NHRA: Hight soaks up first Daytona trip, primed for Phoenix

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Often times it’s John, Courtney or Brittany Force that’s making the rounds as NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and/or John Force Racing ambassador at other racing events.

This past weekend, it was JFR President and a Funny Car ace and 2009 class champion in his own right, Robert Hight.

Hight spent the weekend at Daytona International Speedway in an ambassador role for Chevrolet, JFR and the NHRA as NASCAR kicked off its respective Sprint Cup and Xfinity Series seasons in an off-week for NHRA after the Winternationals at Pomona and next week’s second race outside Phoenix at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park.

The trip was Hight’s first to Daytona and although he later admitted on social media he’s “not a good spectator,” he said he still thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

“I’ve never been here. But you’re right, it’s like going to a state-of-the-art baseball stadium,” Hight told NBC Sports from Daytona this weekend.

“The escalators, the merchandising, the stands, displays and everything else. It’s unbelievable. It’s the way a stadium should be. I’ve got to take a lot of stuff in. (Saturday) during practice, I got to do some on-air stuff from FOX, and promote the next race in Phoenix. These people truly get into this race.”

Hight was coming into Daytona off a high from Pomona, where JFR started its 2016 season with some solid speed across the board both in Funny Car and Top Fuel.

Hight qualified third and could well have made the finals before a blower belt issue sidelined him in the semifinals. Ron Capps edged him, and then proceeded to edge Del Worsham in the finals.

“It was tons better than last year. We were all competitive,” Hight explained. “We all qualified in the top half of the field.

“Race day, I had the quickest car first and second round. I had issues with the blower belt against Capps. The belt was starting to shred. It came off before the finish line. I believe I could’ve won it, but we found the problem.

“We’re running right with the top cars. We were 3-4 hundredths behind (prior to this year).

The step in performance comes with better cohesion and understanding of the product compared to 12 months ago.

It seems hard to fathom John Force Racing as anything but a powerhouse, but with the team needing to get its commercial house of cards in order prior to 2015 and with a major switch from Ford to Chevrolet, there was more upheaval going into a season than at any point in years.

Hight explained how impressed he was with the first race turnaround.

“That was our focus all winter; we had to not leave anything on the table,” Hight said.

“Racing has changed in the last two years. It used to be you could play it safe, and get the win light. You push, and put it right on the edge. But you saw the final with Capps and Del. They’re separated by less than a thousandth at 320 mph.

“For us, we’re 100 percent better. This time last year, we were just worried about putting the organization back together. We’ve got the funding.

“It takes time to work with a new manufacturer. We’d been with the other one for a lot of years. The right hand knew what left hand was doing. Now, we know what Chevrolet wants. We’re working with their engineers.

“It’s a lot of fun being with those guys. They’re so excited about NHRA drag racing. In about two months, we should have a new Camaro body coming. It’s gonna be cool, and help us competitively.”

Hight caught FOX’s first weekend of broadcasts and said NHRA had assembled a good crew, and offered positive feedback.

Heading into Phoenix this weekend, he’s keen to lay down a time close to or exceeding what was a career-best pass in testing.

“I’m very optimistic,” he said. “I did a 3.88, a career best, when we were testing there a few weeks ago. There’s no reason to think we can’t do it again, especially coming off how we did at Pomona. You could see one of us from JFR in Victory Lane.”

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

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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.