Matt Hagan wants to stay on top of Funny Car mountain heading into Denver this weekend

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Defending Funny Car champ Matt Hagan (Photo courtesy NHRA)

When you reach the top of the mountain, not only do you enjoy the view, the last thing you want to do is head down.

That’s how defending NHRA Funny Car champ – and current points leader – Matt Hagan is approaching this weekend’s 35th annual Mopar Mile-High Nationals in the Denver suburb of Morrison, Colo.

Hagan climbed the Funny Car mountain with a strong run in the six-race Countdown to the Championship, eventually toppling 16-time champ John Force. It was Hagan’s second Funny Car title in four seasons, having done so the first time in 2011.

And Hagan has shown no signs of letting up in 2015.

Through the first 13 races of the 24-race Funny Car schedule, Hagan has a series-high four wins and leads second-ranked Ron Capps by a 178 points. He’s 189 points ahead of the third-place tie of Jack Beckman and Del Worsham by 189 points each, and leads fifth-ranked John Force by a whopping 223 points.

This weekend has special meaning for Hagan, as race sponsor Mopar is also one of the primary sponsors on his super-fast Dodge Charger Funny Car. Hagan has never won in Denver, but he’s hoping for a Rocky Mountain high by the time Sunday’s final eliminations are over.

“Obviously this is a huge race for Mopar and they’re one of my primary sponsors, so this is an event I want to win really bad for them,” Hagan said in an NHRA media release. “I just haven’t done it yet.

“It’s so tricky and you never know what you’re going to get with the challenges of this track and race. But everybody is in the same boat and I would love nothing more than to win it this year.”

This weekend is the start of the NHRA’s annual three-race “Western Swing.” A good run this weekend can give a team momentum it can ride through next week in Sonoma (Calif.), and two weeks from now in suburban Seattle.

A winner of 18 national events, Hagan has won four this season: the season opener at Pomona, as well as Phoenix, Englishtown and Bristol.

Those four wins are equal to what Hagan did last season – and there’s still 11 races left on the schedule.

He also finished second last week in Joliet, Ill., losing to Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tommy Johnson Jr.

This weekend’s host track, Bandimere Speedway, presents challenges to drivers not only because of the racing surface, but also because it’s the only track on the circuit that is a mile high in elevation (5,800 feet) and altitude.

“If I have any shot of getting it done (winning for the first time at Bandimere) this is going to be the year,” Hagan said. “We’ve put on a good (title) defense this year, and up to this point we’ve raced well and raced smart.

“We’ve capitalized on some mistakes and had some luck as well. But one mistake and things can change quickly. You just have to make good decisions and feel comfortable in the car. That confidence from my crew chief gives me confidence as a driver. Hopefully we can have that momentum built up and it all rolls downhill from there.”

But it won’t be easy for Hagan to break through, especially against John Force Racing, which has 11 combined career wins at Bandimere, including an event record six victories by John Force and three by teammate Robert Hight.

“This sport has, hands down, been the most humbling I’ve been a part of,” Hagan said. “You can do it all right and still lose. But I’ve got a great car underneath me and it all comes down to my crew chief and team. To come out and after a championship like this is huge, but you still have to prove it during the Countdown.

“We want to carry that momentum with us,” Hagan said. “We had a big points day in Chicago and we definitely want to keep all the momentum going over the next four to five races. In Denver you have to try some stuff and see if it works.”

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Cadillac confirms WEC driver lineup with Chip Ganassi Racing that will race Le Mans in 2023

Cadillac Ganassi Le Mans
Cadillac Racing
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Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing announced their driver lineup for a 2023 entry in the FIA World Endurance Championship, the sports car series that includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The Cadillac V-LMDh entry will be driven by Earl Bamber and Alex Lynn, who were teamed on the No. 02 Cadillac that competed in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship DPi class this season and won the Twelve Hours of Sebring. The third driver will be Richard Westbrook, who will return to Ganassi after helping the team to a GT class win at Le Mans in 2018.

The team also will compete in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the rebranded Grand Touring Prototype premier category, which is designed for crossover between the top prototypes in IMSA and WEC. Ganassi will field a second entry at Daytona with its No. 01 Cadillac that will compete full time in IMSA with Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande.

A Ganassi spokesman said the team hopes to run its second entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans but only its WEC team is confirmed (an AOC invitation would be required for the IMSA team). The team also is exploring options but currently plans to have the WEC’s team base of operations in Indianapolis.

Ganassi is the first American-based prototype team to confirm its entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans. It’s expected that Team Penske, which raced this year’s Le Mans with a full-time WEC entry in LMP2, also will race Le Mans with Porsche’s new LMDh car that is set for IMSA, but the manufacturer has yet to confirm its driver and team lineup.

Next year will mark the return of Cadillac to Le Mans for the first time since 2002.

Before joining Ganassi last year, Lynn made 28 WEC starts since 2016, winning the LMGTE Pro class at Le Mans in 2020.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to continue with Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing,” Lynn said in a release. “It’s a huge honor to drive for Chip in any capacity but certainly on a full factory sports car program, it’s seriously cool. Cadillac has so much heritage as a luxury North American sports car brand, so to be able to represent them is a huge privilege. I’ve had a lot of fun in my first year doing it and to continue that onto the World Endurance Championship stage is fantastic.

“For me, returning to WEC is sort of what I’ve always known and it’s a bit like going into my wheelhouse. This year in IMSA was a bit different with getting to know all-new circuits and a new style of racing so 2023 will be filled with a bit more of what I’m used to with more of a European focus. I think what’s significant about WEC is without a doubt Le Mans. As a sports car race, Le Mans is the crown jewel and everything that we want to win. To be able to take Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac back to Le Mans to fight for overall honors is a huge honor and that’s something that I’m going to work tirelessly to make sure we achieve.”

Bamber won the Le Mans overall in 2015 and ’17 with Porsche teams and also was a 2019 GTLM champion in IMSA.

“I am really happy to continue at Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac,” Bamber said in a release. “I’ve loved my first season in DPi and now to continue over into the LMDh era and WEC is super exciting. Looking forward to fighting for a world championship and another Le Mans victory.

“The World Endurance Championships gives us the opportunity to race at the world’s biggest race, which is Le Mans, the crown jewel of sports car racing. I’ve been lucky enough to win it before and it’s obviously a huge goal for Cadillac and everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing. To have that goal in sight is really exciting. It’s been great to have Alex as a teammate in 2022. We’ve been able to learn and grow together in the DPi, and we have a really good partnership going into WEC. We know each other really well and believe adding Richard will be a seamless transition.”

Said Westbrook: “After four really good years at Chip Ganassi Racing, I’ve got so many friends there and I’ve always dreamt to come back one day. It just worked so well between 2016 and 2019, and I’m delighted we found a route to come together again. I can’t wait, it’s an exciting era in sports car racing right now.

“I feel like I know Alex and Earl really well. I did Le Mans with Alex in 2020 and I’ve known him for years. It feels like I’m going back with an ex-teammate and exactly the same with Earl. Although I’ve never shared a car with Earl, we’ve always done the same sort of racing be it in WEC or in IMSA. We’ve had lots of battles, including this year in our dueling Cadillacs. We’ve always gotten along quite well, and I can say we’re going to have a great year together.”

The seven-race WEC season, which also includes a stop at Spa, will begin March 17 with the 1,000 Miles of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway in Florida.