(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

Starting lineup grid for IMSA Petit Le Mans: Tom Blomqvist puts MSR on pole position

Petit Le Mans lineup
IMSA
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IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship contender Tom Blomqvist put the Meyer Shank Racing Acura at the front of the starting lineup for the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta.

Blomqvist turned a 1-minute, 8.55-second lap on the 2.54-mile circuit Friday to capture his third pole position for MSR this season. Earl Bamber qualified second in the No. 02 Cadillac for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ricky Taylor was third in the No. 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing, which enters Saturday’s season finale with a 19-point lead over the No. 60 of Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves) for the 10-hour race.

PETIT LE MANS STARTING GRID: Click here for the starting lineup l Lineup by car number

PETIT LE MANS: Info on how to watch

With the pole, MSR sliced the deficit to 14 points behind WTR, which will field the trio of Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley in Saturday’s race.

“We really needed to put the car in this kind of position,” Blomqvist said. “It makes our life a little less stressful tomorrow. It would have given the No. 10 a bit more breathing space. It’s going to be a proper dogfight tomorrow. The guys gave me such a great car. It’s been fantastic this week so far, and it really came alive. I’m hugely thankful to the boys and girls at MSR for giving me the wagon today to execute my job.

“That was a big effort from me. I knew how important it was. It’s just awesome for the guys to give them some sort of reward as well. It’s always nice to be quick. If you do the pole, you know you’ve got a quick car.”

Though WTR has a series-leading four victories with the No. 10, MSR won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and has five runner-up finishes along with its three poles.

The strong performances of the ARX-05s ensure that an Acura will win the final championship in IMSA’s premier Daytona Prototype international (DPi) division, which is being rebranded as Grand Touring Prototype in the move to LMDh cars next season.

Taylor qualified third despite sliding into the Turn 5 gravel during the closing minutes of qualifying while pushing to gain points.

“Qualifying was important for points,” Taylor said. “Going into it, if we outqualified the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura, they had a lot to lose in terms of championship points. So, we were trying to increase the gap over 20 points which would’ve made a big difference for tomorrow. We would have loved to get the pole and qualify ahead of the No. 60, but in the scheme of the points, it didn’t change a whole lot. I’m feeling good since it’s such a long race, and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura team does such a good job strategizing and putting us in a good position.

“I’m very confident in our lineup and our team compared to them over the course of 10 hours. I’d put my two teammates up against those guys any day. I think we are all feeling optimistic and strong for tomorrow.”

In other divisions, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports (LMP2), Riley Motorsports (LMP3), VasserSullivan (GTD Pro) and Paul Miller Racing (GTD) captured pole positions.

The broadcast of the 10-hour race will begin Saturday at 12:10-3 p.m. ET on NBC, moving at 7 p.m. to USA Network. Peacock will have flag-to-flag coverage.


QUALIFYING

Results

Results by class

Fastest lap by driver

Fastest lap by driver after qualifying

Fastest lap by driver and class after qualifying

Fastest lap sequence in qualifying

Best sector times in qualifying

Time cards in qualifying

PRACTICE RESULTS: Session I l Session II l Session III