2016 NHRA season in review: Funny Car champion Ron Capps

(Photos courtesy NHRA)
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Over the next three-plus weeks, MotorSportsTalk will feature season-ending reviews of the top drivers of the 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.

Each day, we’ll have one in-depth review of a driver that finished in the top-five in each of the four professional classes (Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle), as well as a compendium of select other drivers that did not finish in the top-five.

We began the series Monday with Antron Brown. Today, we feature Ron Capps.

2016_Ron_Capps_Action

2016_ron_cappsDriver: Ron Capps

Age: 51

Hometown: Carlsbad, Calif.

Team: Don Schumacher Racing

Sponsor/car: NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger

Crew chief: Rahn Tobler

2016 season finish: First in Funny Car.

2016 season statistics: 24 races, 5 wins, 5 runner-up, 7 semifinals, 5 quarterfinals. No. 1 qualifier four times. Round-by-round record: 54 wins, 18 losses. Crowned 2016 NHRA Funny Car champion.

Career statistics (includes both Funny Car and previously in Top Fuel): 483 races, 50 wins (49 Funny Car, 1 Top Fuel), 50 runner-up (49 FC, 1 TF), 89 semifinals, 98 quarterfinals. No. 1 qualifier 21 times. Round-by-round record: 626 wins, 414 losses. 19 DNQ. 2016 NHRA Funny Car champion.

What went right in 2016: Capps had the best season of his career, starting off with a win in the season-opening Winternationals. … After finishing runner-up four times (including losing the 2012 Funny Car title by a mere two points), the California native finally won it all. … Consistency was the biggest key for Capps, who reached the semifinals 17 times or better (and at least the quarterfinals in 22 of 24 races). … Clinched the championship in the season-ending race at his home track, Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif.

What went wrong in 2016: Lost amid all the hoopla of Capps’ championship was the fact he won the title despite failing to qualify for the spring race at Las Vegas. After that, he lost in the semifinals at Charlotte, quarterfinals at Houston and Atlanta, and lost in the first round at Topeka (the only time he lost in the first round this season). Things were looking bleak, but Capps rallied to win three of the next four to get him back on track. … After his last win of the season at Seattle, Capps’ consistency – reaching the semifinals five times and finals two other times – allowed him to stay ahead of his closest challengers and to win the title. He also suffered one of the scariest crashes of his career in the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, when he crashed into the end-of-track sandtrap and retaining fence, ending up trapped upside down for several minutes before being rescued unharmed.

What to look for in 2017: After a storybook season in 2016, Capps will attempt to go for two championships in a row. Can he do it? Most definitely. He has one of the best crew chiefs in the business in Rahn Tobler, drives for one of the best organizations (Don Schumacher Racing) and has everything he needs to win it all again.

Season reviews already posted:

— Antron Brown (12/12)

— Ron Capps (12/13)

— Jason Line (12/14)

Jerry Savoie (12/15)

Doug Kalitta (12/16)

Tommy Johnson Jr. (12/17)

Greg Anderson (12/18)

Eddie Krawiec (12/19)

Steve Torrence (12/20)

— Matt Hagan (12/21)

— Shane Gray (12/22)

— Andrew Hines (12/23)

— J.R. Todd (12/24)

— John Force (12/25)

— Bo Butner (12/26)

— Angelle Sampey (12/27)

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Cadillac, Acura battle for top speed as cars back on track for Rolex 24 at Daytona practice

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The new hybrid prototypes of Cadillac and Acura battled atop the speed chart as practice resumed Thursday for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Richard Westbrook was fastest Thursday afternoon in the No. 02 Cadillac V-LMDh with a 1-minute, 35.185-second lap around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway.

That pace topped Ricky Taylor’s 1:35.366 lap that topped the Thursday morning session that marked the first time the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was back on track since qualifying Sunday afternoon that concluded the four-day Roar Before The Rolex 24 test.

Punctuated by Tom Blomqvist’s pole position for defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing, the Acura ARX-06s had been fastest for much of the Roar and led four consecutive practice sessions.

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But the times have been extremely tight in the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) category that has brought hybrid engines to IMSA’s premier class. Only 0.9 seconds separated the nine LMDh cars in GTP in qualifying, and though the spread slightly widened to 1.378 seconds in Thursday’s practices with teams on varying strategies and preparation, Westbrook still pooh-poohed the importance of speeds.

“It’s always nice to be at the top, but I don’t think it means too much or read too much into it” Westbrook said. “Big fuel tanks in the GTP class this year, so you have no idea what fuel levels people are running. We had a good run, and the car is really enjoyable to drive now. I definitely wasn’t saying that a month ago.

“It really does feel good now. We are working on performance and definitely unlocking some potential, and it just gives us more confidence going into the race. It’s going to be super tight. Everyone’s got the same power, everyone has the same downforce, everyone has the same drag levels and let’s just go race.”

Because teams have put such a premium on reliability, handling mostly has suffered in the GTPs, but Westbrook said the tide had turned Thursday.

“These cars are so competitive, and you were just running it for the sake of running it in the beginning, and there’s so much going on, you don’t really have time to work on performance,” he said. “A lot of emphasis was on durability in the beginning, and rightly so, but now finally we can work on performance, and that’s the same for other manufacturers as well. But we’re worrying about ourselves and improving every run, and I think everybody’s pretty happy with their Cadillac right now.”

Mike Shank, co-owner of Blomqvist’s No. 60 on the pole, said his team still was facing reliability problems despite its speed.

“We address them literally every hour,” Shank said. “We’re addressing some little thing we’re doing better to try to make it last. And also we’re talking about how we race the race, which will be different from years past.

“Just think about every system in the car, I’m not going to say which ones we’re working on, but there are systems in the car that ORECA and HPD are continually trying to improve. By the way, sometimes we put them on the car and take them off before it even goes out on the track because something didn’t work with electronics. There’s so much programming. So many departments have to talk to each other. That bridge gets broken from a code not being totally correct, and the car won’t run. Or the power steering turns off.”

Former Rolex 24 winner Renger van der Zande of Ganassi said it still is a waiting game until the 24-hour race begins Saturday shortly after 1:30 p.m.

“I think the performance of the car is good,” van der Zande said. “No drama. We’re chipping away on setup step by step and the team is in control. It’s crazy out there what people do on the track at the moment. It’s about staying cool and peak at the right moment, and it’s not the right moment yet for that. We’ll keep digging.”


PRACTICE RESULTS:

Click here for Session I (by class)

Click here for Session II (by class)

Combined speeds