(Updated) NHRA: After nearly 20 years away, John Force Racing returns to Chevrolet/GM in 2015

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After months of rumors and speculation about which car manufacturer he’ll represent, 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force has made it official.

Force announced Thursday in a teleconference that after nearly 20 years with Ford as the manufacturer of record on his Funny Car and those of daughter Courtney and son-in-law Robert Hight, John Force Racing has now switched affiliations and will return to Chevrolet, where the winningest driver in drag racing history began his professional career more than 30 years ago.

“We signed the deal right before Christmas,” Force said. “That was the biggest Christmas present I’ve ever gotten.”

Force, his daughter and Hight will drive Chevrolet Camaro Funny Cars in the 24-race 2015 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season. Force’s other daughter, Brittany, will also carry Chevy sponsorship on her Top Fuel dragster.

“I get the opportunity to go back to my roots,” Force said. “It’s personal for me. I got my first (NHRA) win with Chevrolet, my first championship with NHRA and six (championships) overall with GM.

“People wanted to know ‘where’s he going with the manufacturer?’ Everybody told me they wanted me to stay with Detroit. GM was where I wanted to land.

“At the end of the day, if you don’t have a manufacturer, you’re in big trouble. … It’s a change and change is good. I’m ready to go drag racing. It’s an exciting time.”

With no other Chevrolet-branded Nitro Funny Cars in the sport, John Force Racing will essentially have the Chevy brand exclusively all to itself.

“That was it,” Force said when asked by MotorSportsTalk. “That was key with my past with GM. We got an exclusive. … We’re just getting started. This whole thing, you don’t do all this change overnight. We’re going to hit the track running.

“We’re going to have our first test at Phoenix next Monday. I have great financial backing with GM. … We have an exclusive and that makes it great. Ain’t nobody that loves drag racing more than I do. I feel like a little kid, I feel like I’m 16 all over again. But in that race car, I’m 21 again and I’m a bad hombre when you put me in a firesuit.”

The agreement between JFR and Chevrolet is a multi-year deal.

“It’s a big day for the sport,” NHRA president Tom Compton said. “Welcome back, GM. We’re really proud to work for you.”

Ford announced near the end of the 2013 season that 2014 would be its last with Force, choosing to allocate resources in another direction in its motorsports program in 2015.

Ford followed Castrol Oil, which had sponsored Force for the last 30 years, in leaving the Force camp at the end of the 2014 season to go in another direction.

“I was in trouble and dancing like a mad man (for funding),” Force said. “We did approach others in the industry, but my heart’s with Detroit. My company is called ‘John Force, American Made.’ It’s where I needed to land. My other partner (Ford) was great, but this is a new relationship.”

Initial reports had John Force Racing potentially signing with Dodge to represent its HellCat R/T Challenger or Charger. There were also reports that Force was also talking with Toyota.

However, Force rival Don Schumacher Racing has four drivers (Ron Capps, Jack Beckman, Tommy Johnson Jr. and defending 2014 Funny Car champ Matt Hagan) that will drive 2015 Dodge Charger R/Ts, but they won’t be the more vaunted HellCat.

The HellCat is the most powerful stock street car built in the U.S., with 707 horsepower under the hood. At the present time, no NHRA Funny Car team has affiliated with the HellCat.

Despite all the rumors and media reports, Force surprised those on the conference call when he said, “I never had a conversation with Dodge.”

Toyota, meanwhile, has Alexis DeJoria, Cruz Pedregon, Chad Head, Del Worsham and Tony Pedregon in its own Funny Car lineup.

“My conversation with Toyota, we had a brief conversation, but nothing in writing or on the table,” Force said. “This is where I wanted to land. I’m back to my roots, back to where I started. This is an easy transition for us.”

Chevrolet won 11 major championships in five different forms of motorsport in 2014 (including Erica Enders-Stevens winning the NHRA Pro Stock championship) and looks to have Force to win a record 17th Funny Car championship in 2015.

“We need John Force Racing, every person in the organization, to focus and win races and championships for us,” said Jim Campbell, Chevrolet Vice President for Performance Vehicles and Motorsports. “We’re excited about getting to the race track, John, and welcome home.”

Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski

Lessons learned in three rounds of Extreme E pay huge dividends in the Copper X Prix for Tanner Foust

Foust Copper X Prix
McLaren Racing
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To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long, unique trip it’s been for Tanner Foust in his first season with the Extreme E series as he took his early season lessons to Chile to compete in the Copper X Prix. And he’s learned his lessons well.

In February, McLaren announced they would expand their motorsports program with an Extreme E entry. They signed two talented rally drivers in Foust and Emma Gilmour – and paired them for the opening round in Neom, Saudi Arabia with just a few days of testing under their belts. Baked by the Arabian desert sun, it was trial by fire.

The duo performed well in their debut, advancing into the final round and finishing fifth. As Extreme E headed to another desert halfway across the globe for Round 4, it was a good time to catch up with Foust and ask about McLaren’s progress. The Copper X Prix was held this past weekend in one of the most extreme regions in the world: the Atacama Desert.

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“The shock going into the first race was the speed,” Foust told NBC Sports. “It was much higher than we had tested. We spent a lot of time around 100 miles per hour [in race trim] and our testing speeds were more in the 60 to 70-mile range. Then, once we sort of got around that, the car got updated so you can drive it even faster.”

In rally racing, some incidents are out of a driver’s control. Even peeking around another car can be dangerous because of potholes that have recently been gouged in the ground or large bushes that seem to sprout up between laps. A couple of rollovers brought Foust back to earth – but the pace was there and that was important.

“We had some challenges this season,” Foust said prior to the Copper X Prix. “We had a good start; made the final, which is a difficult thing to do in this series. I had two rolls in the first three events, but I have improved each time. Now we come into Round 4 in Chile in a pretty strong position. We have competitive times as a team. We are communicating really well and have our heads around this Odyssey vehicle.”

Foust’s words proved to be prophetic.

He won the Crazy Race – Extreme E’s version of a Last Chance Qualifier – and did so after passing the field. It was the same manner in which he qualified for Saudi Arabia’s finale, but this time things would be better. There were those hard-earned lessons on which to lean – and Foust had reps under his belt. He was not going to be caught off guard by any random obstacles.

Tanner Foust passed Sebastien Loeb heading to the Switch Zone in the Copper X Prix. (Photo by Sam Bagnall / LAT Images)

In the Copper X Prix finale, he pressured one of the best rally drivers in the history of the sport.

Pitching sideways through a tight left-hander late in his stint, Foust put his McLaren Extreme E Odyssey at the head of the pack in front of Sebastien Loeb as they headed to the Switch Zone. There, he would turn the car over to his co-driver Gilmour.

The Extreme E series pairs male and female drivers with both taking a turn behind the wheel.

After the driver change, Gilmour lost the lead momentarily to Loeb’s teammate Cristina Gutierrez, but as they charged toward the finish line, she surged ahead and crossed under the checkers first.

“What an improvement for the team over this year,” Foust said after the race. “We have struggled through some of the events, being in our first year in competition. We showed true pace this weekend; overtaking Sebastien Loeb was a highlight.

“Emma put in a great run in the Final. I was fortunate to go from last to first in the Crazy Race and then first in the Final but with some flag penalties, we had 20 seconds added to our time, which put us into fifth. It was a great feeling crossing the line first, I love this wide style track and the NEOM McLaren Odyssey was fantastic here.

“Hopefully we can continue that momentum into Uruguay.”

Loeb and Gutierrez were elevated to the top of the podium, but no one can take away the feeling of crossing under the checkers first.


Racing Responsibly

Since cars were first invented, racing has played a socially responsible role by improving safety. As Earth reaches a tipping point with climate change, racing needs to adapt to these new needs and requirements, which is where Extreme E’s unique strategy becomes increasingly important.

The Extreme E experience is more than simple racing. Each race is accompanied by a legacy program designed to offset damage done by climate change and to erase the footprint caused by the events.

Foust, a biology major from the University of Colorado, was given the chance to rekindle his interest and give back to the environment ahead of the Copper X Prix.

The Atacama is the oldest desert in the world at 150 million years. It is the driest place on earth and has the highest degree of ultraviolet light. And yet somehow life perseveres through underground rivers with oases dating back to Incan times. Foust participated in preparing a local habitat for the reintroduction of a critically endangered water frog to Chile’s longest river, the Loa, which snakes its way through the desert.

“I’m loving the experience,” Foust said. “I’m putting on a lot of Chapstick, a lot of sunscreen. What a fascinating part of the world. I never would have come here otherwise.

“I honestly am very honored to be a part of this sport. I am a huge believer in the fact that motorsports has done us good in the last 100 years. I think we benefit every single time we put our seatbelts on and drive down the road to the lessons learned in racing since the turn of the century. And I really hope motorsports continues that tradition.

“I think that motorsports like [Extreme E] does it in a responsible way, a gender-neutral way and a carbon-neutral way.”