NHRA: Courtney Force still fighting as disappointing year nears end

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It’s not an easy question to answer.

When you spend your life making decisions 1,000 feet and under four seconds at time, you have other things to worry about.

But still, in a movie about her life, who would play Courtney Force?

“Oh gosh. Never thought about that. I have no idea,” replied the youngest daughter of NHRA legend and 16-time Funny Car champion John Force.

The blonde, 27-year-old driver takes a moment. She then delivers an answer that’s surprising for someone who in recent years was photographed for ESPN’s Body Issue, has been glamorized in a commercial for Sunoco’s “Burnt Rubber” cologne and walked the red carpet at the ESPY’s.

Force thinks about character before looks.

“Somebody I guess that’s really determined, but sometimes stubborn,” Force says. “I get that from my dad. Someone I guess that’s kind of the girl version of my dad, unfortunately. Loud and crazy.”

She eventually settles on actress Jennifer Lawrence.

“I like her. She’s fiery,” Force says.

Anyone stepping into the fire suit of Courtney Force would be taking on the role of a drag racer that is employed by her father, but is also his teammate. It’s a dynamic that’s kept things interesting in the sport since she began racing in NHRA Funny Car competition four years ago.

“Dad and I butt heads a lot because we’re a lot alike,” Courtney says. “If we have a problem, we both kind of talk it out. I don’t kind of sit there and just nod my head in silence. We’ll talk it out pretty good.”

But then the moments come where the talking stops and the racing begins. Sometimes, you have to race each other.

Before last weekend’s 30th annual AAA Fall Nationals at the Dallas Motorplex, father and daughter had faced off 14 times in elimination rounds, having split their all-time meetings 7-7. Courtney won the first meeting between the two as a fresh-faced rookie, the victory coming in only her second FC event ever at Phoenix in 2012.

The excitement of the moment overpowered any nervous feelings she had about John being in the opposite lane.

“I remember just having fun with it,” Courtney says. “It was a very surreal moment, because it was the first time.”

For Courtney, “having fun with it” meant adding to the drama by “parking” on him as they staged in their lanes.

“I kind of sat up there and didn’t turn my light on yet and made him kind of sweat it out,” Courtney says.

That didn’t sit well with John, but it doesn’t go down as their biggest disagreement in his eyes. That came off the track.

“It was when she came home with her first date,” John Force recalls, having approached the table his daughter stood at in the team’s garage area.

“I wanted to meet this big ole’ football player and I looked at him. I said, ‘What’s your name, son?’ He goes, ‘Love.’”

“He wasn’t a football player,” Courtney interjects. “His last name was Love and Dad was …”

“I said he looked like a football player. He was a big guy,” her father counters. “But my real aggravation is, we’re drag racers…and she’s marrying an IndyCar driver?”

Behind his dark sunglasses, John Force gives a sly grin and slinks away.

“I’m so sick of that,” Courtney says of the almost daily joke aimed at her engagement to Graham Rahal. “I’m like ‘people are actually going to think you’re serious if you keep saying that.’”

But the time for jokes passes. It’s time for final preparations for the first round of eliminations, which would see Courtney and John face off for the 15th time. On this late Sunday morning, the stakes are John staying alive in the Countdown to the Championship and Courtney defending her 2014 win in the event.

It would be her first win of 2015 after earning four last year, which was a NHRA record for a female Funny Car driver.

It’s been a trying year. With a switch from Ford to Chevrolet, Courtney has only reached one final round and missed out on the NHRA Countdown to the Championship for the first time.

“Obviously, it’s a bummer,” Courtney said. “You don’t want to race teammates on race day ever, no matter the circumstance. Our team’s still looking to get a win this year, so that’s all on our minds.

“I was in there practicing on my tree this morning trying to go for the win. Like I said, we haven’t gotten a win yet. We struggled a little bit and it’s unfortunate we’ll have to run against him, but it doesn’t change our mindset at all. … There’s not much we can do at this point but look forward to a win.”

After Dallas, she would still be looking. In only their second meeting of the year, John took an 8-7 lead over Courtney, whose only run of the day ends in a puff of smoke as her tires spin halfway down the strip. John advances, only to be eliminated himself in Round 2 when a part brakes in his engine.

Dallas is just another stop on Courtney’s roller coaster of a year. But at each stop, no matter her rate of success, the youngest daughter of John Force returns to the JFR garage area to a familiar sight.

At any point in the day a horde of dedicated, enthusiastic JFR fans crowd around the team’s pit stall, watching crews prep the Funny Cars of Courtney, John and team president Robert Hight, as well as sister Brittany Force’s Top Fuel car, waiting for a glimpse of their favorite driver.

They’re the kind of fans that don’t flinch when a nitro engine roars to life feet away from them. They’re also the fans that will ask you to sign a prosthetic leg or the arm of a baby if they have to. Or if you’re John Force, a pig.

But facing those fans after yet another disappointing day at the office is just what a “bummed out” Courtney Force needs.

“I think a lot of people think that’s the hard part, but it’s not,” she says. “You go out to the fans and all of them are still positive, they don’t have something negative to say. I’m very fortunate that they don’t, but just a few minutes ago I went out there and they said, ‘We still love you, we still think you’re the best.’ Just getting that little boost of confidence sometimes helps you feel a lot better about how your day goes.”

After one of many signing sessions, it’s back to work. John rejoins his daughter in the pit area and they begins talking amongst themselves about the preceding round. A photographer hovers nearby as they talk, taking pictures of them at both of their cars.

But Courtney says the best advice she receives from her father comes not after a round. He gives it when she’s strapped into her 300 mph workspace, in the moments before she takes off on another sub-four second, 1,000-foot trip.

What advice does one determined but sometimes stubborn person give another in times of struggle?

“You’ll see him walk by the front of my Funny Car and he’ll just hit his heart,” Courtney says making the motion herself. “(He) points to me and always tells me drive from the heart.”

But he also reminds her to do exactly what she did the first time she faced him in Phoenix four years ago.

“He just kind of gives a friendly reminder, ‘Have fun with it.’”

2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona: Schedule, TV info, start times, entry lists, notable drivers, more

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The new year brings the start of a new era for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, which will open the 2023 schedule with the 61st running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

A new premier class for prototypes is the overriding story entering the 24-hour endurance race that unofficially kicks off the major-league racing season.

The new Le Mans Daytona hybrid (LMDh) cars of the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) top category will re-establish a bridge to the 24 Hours of Le Mans while bringing a new layer of engine electrification to IMSA.

With at least a few of the cars on the grid at Daytona also slated to race at Le Mans in June, it’s possible for the first time in decades (since the “Ford vs. Ferrari” battles) to have the same car win the overall title at Daytona and Le Mans.

The GTP category will feature four manufacturers, two of which are new to IMSA’s premier division. Porsche Motorsport (with Team Penske) and BMW (with Rahal Letterman Lanigan) will be fielding LMDh prototypes, joining (now-defunct) DPi category holdovers Acura (Meyer Shank Racing, Wayne Taylor Racing) and Cadillac (Chip Ganassi Racing, Action Express Racing).

Here’s what else you need to know ahead of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener Jan. 29-30 at Daytona International Speedway:


NOTABLE DRIVER ADDITIONS 

The Rolex 24 will feature 10 active drivers from the NTT IndyCar Series, including the IMSA debuts of Team Penske drivers Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin, who will be teamed in an LMP2 entry (teammate Will Power unfortunately had to withdraw from this debut).

Colton Herta will move into the GTP category with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud return with Meyer Shank Racing to defend their overall 2022 Rolex 24 victory. Scott Dixon also returns in the premier category with Chip Ganassi Racing for his 20th Rolex 24 start and third consecutive in the No. 01 Cadillac.

Other IndyCar drivers in the field: Romain Grosjean will make his debut in GTD Pro with Iron Lynx Racing (as a precursor to driving a GTP Lamborghini next year); Devlin DeFrancesco (Rick Ware Racing) and Rinus VeeKay (TDS Racing) are in LMP2; and Kyle Kirkwood will return in GTD with Vasser Sullivan.

Daytona 500 winner Austin Cindric also will return, teaming with DeFrancesco in an LMP2 entry for Rick Ware Racing.


CAR COUNT

The Rolex 24 field was capped at 61 cars, matching last year’s field (which was the largest since 2014). The field was capped because of the space limitations for the LMDh cars of GTP in the pits and garages.

Click here for the official 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona entry list.


STARTING LINEUP

Tom Blomqvist captured the first pole position of the GTP era, qualifying defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing in first with the No. 60 ARX-06 Acura that he shares with Colin Braun, Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud.

The No. 7 Porsche 963 of Porsche Penske Motorsports will start second.

Click here for the 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona starting lineup


RACE BROADCAST

The 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona will be streamed across the NBC Sports AppNBCSports.com and Peacock, which will have coverage of the event from flag to flag.

Broadcast coverage of the race coverage will begin Saturday, Jan. 28 at 1:30 p.m. ET on NBC and move to USA Network from 2:30-8 p.m. and then will be exclusively on Peacock and IMSA.TV from 8-10 p.m. Coverage will return to USA Network from 10 p.m. to midnight and then move to Peacock/IMSA.TV until 6 a.m.

From 6 a.m. until noon on Sunday, Jan. 29, Rolex 24 coverage will be available on USA Network. The conclusion of the Rolex 24 will run from noon through 2 p.m. on NBC.

HOW TO WATCH IMSA ON NBC SPORTS: Broadcast schedule for 2023

Other events that will be streamed on Peacock from Daytona during January (all times ET):

Jan. 21: IMSA VP Racing Sports Car Challenge, 2:05 p.m.

Jan. 22: IMSA VP Racing Sports Car Challenge, 12:20 p.m.

Jan. 22: IMSA Rolex 24 qualifying, 1:25 p.m.

Jan. 27: BMW Endurance Michelin Pilot Challenge, 1:45 p.m.


ROLEX 24 COVERAGE FROM NBC SPORTS

Wayne Taylor Racing takes a step up to the next level with Andretti Autosport

Austin Cindric seeks to join legendary club of Rolex 24-Daytona 500 winners

Helio Castroneves recalls “Days of Thunder” moment in 2022 Rolex 24 victory

The “Bus Bros” tackle the “Bus Stop” for Rolex 24 at Daytona debuts

Romain Grosjean adds Rolex 24 at Daytona to his crown jewel career

Tom Blomqvist beats the clock to win Rolex 24 at Daytona pole position

GTP cars make debut in “Gymkhana”-level traffic

Five things to watch in the new GTP class as a golden era of sports cars returns

Cadillac unveils paint schemes for LMDh cars

Austin Cindric, Devlin DeFrancesco, Pietro Fittipaldi teaming up in LMP2

IndyCar drivers in the 61st Rolex 24


ROLEX 24 DAILY SCHEDULE, START TIMES

Here’s a rundown of everything happening at Daytona International Speedway over the last two weeks in January, starting with the Roar test session. Rolex 24 start times and full schedule:

Wednesday, Jan. 18

7 a.m.: GTP garages open

4 p.m.: Non-GTP garages open

4 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship haulers load-in (park only)

6:30 p.m.: Non-GTP garages close

9:30 p.m.: GTP garages close

Thursday, Jan. 19

7 a.m.: Garages, IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship haulers open

8:30 a.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship safety inspection

10 a.m.: Rolex 24 Media Day

2 p.m.: Michelin Pilot Challenge driver and team manager briefing

3 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship driver and team manager briefing

5:15 p.m.: Track walk

7:30 p.m.: Non-GTP garages close

9:30 p.m.: GTP garages close

Friday, Jan. 20

7 a.m.: Garages open

8:45-9:15 a.m.: VP Racing SportsCar Challenge practice

9:30-10:45 a.m.: Michelin Pilot Challenge practice

11 a.m.-12:30 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice

1:45-2:15 p.m.: VP Racing SportsCar Challenge practice

2:30-4 p.m.: Michelin Pilot Challenge practice

4:15-6 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice (GTD/LMP3/LMP2 4:15-5:45; 4:30-6: GTD Pro, GTP)

8 p.m.: Non-GTP garages close

9:30 p.m.: GTP garages close

Saturday, Jan. 21

7 a.m.: Garages open

8:40-9:15 a.m.: VP Racing SportsCar Challenge qualifying

9:30-11 a.m.: Michelin Pilot Challenge practice

11:15 a.m.-12:45 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice

2:05-2:50 p.m.: VP Racing SportsCar Challenge, Race 1 (streaming on Peacock)

3:10 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice

4:30-5:30 p.m.: Michelin Pilot Challenge practice

6:30-8:30 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice

10 p.m.: Garages close

Sunday, Jan. 22

7 a.m.: Garages open

10:15-11:15 a.m.: Michelin Pilot Challenge practice

12:20-1:05 p.m.: VP Racing SportsCar Challenge, Race 2 (streaming on Peacock)

1:25-3 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Rolex 24 qualifying (streaming on Peacock)

8:30 p.m.: Garages close

Wednesday, Jan. 25

6 a.m.: Garages open

7:30-10 a.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship safety inspection, non-GTP

8 a.m.: Mazda MX-5 load-in

10-11:30 a.m.: Track walk

10 a.m.-noon: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship car photos

11:30 a.m.: Michelin Pilot Challenge team manager briefing

Noon: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship team manager briefing

12:30 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship new driver briefing

Noon-2 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship safety and technical inspection, non-GTP

1:45-2:30 p.m.: Mazda MX-5 practice

2:45-3:45 p.m.: Michelin Pilot Challenge practice

2:30-7:30 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship safety inspection, GTP only

4-5:30 p.m.: Track walk

6:45 p.m.: Garages close

Thursday, Jan. 26

7 a.m.: Garages open

9-9:30 a.m.: Mazda MX-5 practice

9:45-10:45 a.m.: Michelin Pilot Challenge practice

11:05 a.m.-12:35 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice

12:55-1:10 p.m.: Mazda MX-5 qualifying

2:25-3 p.m.: Michelin Pilot Challenge qualifying

3:20-5:05 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice (3:20-5:05: GTD, LMP3, LMP2; 3:35-5:05: GTD Pro, GTP)

5:30-6:15 p.m.: Mazda MX-5, Race 1

7:15-9 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice

10:15 p.m.: Garages close

Friday, Jan. 27

7 a.m.: Garages open

9:25-9:55 a.m.: Michelin Pilot Challenge practice

10:15-11 a.m.: Mazda MX-5, Race 2

10:30 a.m.: Michelin Pilot Challenge driver and team manager briefing

11:20 a.m.-12:20 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice

1:45-5:45 p.m.: BMW M Endurance Challenge at Daytona (Michelin Pilot Challenge; streaming on Peacock)

8:45 p.m.: Garages close

Saturday, Jan. 28

6:30 a.m.: Garages open

9:45 a.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship driver and team manager briefing

12:30-12:40 p.m.: Rolex 24 engine warmup

1:30-1:40 p.m.: Rolex 24 formation laps

1:40 p.m.: The 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona (starting on NBC; streaming flag to flag on Peacock)

Sunday, Jan. 29

1:40 p.m.: Finish of the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona

7:30 p.m.: Garages close