Photo courtesy NHRA

NHRA: Brittany Force begins defense of her Top Fuel championship this weekend

1 Comment

Brittany Force believes in picking up where she left off – especially since she captured the NHRA Top Fuel championship in last season’s final race.

Now, the daughter of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force is ready to kick off the new season and her title defense in the same way she ended last season: with a win.

Force enters this weekend’s 58th Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California, in unchartered territory of sorts:

* She’s never been a Top Fuel champion before, becoming the first woman to win a championship in that class in 35 years, since Shirley Muldowney captured her third and final Top Fuel title in 1982.

* Plus, she sports the No. 1 on the side of her dragster for the first time in her career, signifying she is the reigning champion in Top Fuel. She joins Muldowney as the only other female to carry the No. 1.

“I am excited to get back to Pomona,” Force said in a media release. “We ended our season with a win and we brought home the championship with this Monster Energy team.

“Pomona is my home track and I have so many great memories there. I know when we get back there we will have that positive energy in our pits. I think that will push us all season long. We won the championship, which is why everyone is out here and now we want to do it again.”

Force won three of the six races in last season’s Countdown to the Championship, giving her and her team an excellent stretch run to the title.

In an interesting twist, Force is waiting until just before Friday’s first round of qualifying to actually physically place the No. 1 sticker on her dragster. It’s all about symbolism, she said.

“I want to put that No. 1 on my car in Pomona because that is where it all happened,” she said. “That is where we clinched the championship.

“We want to go back to where it all went down and put that No. 1 on together as a team.”

She also wants to notch a Winternationals win for the first time in her career.

Force looks to have as good – if not better – of a season in 2018 as she had in 2017. She reached the final round in six of last season’s 24 races, winning four. She also was No. 1 qualifier in two races.

Even though Top Fuel runner-up Steve Torrence led the field with 8 wins last season, Force knows that as defending class champion, she’ll be wearing a target on her back starting Friday.

“I’m okay with that because it just pushes you and motivates you,” said Force, who saw teammate and brother-in-law Robert Hight win last season’s Funny Car championship, as well. “Our plan is we want to win more races and we want to go after a championship again.

“I would love to double-up with my dad and Courtney. It would be great to share the winner’s circle with my sister. There’s still so many things left to accomplish and try to achieve. That’s just motivation and what pushes me.”

Like many of her Top Fuel peers, Force is coming off last weekend’s four-day NHRA “spring training” preseason test at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler, Arizona (suburb of Phoenix).

She had several strong runs last weekend that leave her all the more optimistic that she can begin the new season and her title defense in equally strong fashion.

Last week was a test; this weekend is for real, and Force is ready.

“After what we accomplished, I know our energy is going to be there,” said Force, who has seven career wins. “I know our team is going to feel it.

“The last time we were there, we won the championship, won the race and we got our first Top Fuel championship. That’s only going to push us and motivate us more in Pomona.”

Qualifying begins Friday with sessions at 12:30 p.m. PT and 3 p.m. PT. Saturday’s qualifying sessions will be at 12:45 p.m. PT and 4 p.m. PT. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. PT.

F1 Preview: 2018 German Grand Prix

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The German Grand Prix continues its biennial presence on the Formula 1 calendar – it’s hosted F1 events in even numbered years since 2014 – as Formula 1 returns to the Hockenheimring this weekend.

The German fans will undoubtedly be joyful in Sebastian Vettel entering his home race in the championship lead, by nine points over Lewis Hamilton. Yet, somewhat surprisingly, Vettel despite being one of the most successful and decorated drivers of his generation, Vettel has won in Germany only once (2013, at the Nurburgring) and he has never won at Hockenheim.

Conversely, Hamilton has won in Germany three times, including twice at Hockenheim (2008 and 2016).

As such, Vettel will hope to add to his points lead over Hamilton with a win on home soil, though Hamilton may be equally as motivated after watching Vettel his own home race at Silverstone two weeks ago.

Nevertheless, their 2018 championship duel will most certainly continue to be closely fought.

Talking points ahead of the German Grand Prix are below.

A Different World in 2018 vs. 2016

Nico Rosberg during the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 31, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany. Photo: Getty Images

The Formula 1 landscape looked completely different back in 2016, the last time Formula 1 visited the Hockenheimring. Bernie Ecclestone was still the chief executive of Formula 1.

Nico Rosberg was partnering Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes team, and was on his way to a driver’s championship that year.

Vettel and teammate Kimi Raikkonen were in the midst of a slump as Ferrari went winless in 2016.

The world was still getting to know a then 18-year-old Max Verstappen, the young Dutchman having won the Spanish Grand Prix in May that year.

And the cars looked completely different, with skinnier and taller rear wings and taller rear tires highlighting the appearance differences.

In 2018, Vettel and Ferrari might be the strongest combination. Rosberg is long from Mercedes, and Valtteri Bottas is doing his best to shine in the wake of Hamilton’s enormous shadow.

Verstappen is still a rising star, though he has come under fire at times for overly aggressive driving and his Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo has garnered more headlines this year, with a pair of race wins alongside his status as an F1 free agent after 2018.

In short, the Formula 1 landscape is hardly recognizable from what it was back in 2016. And even though Hamilton won that year, followed by Ricciardo and Verstappen in second and third, very little will carry over from that race two years ago.

Hamilton, Mercedes Look to Take Back Momentum from Vettel, Ferrari

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – JULY 08: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 leads Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on July 8, 2018 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)

The seesaw championship fight has tilted back in the favor of Ferrari, with Vettel leading Hamilton after finishes of third and first in Austria and England. Hamilton, meanwhile, DNF’ed in Austria and came home second in England after spinning on Lap 1.

Hamilton trails by nine points, but this is hardly an unfamiliar position for Hamilton in 2018 – he started the year trailing Vettel until he took the championship lead for the first time after the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Both teams have had multiple swings of momentum this year – Vettel won the opening two races before finishes of eighth in China (he spun after contact with Verstappen) and a pair of fourth place efforts in Azerbaijan and Spain before getting two more wins in Canada and England.

Hamilton, meanwhile stumbled out of the gates somewhat with finishes of second and third before taking a fortuitous win in Azerbaijan and two dominant wins in Spain and France before the misfortune in Austria.

All told the ebb and flow of the 2018 season seems to change with every race, and while Vettel now leads Hamilton again, things could change this weekend.

Raikkonen Trying to Fend off Ricciardo, Bottas

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – JULY 06: Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on July 6, 2018 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Kimi Raikkonen is somewhat of a forgotten man this Formula 1 season, but he does rank third in the championship at the moment, 10 points ahead of Ricciardo and 12 points ahead of Bottas.

However, both Ricciardo and Bottas are likely thought to have had better seasons – Ricciardo has the aforementioned wins (at China and Monaco) and the only thing that has kept Bottas from the top step of the podium is a string of horrendous luck.

However, Raikkonen, to his credit, has picked up the pieces whenever others around him have faltered, and he has six podium finishes through 10 races.

However, in order to fully silence any critics, and maybe even keep his Ferrari drive, Raikkonen would do well to get a win in 2018.

Misc.

  • The driver challenging Raikkonen’s position within Ferrari is Sauber’s Charles Leclerc. The Ferrari junior driver has five points finishes, and that could have been six if not for a pit stop error at Silverstone that caused him to leave his pit stall with a loose wheel – it forced him to retire. Leclerc’s star is on the rise, and he could shine again in Germany.
  • Nico Hulkenberg is the “other” German driver on the grid. And though he has a 24 Hours of Le Mans win to his name, he is yet to finish on the podium in an F1 race. The Renault package may not be a podium threat in usual circumstances, but if he stays clean and others falter, he could sneak in there…and doing so in his home race would make that overdue podium even sweeter.
  • After a pair of eighth place finishes, Fernando Alonso has helped McLaren at least stop the bleeding after a dismal stretch of races from Monaco through France in which the team scored zero points. However, the team still has a long way to go, and Germany could be another weekend of struggles.

Follow@KyleMLavigne