NHRA: Alan Johnson Racing moves forward without Al-Anabi

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Despite losing its top sponsor and benefactor, Alan Johnson Racing plans on going forward in the 2015 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.

The drag racing world was shocked when it was announced in early January that primary sponsor and team owner Al-Anabi Racing had ceased all funding for the two-car Top Fuel dragster team, effective immediately.

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Johnson will apparently run the team – a one-car operation for now with 2013 Top Fuel champion Shawn Langdon behind the wheel – out of his own pocket, but is continuing to seek sponsorship, according to National Dragster magazine. Khalid alBalooshi, who drove the second Al-Anabi dragster, will not return for 2015 – at least not with AJR.

“We enjoyed our six years with Al-Anabi Racing, and we experienced great success,” Johnson said in a team media release. “We appreciate the opportunity to compete for Al-Anabi Racing and thank Sheikh Khalid [Al-Anabi Racing team owner, Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad Al Thani] for everything he did for us. We had a great run, but now we must move on and focus on the future.”

Brian Husen and Jason McCulloch will serve as co-crew chiefs on Langdon’s dragster.

The team fully intends on taking part in the season-opening 55th annual Circle K NHRA Winternationals, Feb. 6-8, in Pomona, Calif. It is also entered in the following race in Phoenix, but it’s unclear how long AJR will be able to sustain without additional sponsorship.

“We are going to Pomona with every intention of winning the Winternationals,” Johnson said. “We are in discussions with multiple entities about sponsoring our race team, and part of that process is showing the level of excellence at which our team competes.

“We won the Winternationals last year, and our goal is to repeat as Winternationals champions next weekend.”

AJR won NHRA Top Fuel world championships in 1997, 1998 and 2000, as well as in 2010, 2011 and 2013 with the Al-Anabi partnership. The team won 42 races in the last six seasons with drivers Larry Dixon, Del Worsham, Langdon, and alBalooshi.

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Cadillac, Acura battle for top speed as cars back on track for Rolex 24 at Daytona practice

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The new hybrid prototypes of Cadillac and Acura battled atop the speed chart as practice resumed Thursday for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Richard Westbrook was fastest Thursday afternoon in the No. 02 Cadillac V-LMDh with a 1-minute, 35.185-second lap around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway.

That pace topped Ricky Taylor’s 1:35.366 lap that topped the Thursday morning session that marked the first time the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was back on track since qualifying Sunday afternoon that concluded the four-day Roar Before The Rolex 24 test.

In a final session Thursday night, Matt Campbell was fastest (1:35.802) in the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsports Porsche 963 but still was off the times set by Westbrook and Taylor.

Punctuated by Tom Blomqvist’s pole position for defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing, the Acura ARX-06s had been fastest for much of the Roar and led four consecutive practice sessions.

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But the times have been extremely tight in the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) category that has brought hybrid engines to IMSA’s premier class. Only 0.9 seconds separated the nine LMDh cars in GTP in qualifying, and though the spread slightly widened to 1.378 seconds in Thursday’s practices with teams on varying strategies and preparation, Westbrook still pooh-poohed the importance of speeds.

“It’s always nice to be at the top, but I don’t think it means too much or read too much into it” Westbrook said. “Big fuel tanks in the GTP class this year, so you have no idea what fuel levels people are running. We had a good run, and the car is really enjoyable to drive now. I definitely wasn’t saying that a month ago.

“It really does feel good now. We are working on performance and definitely unlocking some potential, and it just gives us more confidence going into the race. It’s going to be super tight. Everyone’s got the same power, everyone has the same downforce, everyone has the same drag levels and let’s just go race.”

Because teams have put such a premium on reliability, handling mostly has suffered in the GTPs, but Westbrook said the tide had turned Thursday.

“These cars are so competitive, and you were just running it for the sake of running it in the beginning, and there’s so much going on, you don’t really have time to work on performance,” he said. “A lot of emphasis was on durability in the beginning, and rightly so, but now finally we can work on performance, and that’s the same for other manufacturers as well. But we’re worrying about ourselves and improving every run, and I think everybody’s pretty happy with their Cadillac right now.”

Mike Shank, co-owner of Blomqvist’s No. 60 on the pole, said his team still was facing reliability problems despite its speed.

“We address them literally every hour,” Shank said. “We’re addressing some little thing we’re doing better to try to make it last. And also we’re talking about how we race the race, which will be different from years past.

“Just think about every system in the car, I’m not going to say which ones we’re working on, but there are systems in the car that ORECA and HPD are continually trying to improve. By the way, sometimes we put them on the car and take them off before it even goes out on the track because something didn’t work with electronics. There’s so much programming. So many departments have to talk to each other. That bridge gets broken from a code not being totally correct, and the car won’t run. Or the power steering turns off.”

Former Rolex 24 winner Renger van der Zande of Ganassi said it still is a waiting game until the 24-hour race begins Saturday shortly after 1:30 p.m.

“I think the performance of the car is good,” van der Zande said. “No drama. We’re chipping away on setup step by step and the team is in control. It’s crazy out there what people do on the track at the moment. It’s about staying cool and peak at the right moment, and it’s not the right moment yet for that. We’ll keep digging.”


PRACTICE RESULTS:

Click here for Session I (by class)

Click here for Session II (by class)

Click here for Session III (by class)

Combined speeds