NHRA: Funny Car driver Ron Capps off to great start in 2016 after Pomona win

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Ron Capps wanted to give his wife the perfect Valentine’s Day gift.

And at the same time, the Southern California Funny Car driver wanted to give himself something special on the big day – but in a different manner: on the race track.

So Capps combined both his gift list and wish list and came away with a win in Sunday’s final round of the NHRA season-opening Circle K Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California.

“Now I can give the Wally (race-winning trophy) to my wife for Valentine’s Day,” Capps said of Shelley, who attended with their children Taylor and Caden, who drove up from their home in Carlsbad, near San Diego.

As for Capps, his 45th career Funny Car win – and third career triumph at Pomona, all in the Winternationals – not only solidified his hold on second-most wins in that category, it also got him and his NAPA-sponsored Don Schumacher Racing team off on the right foot.

“I have the best team in the business and they gave me a great racecar,” Capps said.

“There’s no holeshot win without having the car we did. All four runs in the 3’s (seconds) in qualifying, I don’t think anyone else did that. I was quietly looking at that. I knew we had a good racecar.

“Tobler (crew chief Rahn Tobler) and I have grown so much together. It’s like a marriage. He really keeps me in line on race day. We had a heck of a day.”

Now, it’s a matter of one race down and 23 to go for Capps to potentially earn the championship.

“I can’t wait to get this season going,” Capps said. “You wonder if you are ever going to see one of these (race winner trophies) again. I am racing (2015 NHRA Funny Car champ) Del Worsham in the final, who is one of the best. We threw down. What a race. Just to know we can get in the winner’s circle and get another Wally feels good.”

Although Worsham was slightly quicker in the overall run (3.978 seconds to Capps’ 3.981), Capps won with a great break at the starting line and with greater speed (324.28 mph to Worsham’s 321.81).

In a sense, Capps put pressure on his NAPA teammate, NASCAR Sprint Cup champ Chase Elliott, who will sit on the pole for this Sunday’s 58th running of NASCAR’s Daytona 500.

“I’m like aw, man, I was going to tweet him and say ‘way to put the pressure on, man’ but I didn’t want to jinx ourselves,” Capps said of Elliott. “As we kept going further in the day I thought ‘man, how cool would it be to have the NAPA guys have the pole at the Daytona race and here winning Pomona at the other end of the country.

“There’s a lot of pressure when you’re given a great car like I have with the NAPA guys. You’re the last piece of that puzzle. It’s sort of like ‘hey, everything’s good, here ya go’ and you do not want to mess it up. It’s nice when you don’t mess it up.”

Capps and the rest of the NHRA national tour are off this weekend before next week’s race at Wild Horse Motorsports Park near Phoenix, Arizona.

Interestingly, just like he’s now won three times at Pomona, Capps – who leads the Funny Car points standings by 22 points over Worsham – has three career wins to date at the Phoenix track.

Might the Capps lightning strike again?

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Rolex 24 at Hour 8: Acuras, Cadillacs look strong in GTP; tough times for Tower in LMP2

Rolex 24 at Daytona
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The premier hybrid prototype era of the Rolex 24 at Daytona began with a relatively smooth start Saturday through the Hour 8 mark.

Though two of the new Grand Touring Prototype cars fell out of contention within the first six hours, seven cars representing four big-money manufacturers were setting the pace (albeit conservatively at times) after eight of 24 hours in the endurance race classic.

The Cadillacs of Alex Lynn (No. 02, Chip Ganassi Racing) and Jack Aitken (No. 31 of Action Express) held the top two spots with a third of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship completed.

RUNNING ORDER: Standings through eight hours l By class

Brendon Hartley was running third in the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Acura, followed by Nick Tandy in the No. 6 Porsche Penske Motorsport 963, Renger van der Zande in the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac and Tom Blomqvist in the No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing Acura.

The No. 24 BMW M Team RLL BMW M Hybrid V8 ’s No. 24  was the first GTP car a lap down, but in better shape than its sister. The No. 25 BMW pulled off track for major repairs near the end of the first hour and was classified 133 laps down in 59th in 61 cars.

Misfortune also befell the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsport, which was forced into the garage for a battery change with 18 hours and five minutes remaining. The 963 was 19 laps down in 22nd.

But all things considered, the debut of the GTPs had belied the hand-wringing and doomsayer predictions that had hung over Daytona the past two weeks. Cadillac Racing’s three V-LMDh cars had avoided mechanical problems (needing only typical body repairs for the front end of the No. 01 and rear end of the No. 31 for minor collisions in heavy traffic throughout the 61-car field).

Its stiffest competition seemed to be the Acura ARX-06s, which led more than 100 laps in the first eight hours.

Pole-sitter Tom Blomqvist built a sizeable lead in the No. 60 (which won last year’s Rolex 24) while leading the first 60 laps around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course.

“That was my longest time in the car since we got it,” said Blomqvist, who led the car to the IMSA premier championship last season. “We’re driving it into the unknown now. We’ve done everything we can. We know it’s a strong, fast car, but there are so many things to learn it almost feels like we’re winging it. It’s a constant learning curve, for both me as a driver but for the whole team. We’ve had a good start to the race, but there’s a lot of race to go and anything can happen.”

The No. 60 lost positions when Helio Castroneves spun just short of seven hours remaining but later soldiered back into the lead with Blomqvist.

“That was a wild ride,” Castroneves said. “I just got caught up in the moment and I’m not sure what happened. It locked the rear so unexpectedly. Certainly, the car is fast. There’s a lot of traffic. It was very, very difficult. The Acura has good pace so far, and we are learning a lot in a short time.”

Two days after predicting the race would be an “old-school endurance race” with conservative driving and setups, Simon Pagenaud said his forecast has been realized.

“Totally,” the Meyer Shank Racing said after completing his first turn behind the wheel of the No. 60 shortly before Castroneves’ incident. “It’s been rare that I’ve been saving equipment this much here. In any of my experience in sports car racing, I’ve rarely driven this cool, basically trying to protect everything. It’s what we’ve got to do. And we’ve got the advantage having pace with the Acura.

“So for us, this time of the race, we’ve just got to build the foundation of our race. There’s really no need to dive into the Bus Stop on somebody right now. Six hours to go is a whole different story. If we’re there, there’s no problem. We’ll do it. We have the capacity to do that, which is honestly such a luxury. But at this point to me, we’re just going to save the equipment, get there and see where we are because the car is extremely fast.”

Pagenaud was involved in one when he was warned by IMSA stewards for “incident responsibility” on a spin involving the No. 8 Tower Motorsports LMP2 that is being co-driven by Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin (two of the 10 active IndyCar drivers in the 2023 Rolex 24).

Tower driver-owner John Farano was in the car at the time, but Pagenaud joked he thought it was Newgarden, his former IndyCar teammate at Team Penske.

“I thought the Tower car, that must be Newgarden,” Pagenaud cracked. “Was it him? Don’t tell me. I know it was him. Doesn’t matter. Let me just take it. I’m going to say it’s him. Please tell him I said that when you see him.

The 2019 Indy 500 winner and 2016 IndyCar champion chalked up the run-in with Farano as “a misunderstanding. He hesitated passing the car ahead of him and gave me the left side, so I dove in on the outside, and he basically released the brake and hit my rear. So you could say it’s on me. You could say it’s on him. Honestly, I was confused as to what happened because I just saw him spin in the mirror. I don’t think we had contact.”

It already was a long day for the No. 8 Tower, which had to pull off the track on the first lap. A water bottle fitting leaked onto the ORECA LMP2 07’s electronic control unit, which malfunctioned. The team lost 10 laps while being towed to the pits and repaired as the first yellow flag flew less than five minutes into the race for the incident.

By the time Newgarden handed off the car to McLaughlin, the No. 8 still was nine laps down with eight hours to go.

Last year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona LMP2 winner, which also featured two IndyCar stars in Colton Herta and Pato O’Ward, rallied from five laps down, but Newgarden lamented missing three opportunities to regain a lap under yellow.

“We’re trying to chip away at it; it’s just difficult,” the two-time IndyCar champion said. “I feel solid, and it’s very fun to be in the mix the first time. Very special to be out there in the action. Just wish we were on the lead lap. Our pace was solid. We were strongest on track, but that’s going to change in the later hours with the hot shoes in the car. It’s not going to be easy to pull laps back on this field. It’s a very stacked contingent. They’re all good teams, lot of good drivers. Put ourselves in a hole not a good situation to be in, keep fighting at it. Felt like our pace was good.

“It’s not looking good now. You get toward the end of race, you won’t gain laps back on pace. There are too many good teams and drivers. … We need 8 or 9 yellows to go our way. It just doesn’t look good. But never say never. What if all the GTPs just blow up? I don’t know what’s going to happen. They look really good right now. This is not what everyone predicted. Let’s see. You just never know in racing.”