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.

MORE: NHRA shocker: Qatar Racing Club suspends sponsorship, Al-Anabi plans TBD

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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Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.