methodologies and nuances of racing a Chevrolet for the first time after seven seasons with Honda.

And of course, there will be the relationship with O’Ward, who has been McLaren’s alpha star since 2020.

Rossi was in a similar role for Andretti, which raises questions about how McLaren will handle having two stars accustomed to being the face of the team. But O’Ward said IndyCar regulations should allow each driver to maintain their own style without being forced to adapt as in other series.

“At the end of the day, as much as teammates will help in order to gather data, it doesn’t mean they’re going to specifically help you in what you need because it’s a series where you can really tailor the car to what you want,” O’Ward said. “Rather than in Formula 1, (it’s) ‘This is the car, you need to learn how to drive this certain car.’ In IndyCar, it’s very different where you can customize it to what you want it to feel like or drive like.

“From past experience, I think Alex likes a car similar to what I do. I do think we have a very strong car in certain areas, but I definitely think he’s coming from a car where that other car has been stronger than us in other racetracks. I feel like if we can just find gains where we haven’t quite had a winning car, a podium car, that’s just going to help all of us.”

Though Thursday at The Thermal Club will mark the first time the trio works together at a track, Rosenqvist said he’s hung out a lot with Rossi (both are 31 years old) and deems his new teammate “well-integrated” in the simulator.

“I think the fit has been good with him, me and Pato,” Rosenqvist said. “On a trackside perspective, it’s obviously huge to have always a third opinion on things. Every driver’s opinion is valuable in its own way.”

Said O’Ward, 23: “It’s been great. (Rossi has) been great to have around. I think he needed a fresh start. I think he’s excited to really work with all of us, create the strongest package.”

Ever the realist, though, Rossi still is tempering some of his enthusiasm.

“Again, we haven’t really done anything yet other than some meetings and some team activities together,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for what they’ve done in IndyCar and also their prior careers. I think that we all bring something a little bit different to the table, which I think is really unique in terms of not only personalities but driving styles and experience levels.

“I think we have the ingredients to really be able to develop the team and continue to push the team forward to even a better level than what they’ve shown in the past. It’s been a really positive experience. Really I have nothing at all negative to say and can’t actually wait to get to work, get on track and start working together.”