(Images courtesy Geiger Media Global)

NHRA surprise: Enders switches to Dodge; Jeg Coughlin Jr. new teammate

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In a surprise move, Elite Motorsports and two-time defending Pro Stock championship driver Erica Enders will compete with Mopar muscle under the hood next season.

In addition, after appearing in only a handful of races in 2015, five-time Pro Stock champ Jeg Coughlin Jr. has joined Enders as a teammate with Elite Motorsports and will return to full-time status in 2016 and will also be powered by Mopar.

Enders and Coughlin will both run Hemi-powered Dodge Darts in competition.

“The Mopar brand is excited to announce that two proven champions, Erica Enders and Jeg Coughlin Jr., will fly the Mopar colors in the NHRA Pro Stock class next season,” Pietro Gorlier, Head of Parts and Service (Mopar), FCA – Global, said in a media release. “We couldn’t ask for greater competitors or brand ambassadors to represent us at the drag strip.”

Not only is the power under the hood a change for Enders and Coughlin, the entire Pro Stock class will undergo a number of significant changes.

Two of the most notable changes are the switch from carburetors to Electronic Fuel Injection, as well as the elimination of Pro Stock’s well-known hood scoops.

After becoming the first woman in Pro Stock history to earn a championship in 2014, Enders doubled-down in an even more dominant fashion in 2015.

Earning six wins in 2014, Enders then set a new record for female drivers for wins in 2015 with a series-high nine en route to her second consecutive Pro Stock crown.

Enders now has 21 career Pro Stock wins, second-most by a female driver in NHRA annals. Only Pro Stock Motorcycle’s Angelle Sampey has more career wins (41).

In a sense, it will be somewhat of a homecoming for Enders, who earlier in her career (2006-07) raced under the Mopar banner with Dodge power.

“We’re entering a new era of Pro Stock and it’s going to be awesome to take a new Mopar-powered Dodge Dart into 2016 and beyond,” Enders said in a release. “We won the last two championships with carburetors and now the goal is to win the first one with fuel injection.

“The Dart Pro Stock cars look awesome and I’m already very familiar with Mopar because I’ve driven for them in the past. It’s an honor and a privilege to represent them moving forward, along with my teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr.”

Coughlin earned his fifth and most recent Pro Stock championship in 2013, driving a Mopar-powered Dodge Dart. He will join Enders as a teammate with Elite Motorsports, driving the Magneti Marelli Offered by Mopar Dodge Dart.

Coughlin has 76 wins in his NHRA career, including 58 in Pro Stock. He’s also the only driver in NHRA history to win in seven different classes: Pro Stock, Comp, Top Dragster, Super Gas, Super Stock, Stock and Super Comp.

He’s also the only driver in NHRA history to win in four different classes in the same season (1997: Pro Stock, Super Stock, Super Gas, and Comp) and the only driver in the pro ranks to win from every qualifying position, No. 1 to No. 16.

“The 2016 season is a turning point for the NHRA and the Pro Stock class,” Coughlin said in a media release. “We’re really looking forward to the upcoming challenges. … It will be a great next chapter in our careers.

“Also, I am looking forward to working beside one of the greatest drivers in the NHRA, Erica Enders, and the greatest crew, including Rick and Rickie Jones, Mark Ingersoll and Brian ‘Lump’ Self, all talented and championship-proven crew chiefs. It will be a great year for the entire Elite Motorsports team.”

Elite Motorsports will still have some connection with Chevrolet, as two other cars — those of Vincent Nobile and Drew Skillman — will continue to be powered by Chevy, according to a team source.

In other news, Mopar also announced that it has extended a long partnership with former two-time champion Matt Hagan and Don Schumacher Racing in the NHRA Funny Car class.

“We’re also very proud to once again partner with Don Schumacher Racing and work together to bring home a fourth NHRA Funny Car crown in six years,” Gorlier said.

Schumacher first raced a Mopar-powered Funny Car more than 40 years ago, and since becoming a team owner has fielded Mopar cars from 2003 to the present.

“We had our most successful season competing in Funny Cars in 2015, and much of the credit goes to Mopar and all of its engineers and technicians who developed the new 2015 Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car body that we used,” Schumacher said in a release.

DSR Funny Car drivers Hagan, Jack Beckman, Ron Capps and Tommy Johnson Jr., combined to place a Mopar car in 23 final rounds on the 24-race 2015 NHRA schedule. All four drivers not only combined for 15 wins, all four placed in the final top-five season standings, as well.

Hagan also set the quickest run in NHRA Funny Car history back in August at Brainerd, Minn.

The 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season opens Feb. 11-14 at the NHRA Winternationals, at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Calif.

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Rahal determined to regain winning touch in 2019 IndyCar season

Photo by Shawn Gritzmacher, INDYCAR
INDYCAR
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AUSTIN, Texas – Graham Rahal entered the room with a smile on his face and a chip on his shoulder.

It was IndyCar “Media Day” and Rahal wasn’t happy with the way last season went at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. He was less happy with the fact some aren’t considering him a serious threat in 2019. He playfully chided with one media outlet for failing to mention his team as one to watch in 2019.

“We use that as motivation to show everybody how we are viewed,” Rahal said. “We are here to win.”

Rahal just turned 30 in January but is entering his 13thseason in big-time Indy car racing. He entered the 2007 Champ Car Series season when he was just 17. He missed his high school prom because he was racing at Houston.

“That was the luckiest day of my life,” Rahal said. “I didn’t have to go to the prom. It doesn’t get any better than that.

“Plus, I got my second career podium that weekend.”

Rahal drove to victory in his very first race in the combined IndyCar Series in the 2008 Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. He was hailed as the “Poster Boy of Unification” and a future star. What followed was a seven-year drought before he captured his second-career win in a thrilling race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.

He won two races in 2015, one in 2016 and two in 2017. He was expected to contend for victories and possibly the championship last year but struggled through a disappointing season and finished eighth in the standings.

“I’m looking forward for chance this year,” Rahal said. “Last year was a tough one for me and for the team. I’m looking forward to what my new engineer, Allen McDonald, has done so far. He is an accomplished engineer and brings a different mindset to our program this year from what we had last year. He and (fellow engineer) Eddie Jones are very close friends and that will help us from the standpoint they are on the same page.

“We needed a bit of life brought back to the team.”

Rahal believes his challenges are to get everything in order before the season starts. The team has defined the areas where it was lacking in 2019. The team needed to improve in research and development after starting behind last season.

“I’m excited for what I see, and I know in the end it will all pay off,” Rahal said. “It’s just a matter of when.

“There is a lot to be excited about for us. We are in a great position as a team. We have great sponsorship and that will allow us to push forward and do the things we need to do.”

Rahal believes at 30, he has a long time ahead of him to win races and championships and maybe even the Indianapolis 500. In order to reach those goals, however, Rahal’s team needs to regain the competitive level he displayed prior to last year.

“We’ve been fortunate to win six times,” Rahal said. “A lot of people come into this sport and never win. I fully recognize there is no reason we can’t win a lot. I don’t care what anybody writes, what anybody thinks – I really feel that when it comes to race day, we perform better than 99 percent of the other people out there.

“As a team and for myself, we have to qualify better. If we can qualify better, we’ll be a thorn in everybody’s side. We know the rear of our cars just aren’t good enough. When we need to find that extra tenth or two, it’s just not there but absolutely, we want to win.

“I don’t come here year after year to just drive around. Our sponsors don’t invest in us year after year to not see us win. We feel that. But our cars aren’t good enough and we know that.”

Rahal believes the team has identified the problems with the setup of its car. It has a deep engineering staff but hasn’t had a chance to develop the damper program and other important areas that provide a competition setup.

Takuma Sato, the winner of the 101stIndianapolis 500 when he was with Andretti Autosport, scored the team’s only victory in 2018 with a win in the Portland Grand Prix. The two are back this year and have built a respect for each other.

“He’s a good guy,” Rahal said of Sato. “Other than Helio Castroneves, Takuma is probably the happiest man on the planet. He’s a great guy and fits in well with our organization. We pride ourselves on being a family and he fits in extremely well to that.

“We need to do a better job for him as a team. He won a race last year, but we can both do better to win with both cars.

“The Andretti cars are the best right now and the Penske cars will be good. We have a lot of space to close up on those two teams but hopefully, we can do it.”