Photo courtesy of IMSA

IMSA: Taylor three-peat quest headlines Long Beach sprint

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After 36 hours of racing in Florida, the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship doesn’t even race for two hours this weekend in California.

The seismic shift from the Rolex 24 at Daytona and Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, respectively, comes to a harsh and quick halt with the 100-minute BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix from the streets of Long Beach proving a test of a far different kind for the series.

Whereas you can overcome poor qualifying in an endurance race, the 100-minute dash at Long Beach offers no margin for error and almost no time to recover. In one of the more intriguing quirks of the season, the two-hour Friday morning practice session from 7:40 to 9:40 a.m. PT and local time is longer by 20 minutes than the race itself, and offers the most amount of time to dial in setup for the race. Put simply, if you don’t roll off quick, it’s hard to make up the gaps.

The additional change to the race is from its usual post-IndyCar qualifying slot to the Saturday headliner, now from 1:05 to 2:45 p.m. PT and local time, and live on FOX network. This may change the race as it will occur in the hottest conditions of the day rather than as the temperatures fade and the glare hits harder in the late afternoon.

The 2016 Long Beach podium. Photo courtesy of IMSA

The story lines here focus primarily on the Taylor brothers, in their first race without a third and/or fourth driver – Max Angelelli and Jeff Gordon at Daytona, Alex Lynn at Sebring – going for a three-peat of two kinds this weekend.

If the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R wins on Saturday, the Taylors will have won three races in a row to kick off the 2017 season, and also three races in a row at Long Beach.

“Long Beach we were second, and then we got two wins,” Jordan Taylor said after winning Sebring with brother Ricky and Lynn. “Then (we go to) COTA and Detroit, which we won last year.

“We go in with a lot more momentum in the past. Long Beach is a cutthroat event with one pit stop. This year it might be two because the fuel capacity is so small. It’s so much on the race team to get it done. I think Ricky was saying that we barely passed anyone on track. Most of our passes were done in the pits.”

Ah, but it was Ricky’s dynamic move on Christian Fittipaldi at Turn 1 last year – which put the black No. 10 Corvette DP ahead of Fittipaldi’s No. 5 Mustang Sampling Corvette for Action Express Racing – that ultimately was the winning move.

While the No. 5 Action Express Cadillac has come second both races so far, they’re keen to break through at Long Beach, a track where the team is yet to win. Similarly, defending series champions No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing’s pair of Dane Cameron and Eric Curran have yet to crack the top step of the podium this year, which seems surprising. The pair recovered to third at Sebring after Curran and one of the Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPis collided early in the race, and lost a couple laps.

For the others in class, a 100-minute race could be a respite from the reliability and mechanical issues that hit all bar the No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson car at Sebring. The pair of Mazda RT24-Ps and Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPis need finishes, and if one or both can cut into the otherwise dominant pace of the Cadillacs so far it’d be a good day. But with torque a big key coming off slow corners here, the heavier but more powerful Cadillacs may once again hold the advantage. The No. 90 VISIT FLORIDA Racing Riley Mk. 30 Gibson team, like JDC-Miller, has stood on the podium this year but lacked the pace of the Cadillacs.

Ford, Porsche, Ferrari last year at Long Beach. Photo courtesy of IMSA

With PC absent this race, the GT classes will again get to share the spotlight.

An interesting battle lies ahead in GT Le Mans. Corvette (2014), BMW (2015) and Porsche (2016) have won here the last three years, Porsche’s last year easily the most controversial after Frederic Makowiecki used Tommy Milner’s No. 4 Corvette as his braking device going into the hairpin. That opened the door for Nick Tandy and Patrick Pilet to snatch the win in the sister No. 911 Porsche.

Ford has had the pace edge through two races thus far with its GT and won Daytona, and probably should have won Sebring but for the heroics of Antonio Garcia and the No. 3 Corvette team. Risi’s also a solid bet with its Ferrari, the well-rounded car having been on the podium the last three endurance races but, strangely, not having scored a sprint race podium since coming third here last year. A result of any kind would be welcomed for BMW Team RLL; Redondo Beach native Bill Auberlen seems to find another gear on this circuit, having scored pole here each of the last two years in both the Z4 and M6 GTE variants.

GT Daytona meanwhile is the wild card in its Long Beach debut. A form guide could come from PWC’s recent races here, except that the recent winning cars are no longer active or never were in GTD competition (McLaren, Cadillac, and the Ferrari 458 Italia GT3). Detroit could also be used as a form guide but the same problem occurs; the Dodge Viper GT3-R won that race last year and has since been retired.

Scuderia Corsa will no doubt be keen to win in the team’s backyard, Christina Nielsen and Alessandro Balzan having been close at Daytona before a rare engine issue and then second at Sebring. Riley Motorsports comes in off the win at Sebring with its Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen.

Factor in the phalanx of Porsches, the other two Mercedes, trio of Lamborghini Huracán GT3s, single Stevenson Audi and pair of factory Acura and Lexus entries apiece, and it should be a barnburner of a weekend for the most subscribed class in the field.

NHRA Bristol: Schumacher, Capps, Coughlin Jr. take home wins

Tony Schumacher, from left, Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Ron Capps. Photo and videos courtesy NHRA
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You’ve heard of classic rock, right?

Well, Sunday’s 18th annual Fitzgerald USA NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol (Tennessee) Dragway was classic drag racing – old school style, you might say.

Drivers who have combined for 14 national championships between them emerged at the top of the heap, with eight-time champ Tony Schumacher taking Top Fuel honors, former champ Ron Capps took Funny Car honors and five-time champ Jeg Coughlin Jr. grabbing Pro Stock honors.

In Top Fuel, Schumacher earned his sixth career win at Thunder Valley, as well as his first win overall of 2018.

Known as “The Sarge” due to his U.S. Army sponsorship, Schumacher marched through the field to reach the Winner’s Circle.

Schumacher (3.946 seconds at 313.58 mph) defeated Mike Salinas in what would prove to be Schumacher’s third final round of the season and the 150th of his career.

He now is 6-2 in career final round showings at Thunder Valley.

“We have had little things bite us this season, but we knew we had to overcome adversity and we knew we had a great car that was capable of winning,” Schumacher said. “I’m proud of my team for sticking to our plan, and I know our team is going to be a factor for the rest of the season.”

Schumacher was the No. 2 qualifier in the race and defeated Terry McMillen, Pat Dakin, points leader Steve Torrence and Salinas to take the win.

It was the first runner-up finish of Salinas’ career, defeating Leah Pritchett, No. 1 qualifier Clay Millican and Scott Palmer before meeting Schumacher in the final.

In Funny Car, like Schumacher, Capps won for the first time this season on the NHRA national event circuit. It was also his second consecutive win at Bristol, having won last year’s event there.

Capps earned the 59th win of his career with a pass of 4.234 seconds at 296.37 mph, defeating Bob Tasca III.

Capps also earned Don Schumacher his 300th career nitro victory as a team owner.

“This is a great facility, and when you roll into this place you get a special feeling,” Capps said. “Getting to the Winner’s Circle at a track like this is even more special because you feel like you really had to earn it, and this weekend I am proud of what my team accomplished in some tough conditions.”

Capps went to the top of the Funny Car mountain starting from the No. 11 qualifying position, defeating 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force, 2017 Funny Car national champ Robert and J.R. Todd before defeating Tasca in the final round.

Capps qualified 11th for the event before defeating John Force, defending Funny Car world champion Robert Hight and J.R. Todd on his path to Winner’s Circle.

Tasca was the No. 4 qualifier and defeated Tim Wilkerson, Cruz Pedregon and points leader Courtney Force to reach his first final round since at Seattle in 2013.

In Pro Stock, Coughlin earned his second win in the last three races. It took an effort of 6.709 seconds at 205.10 mph to defeat points leader Greg Anderson in the final round.

“My team has made some transitions this season and now we are running much faster, and it feels pretty great to be on the right track now this season,” Coughlin Jr. said. “Winning at Thunder Valley is historic and it feels fantastic, so to be crowned a champion here is really special.”

Coughlin qualified No. 2 and beat Tommy Lee, Chris McGaha and Drew Skillman en route to overtaking Anderson in the final round.

Anderson now has two runner-up finishes this season, but continues to seek his first win of 2018.

The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule moves on to its 12th race of the season – the halfway mark of the 2018 campaign – next weekend at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio, from June 21-24.

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FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

TOP FUEL: 1. Tony Schumacher; 2. Mike Salinas; 3. Steve Torrence; 4. Scott Palmer; 5. Pat Dakin; 6. Doug Kalitta; 7. Antron Brown; 8. Clay Millican; 9. Brittany Force; 10. Leah Pritchett; 11. Shawn Reed; 12. Richie Crampton; 13. Dom Lagana; 14. Bill Litton; 15. Terry Totten; 16. Terry McMillen.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Ron Capps; 2. Bob Tasca III; 3. Courtney Force; 4. J.R. Todd; 5. Robert Hight; 6. Jack Beckman; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr.; 8. Cruz Pedregon; 9. Tim Wilkerson; 10. Del Worsham; 11. Jonnie Lindberg; 12. Shawn Langdon; 13. Jim Campbell; 14. Matt Hagan; 15. John Force; 16. Jeff Diehl.

PRO STOCK: 1. Jeg Coughlin; 2. Greg Anderson; 3. Tanner Gray; 4. Drew Skillman; 5. Erica Enders; 6. Vincent Nobile; 7. Tim Freeman; 8. Chris McGaha; 9. Jason Line; 10. Bo Butner; 11. Alex Laughlin; 12. John Gaydosh Jr.; 13. Wally Stroupe; 14. Alan Prusiensky; 15. Deric Kramer; 16. Tommy Lee.

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SUNDAY’S FINAL RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: Tony Schumacher, 3.946 seconds, 313.58 mph def. Mike Salinas, 5.251 seconds, 152.18 mph.

FUNNY CAR: Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 4.234, 296.37 def. Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 4.300, 286.98.

PRO STOCK: Jeg Coughlin, Chevy Camaro, 6.709, 205.10 def. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.741, 205.07.

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FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Mike Salinas, 4.023, 295.53 def. Leah Pritchett, 4.011, 287.72; Scott Palmer, 4.017, 304.39 def. Bill Litton, 4.172, 261.07; Clay Millican, 4.018, 295.14 def. Terry Totten, 4.542, 182.58; Tony Schumacher, 3.917, 316.82 def. Terry McMillen, 5.112, 141.40; Antron Brown, 3.897, 316.82 def. Richie Crampton, 4.057, 297.22; Doug Kalitta, 3.998, 286.38 def. Brittany Force, 3.942, 307.51; Steve Torrence, 3.970, 303.71 def. Shawn Reed, 4.018, 283.25; Pat Dakin, 4.015, 307.30 def. Dom Lagana, 4.107, 272.12; QUARTERFINALS — Salinas, 4.035, 299.20 def. Millican, 9.938, 76.57; Palmer, 4.067, 302.41 def. Kalitta, 4.292, 230.92; Schumacher, 4.028, 288.64 def. Dakin, 4.041, 298.14; Torrence, 4.232, 253.33 def. Brown, 5.090, 155.65; SEMIFINALS — Salinas, 4.042, 301.07 def. Palmer, 4.356, 211.89; Schumacher, 4.038, 297.02 def. Torrence, 4.104, 254.04; FINAL — Schumacher, 3.946, 313.58 def. Salinas, 5.251, 152.18.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 4.757, 227.23 def. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Solara, 5.978, 124.51; Courtney Force, Camaro, 4.169, 307.65 def. Jonnie Lindberg, Ford Mustang, 4.382, 262.18; J.R. Todd, Toyota Camry, 4.213, 300.26 def. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.362, 252.61; Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.133, 303.09 def. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.183, 289.82; Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.582, 229.00 def. Jim Campbell, Dodge Charger, 5.030, 159.02; Ron Capps, Charger, 4.243, 296.37 def. John Force, Camaro, 5.824, 128.57; Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.283, 281.30 def. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 4.569, 266.37; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.253, 291.26 def. Matt Hagan, Charger, 5.381, 142.06; QUARTERFINALS — C. Force, 4.197, 298.14 def. Johnson Jr., 5.139, 158.45; Tasca III, 4.233, 292.90 def. Pedregon, 5.757, 126.33; Todd, 4.203, 295.92 def. Beckman, 4.333, 277.49; Capps, 4.208, 299.33 def. Hight, 4.233, 300.73; SEMIFINALS — Capps, 4.242, 298.93 def. Todd, 4.372, 285.65; Tasca III, 4.219, 298.60 def. C. Force, 4.271, 286.62; FINAL — Capps, 4.234, 296.37 def. Tasca III, 4.300, 286.98.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Vincent Nobile, Chevy Camaro, 6.739, 204.45 def. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.776, 204.45; Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.736, 205.32 def. Deric Kramer, Camaro, Foul – Red Light; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.729, 204.88 def. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.726, 203.95; Tim Freeman, Camaro, 6.787, 202.58 def. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.823, 201.94; Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.754, 205.13 def. John Gaydosh Jr., Chevrolet Camaro, Foul – Red Light; Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.715, 204.23 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 9.845, 93.14; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.716, 204.35 def. Wally Stroupe, Camaro, 7.027, 176.70; Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.719, 205.10 def. Tommy Lee, Camaro, Broke – No Show; QUARTERFINALS — Gray, 6.789, 204.94 def. Freeman, Foul – Red Light; Coughlin, 6.740, 205.26 def. McGaha, 16.733, 48.09; Anderson, 6.723, 204.73 def. Nobile, 6.755, 204.29; Skillman, 6.727, 203.98 def. Enders, 6.743, 204.54; SEMIFINALS — Coughlin, 6.750, 204.51 def. Skillman, Foul – Red Light; Anderson, 6.768, 204.91 def. Gray, 6.764, 205.19; FINAL — Coughlin, 6.709, 205.10 def. Anderson, 6.741, 205.07.

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UPDATED POINTS STANDINGS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Steve Torrence, 896; 2. Clay Millican, 786; 3. Tony Schumacher, 760; 4. Doug Kalitta, 717; 5. Leah Pritchett, 663; 6. Antron Brown, 588; 7. (tie) Brittany Force, 552; Terry McMillen, 552; 9. Scott Palmer, 461; 10. Mike Salinas, 421.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Courtney Force, 937; 2. Jack Beckman, 736; 3. Robert Hight, 717; 4. J.R. Todd, 694; 5. Ron Capps, 693; 6. Matt Hagan, 669; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr., 606; 8. Cruz Pedregon, 508; 9. John Force, 502; 10. Bob Tasca III, 500.

PRO STOCK: 1. Greg Anderson, 823; 2. Tanner Gray, 768; 3. Vincent Nobile, 758; 4. Erica Enders, 738; 5. Drew Skillman, 679; 6. Jeg Coughlin, 671; 7. Chris McGaha, 659; 8. Bo Butner, 642; 9. Deric Kramer, 627; 10. Jason Line, 569.

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