NHRA: 2013 Top Fuel champ Shawn Langdon to switch to Funny Car in 2018

Photo courtesy Kalitta Motorsports
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In more than 20 years of drag racing, 2013 NHRA Top Fuel champion Shawn Langdon had never sat in a Funny Car until last week.

He better get used to it quick, though, as he’ll pivot from driving a Top Fuel dragster for Kalitta Motorsports to being behind the wheel of a Funny Car for Kalitta in 2018.

The team announced Langdon’s switch from Top Fuel to Funny Car in 2018 on Friday afternoon at Texas Motor Speedway, site of this weekend’s Texas Fall Nationals.

“I never even sat in a Funny Car until last week when they put the body down on me for the first time,” Langdon said. “It’s a pretty crazy feeling, a lot different than sitting in a dragster.

“There’s definitely going to be a big learning curve, but I’m up for the challenge.”

Langdon will replace Alexis DeJoria, who is retiring from the team at season’s end to spend more time with her family.

In making the switch, Langdon could potentially be on his way to joining one of the NHRA’s most exclusive clubs.

Only three drivers in NHRA history have won championships in both Top Fuel and Funny Car: Kenny Bernstein, Gary Scelzi and Del Worsham.

Now, Langdon – who will team with J.R. Todd in driving Kalitta Motorsports’ two Funny Car entries – has a chance to do the same starting in 2018.

“That would be awesome,” Langdon told MotorSportsTalk. “It’s a great opportunity. I’m very thankful for Kalitta Motorsports and Stephen and Samantha Bryson of Global Electronic Technology.”

Langdon, who won the 2013 Top Fuel title for Alan Johnson and the former Al-Anabi Racing team, will continue to be sponsored in a Funny Car by the current sponsor of his dragster, Global Electronic Technology, of Torrance, California.

Langdon, who has 14 career wins, 18 No. 1 qualifiers and 239 round wins in 202 career Top Fuel starts, will have his Funny Car led by championship winning tuners Nicky Boninfante (2015, Del Worsham) and Tommy DeLago (2011, Matt Hagan).

“I’m a competitive person by nature,” Langdon said. “If there’s a challenge there, I’ll figure it one way or other.

“I’m very excited about the opportunity and to race in the Funny Car class. I never thought I’d be driving a Funny Car, but when the opportunity presented itself, it made a lot of sense.

“If you pay me to race a golf cart, it doesn’t matter. I want to race, I’m very thankful for the opportunity just to be doing this for a living.

“You figure out what you want me to race and I will race it and give you my best 100 percent effort in whatever car you want. I just want to be competing.”

Admittedly, it’s been a rough few years for Langdon. Two years after winning the Top Fuel title in 2013, Al-Anabi shut down when its primary sponsor backed out.

Langdon caught on with Don Schumacher Racing last season and remained there until early this season before team operations were suspended due to lack of sponsorship.

Kalitta Motorsports brought him on shortly thereafter to drive a third dragster and now Langdon is ready to write the next chapter of his drag racing career.

“For whatever reason, it’s always seemed to work out, I have no idea why,” Langdon said. “I’m not a driver that comes from a wealthy family, I don’t have money behind me that I’m bringing to the table, I don’t have a plethora of sponsorships that I can bring to the table. I’ve just been very fortunate, very lucky.”

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Alexander Rossi ‘fits like a glove’ with his new IndyCar teammates at Arrow McLaren Racing

Alexander Rossi McLaren
Nate Ryan
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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – There are more than three dozen fresh faces on the Arrow McLaren Racing IndyCar team, but there was one that Felix Rosenqvist was particularly keen to know – Alexander Rossi.

The driver of the No. 7 Dallara-Chevrolet is the most high-profile new hire for McLaren, which has expanded to a third car to pair with the No. 6 of Rosenqvist and No. 5 of Pato O’Ward.

And there is another layer than Rossi just being the new kid. McLaren marks only his second team in NTT IndyCar Series after seven seasons at Andretti Autosport, where he began with a victory in the 2016 Indy 500 and was a championship contender for several seasons.

Rossi is a mercurial talent, and when things go wrong, the red mist quickly descends (and sometimes has led to feuds with teammates). He went winless during two of his final seasons at Andretti and was out of contention more often than not, often bringing out the prickly side of his personality.

Yet there has been no trace of the dour Rossi since joining McLaren. The pragmatic Californian is quick to remind everyone he hasn’t worked with the team yet at a track (much less been in its car), and there surely will be times he gets frustrated.

But it’s clear that Rossi, who made five Formula One starts in 2015 after several years racing in Europe, already is meshing well with an organization whose England-based parent company has deep roots in F1.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised,” Rosenqvist said Tuesday during IndyCar’s preseason media availabilities. “I think Alex kind of has that bad-guy role a little bit in IndyCar. He’s always been that guy, which is cool. I think we need those guys, as well.

“Actually having gotten to know him, he’s been super nice, super kind. He fits like a glove in the team. I think it fills a role where Pato is kind of like the crazy guy, I’m somewhere in the middle, and Alex is the more engineering guy in the team. I think Alex has more experience, as well. He just feels like a guy who knows what he wants.

“Yeah,  good addition to the team and great guy at the same time.”

There are many reasons why Rossi’s transition from Andretti to McLaren should be smoother than his abrupt move from F1 to IndyCar seven years ago. Namely, he no longer is the only newcomer to the team’s culture.

“It’s been kind of a good time to come in because everyone is finding a new role and position and kind of learning who’s who, finding everyone’s strengths and weaknesses,” he said.

But while Rossi might have questions about the team, he has none about the series. Unlike when he arrived at Andretti without any oval experience, Rossi joins McLaren with his IndyCar credentials secured as an established star with eight victories, seven poles and 28 podiums over 114 starts.

Even in his swan song with Andretti, Rossi still managed a farewell victory last July at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course that snapped a 49-race, three-year winless drought. It seems reasonable to believe he immediately could re-emerge in his 2017-19 title contender form.

“I know the series, and I know kind of everything that goes into American open-wheel racing vs. the European open-wheel racing, which is really the biggest transition,” Rossi said. “Certainly it’s the largest kind of team switch. I’ve obviously driven for different teams in the past in Europe, in sports cars, whatever, but never really in my full-time job. I’ve driven for the same organization for a very long time and have a lot of respect and fabulous memories with those people.

“So it has been a big kind of shift, trying to compare and contrast areas that I can bring kind of recommendations and experience to maybe help fill the gaps that exist at Arrow McLaren. Again, all of this is in theory, right? I don’t really know anything. We’ll have a much better idea and plan going into St. Pete (the March 5 season opener).”

He has gotten a good handle on how things work at its Indianapolis headquarters, though, and has been pleased by the leadership of new racing director Gavin Ward (who worked in F1 before a championship stint with Josef Newgarden at Team Penske). McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown also seems omnipresent on both sides of the Atlantic, making appearances at IndyCar races seemingly as much as in the F1 paddock.

“I think what’s very cool about Arrow McLaren is we do have the resources of the McLaren F1 team,” Rossi said. “They very much are being integrated in a lot of respects. It’s not two separate entities. McLaren Racing is one organization that has its people and resources and intellect in kind of everything. It’s been pretty cool to see how that can be an advantage to us in terms of people, resources, simulations, software, kind of everything. We’ve been able to kind of rely on that and use that as a tool that maybe other teams certainly don’t have.”

That will be helpful for Rossi with the methodologies and nuances of racing a Chevrolet for the first time after seven seasons with Honda.

And of course, there will be the relationship with O’Ward, who has been McLaren’s alpha star since 2020.

Rossi was in a similar role for Andretti, which raises questions about how McLaren will handle having two stars accustomed to being the face of the team. But O’Ward said IndyCar regulations should allow each driver to maintain their own style without being forced to adapt as in other series.

“At the end of the day, as much as teammates will help in order to gather data, it doesn’t mean they’re going to specifically help you in what you need because it’s a series where you can really tailor the car to what you want,” O’Ward said. “Rather than in Formula 1, (it’s) ‘This is the car, you need to learn how to drive this certain car.’ In IndyCar, it’s very different where you can customize it to what you want it to feel like or drive like.

“From past experience, I think Alex likes a car similar to what I do. I do think we have a very strong car in certain areas, but I definitely think he’s coming from a car where that other car has been stronger than us in other racetracks. I feel like if we can just find gains where we haven’t quite had a winning car, a podium car, that’s just going to help all of us.”

Though Thursday at The Thermal Club will mark the first time the trio works together at a track, Rosenqvist said he’s hung out a lot with Rossi (both are 31 years old) and deems his new teammate “well-integrated” in the simulator.

“I think the fit has been good with him, me and Pato,” Rosenqvist said. “On a trackside perspective, it’s obviously huge to have always a third opinion on things. Every driver’s opinion is valuable in its own way.”

Said O’Ward, 23: “It’s been great. (Rossi has) been great to have around. I think he needed a fresh start. I think he’s excited to really work with all of us, create the strongest package.”

Ever the realist, though, Rossi still is tempering some of his enthusiasm.

“Again, we haven’t really done anything yet other than some meetings and some team activities together,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for what they’ve done in IndyCar and also their prior careers. I think that we all bring something a little bit different to the table, which I think is really unique in terms of not only personalities but driving styles and experience levels.

“I think we have the ingredients to really be able to develop the team and continue to push the team forward to even a better level than what they’ve shown in the past. It’s been a really positive experience. Really I have nothing at all negative to say and can’t actually wait to get to work, get on track and start working together.”