NHRA: Brittany Force set for 2015 to be her year in Top Fuel

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Like father, like daughter … and like another daughter.

While so much attention has been focused on John Force’s youngest daughter and Funny Car driver Courtney, older sister Brittany is starting to become – no pun intended – a driving force herself.

And once the 2015 season debuts in Pomona, Calif., in early February, Brittany – like her father and younger sister – intends on being a Force to be reckoned with.

Brittany will be entering her third full season in Top Fuel racing, the quickest and fastest professional category in the NHRA.

During the recently completed 2014 season, Force reached the final round in four races, although failed to net a win. She also was the No. 1 qualifier in three races.

“The biggest highlight of my 2014 season was locking into the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown in the No. 7 position in Brainerd (Minn.),” Force said in a team media release. “That was a proud moment for me knowing regardless of the final races I would be standing on stage at our awards banquet next to the best Top Fuel drivers!”

Force’s biggest single improvement in 2014?

“My comfort level in the seat,” she said. “I feel much more confident about doing my job as a driver, making sure to keep the car in the groove, having a decent reaction time, and pedaling the car on a run if needed.   During my first season I was still learning so much, but now I feel I have just as good  a chance winning a race because I’m doing my job as a driver.”

Her sophomore season on the NHRA national tour was much like her rookie season in 2013, an ongoing learning experience.

“I’ve definitely come a long way and believe I have improved as a driver since my rookie season,” Force said. “I feel I’m more of a competitor on the track now that I’ve gained some experience and seat time.

“Everything from reaction off the starting line to pedaling the car are things I feel more confident about, especially on Sunday. I also have noticed I feel much more comfortable in the seat which plays a big part in performance on the track. Like I’ve always said, I still have so much to learn ahead of me but I feel like I’m off to a pretty good start.”

But now 2014 is history and 2015 is what Force is focused on.

“In 2015 my main goal will be earning my first win and locking into a proud position in the Countdown (the NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship playoffs) when our season concludes,” Force said. “I want to go beyond what our team did last year by winning some races, locking into the Traxxas Shootout, qualifying at all 24 events and moving up the ladder from our number 10 finishing position (in 2014).

“Being able to start the season with a clean slate is what really motivates me going into the 2015 season. Rolling into Pomona where everyone will have the same point standings means anything is possible in my third season! Also, I already have a list of goals for this season, which will also be personally motivating throughout the entire season in itself.”

While her father is the all-time NHRA Funny Car champ with 16 championships and more than 140 national event wins, and sister Courtney is also a Funny Car driver, Brittany prefers the other nitromethane class, Top Fuel.

“The thing that most excites me about being a Top Fuel driver is knowing I’m in the same playing field as drivers I grew up watching and drivers I look up to today,” she said. “The even better thing is pulling up next to those drivers on race day and turning on the win light (on a particular round).

“There is no better feeling than going rounds on race day with your team. The other great thing about driving is the teamwork that goes into this sport. I’m proud to know I have a supportive team behind me regardless of the day’s events. We are all one team and we keep each other motivated and fighting for what we want.”

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Jack Miller wins the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix as Fabio Quartararo stops his downward points’ slide

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Jack Miller ran away with the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi as Fabio Quartararo stopped his downward slide in the championship when a last-lap accident from his closest rival in the standings caused Francesco Bagnaia to score zero points.

Starting seventh, Miller quickly made his way forward. He was second at the end of two laps. One lap later, he grabbed the lead from Jorge Martin. Once in the lead, Miller posted three consecutive fastest laps and was never seriously challenged. It was Australian native Miller’s first race win of the season and his sixth podium finish.

The proximity to his home turf was not lost.

“I can ride a motorcycle sometimes,” Miller said in NBC Sports’ post-race coverage. “I felt amazing all weekend since I rolled out on the first practice. It feels so awesome to be racing on this side of the world.

“What an amazing day. It’s awesome; we have the home Grand Prix coming up shortly. Wedding coming up in a couple of weeks. I’m over the moon; can’t thank everyone enough.”

Miller beat Brad Binder to the line by 3.4 seconds with third-place Jorge Martin finishing about one second behind.

But the center of the storm was located just inside the top 10 as both Quartararo and Bagnaia started deep in the field.

Quartararo was on the outside of row three in ninth with Bagnaia one row behind in 12th. Neither rider moved up significantly, but the championship continued to be of primary importance as Bagnaia put in a patented late-race charge to settle onto Quartararo’s back tire, which would have allowed the championship leader to gain only a single point.

On the final lap, Bagnaia charged just a little too hard and crashed under heavy braking, throwing away the seven points he would have earned for a ninth-place finish.

The day was even more dramatic for the rider who entered the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix third in the standings. On the sighting lap, Aleix Espargaro had an alarm sound, so he peeled off into the pits, dropped his primary bike and jumped aboard the backup. Starting from pit lane, he trailed the field and was never able to climb into the points. An undisclosed electronic problem was the culprit.

For Quartararo, gaining eight points on the competition was more than a moral victory. This was a track on which he expected to run moderately, and he did, but the problems for his rivals gives him renewed focus with four rounds remaining.

Next week, the series heads to Thailand and then Miller’s home track of Phillip Island in Australia. They will close out the Pacific Rim portion of the schedule before heading to Spain for the finale in early November.

It would appear team orders are not in play among the Ducati riders. Last week’s winner Enea Bastianini made an aggressive early move on Bagnaia for position before the championship contender wrestled the spot back.

In his second race back following arm surgery, Marc Marquez won the pole. His last pole was more than 1,000 days ago on this same track in 2019, the last time the series competed at Motegi. Marquez slipped to fifth in the middle stages of the race, before regaining a position to finish just off the podium.

In Moto2 competition, Ai Ogura beat Augusto Fernandez to close the gap in that championship to two points. Fernandez holds the scant lead. Alonso Lopez rounded out the podium.

Both American riders, Cameron Beaubier and Joe Roberts finished just outside the top 10 in 11th and 12th respectively.