NHRA: Antron Brown looks to make Top Fuel fireworks this weekend

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With five races coming up in the next six weeks – starting with this weekend’s Summit Racing Equipment Nationals in Norwalk, Ohio – Top Fuel driver Antron Brown knows how crucial this stretch of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing season will be.

“This time of the year is when you need to be getting on your Ps and Qs, so you want to be polishing your combination and trying to find your combination,” Brown said in an NHRA media release. “That’s what makes this time so crucial.”

Brown has led the Top Fuel point standings for the last five races, but heading into Norwalk holds a razor-thin, two-point edge over Don Schumacher Racing teammate and defending series champion Tony Schumacher.

Brown, who earned his 50th career win earlier this month at Englishtown, N.J. (see video below),  hopes to earn his fourth victory of the season at Norwalk, which can be an unpredictable racetrack.

“At Norwalk you get some nighttime qualifying sessions where the track will be good and you get some daytime sessions where it can be hot and humid and you have to work hard to get down the racetrack,” Brown said.

With the race being held on the July 4th weekend, Brown – who is the defending Top Fuel winner at Norwalk – is looking to not only watch fireworks, but also shoot off some fireworks of his own on the dragstrip.

“I’m always excited to go to Norwalk because out of all our races there is no other show like what the Bader family (track owners) puts on,” Brown said. “When you go there you know you’re not just there for the pure excitement our sport brings, but you’re going to be entertained from start to finish.

“The firework shows are just phenomenal for kids and adults of all ages.”

With 11 races in the 2015 record book, Norwalk kicks off the middle stretch of the 24-race NHRA season. From there, the series goes to Joliet, Ill. (July 9-12), followed by the annual “western swing” in Denver (July 24-26), Sonoma, Calif. (July 31-Aug. 2) and Seattle (Aug. 7-9).

Once that stretch is over, eight races will remain on the schedule, including the biggest race of the season, the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis (Sept. 2-7), followed by the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

Brown is coming off a rare first-round exit last week at Bristol (Tenn.) and is looking to bounce back with a strong run at Norwalk, particularly with what the race means as the kickoff to the five-race stretch.

“Everything is crucial,” Brown said. “You have to go out and be consistent and grow with each and every run. That’s been our focus: to grow. Even if we’re struggling and don’t get the results we want we can learn from that to be better at the next race.

“For this upcoming series of races our main focus is to grow. You have to grow each and every race, and that has to continue through the Countdown so you keep working to get to a higher level.”

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Ford unveils a new Mustang for 2024 Le Mans in motorsports ‘lifestyle brand’ retooling

Ford Mustang Le Mans
Ford Performance

LE MANS, France — Ford has planned a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its iconic Mustang muscle car next year under a massive rebranding of Ford Performance aimed at bringing the automotive manufacturer “into the racing business.”

The Friday unveil of the new Mustang Dark Horse-based race car follows Ford’s announcement in February (and a ballyhooed test at Sebring in March) that it will return to Formula One in 2026 in partnership with reigning world champion Red Bull.

The Mustang will enter the GT3 category next year with at least two cars in both IMSA and the World Endurance Championship, and is hopeful to earn an invitation to next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The IMSA entries will be a factory Ford Performance program run by Multimatic, and a customer program in WEC with Proton Competition.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, also an amateur sports car racer, told The Associated Press the Mustang will be available to compete in various GT3 series across the globe to customer teams. But more important, Farley said, is the overall rebranding of Ford Performance – done by renowned motorsports designer Troy Lee – that is aimed at making Ford a lifestyle brand with a sporting mindset.

“It’s kind of like the company finding its own, and rediscovering its icons, and doubling down on them,” Farley told the AP. “And then this motorsports activity is getting serious about connecting enthusiast customers with those rediscovered icons. It’s a big switch for the company – this is really about building strong, iconic vehicles with enthusiasts at the center of our marketing.”

Ford last competed in sports car racing in 2019 as part of a three-year program with Chip Ganassi Racing. The team scored the class win at Le Mans in 2016 in a targeted performance aimed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford snapping Ferrari’s six-year winning streak.

Ford on Friday displayed a Mustang with a Lee-designed livery that showcased the cleaner, simplified look that will soon be featured on all its racing vehicles. The traditional blue oval with Ford Performance in white lettering underneath will now be branded simply FP.

The new mark will be used across car liveries, merchandise and apparel, display assets, parts and accessories and in advertising.

Farley cited Porsche as an automaker that has successfully figured out how to sell cars to consumers and race cars in various series around the world while creating a culture of brand enthusiasts. He believes Ford’s new direction will help the company sell street cars, race cars, boost interest in driving schools, and create a merchandise line that convinces consumers that a stalwart of American automakers is a hip, cool brand.

“We’re going to build a global motorsports business off road and on road,” Farley told the AP, adding that the design of the Mustang is “unapologetically American.”

He lauded the work of Lee, who is considered the top helmet designer among race car drivers.

“We’re in the first inning of a nine inning game, and going to Le Mans is really important,” Farley said. “But for customer cars, getting the graphics right, designing race cars that win at all different levels, and then designing a racing brand for Ford Performance that gets rebranded and elevated is super important.”

He said he’s kept a close eye on how Porsche and Aston Martin have built their motorsports businesses and said Ford will be better.

“We’re going in the exact same direction. We just want to be better than them, that’s all,” Farley said. “Second is the first loser.”

Farley, an avid amateur racer himself, did not travel to Le Mans for the announcement. The race that begins Saturday features an entry from NASCAR, and Ford is the reigning Cup Series champion with Joey Logano and Team Penske.

The NASCAR “Garage 56” entry is a collaboration between Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and is being widely celebrated throughout the industry. Farley did feel left out of the party in France – a sentiment NASCAR tried to avoid by inviting many of its partners to attend the race so that it wouldn’t seem like a Chevrolet-only celebration.

“They’re going right and I’m going left – that NASCAR thing is a one-year deal, right? It’s Garage 56 and they can have their NASCAR party, but that’s a one-year party,” Farley said. “We won Le Mans outright four times, we won in the GT class, and we’re coming back with Mustang and it’s not a one-year deal.

“So they can get all excited about Garage 56. I almost see that as a marketing exercise for NASCAR, but for me, that’s a science project,” Farley continued. “I don’t live in a world of science projects. I live in the world of building a vital company that everyone is excited about. To do that, we’re not going to do a Garage 56 – I’ve got to beat Porsche and Aston Martin and Ferrari year after year after year.”

Ford’s announcement comes on the heels of General Motors changing its GT3 strategy next season and ending its factory Corvette program. GM, which unlike Ford competes in the IMSA Grand Touring Prototype division (with its Cadillac brand), will shift fully to a customer model for Corvettes in 2024 (with some factory support in the IMSA GTD Pro category).