NHRA at Phoenix: Courtney Force wins one for her dad; Torrence, McGaha also win

Photo and videos courtesy NHRA
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You’ve heard of win one for the Gipper? Well, on Sunday, Courtney Force won one for the Skipper.

As in the patriarch of John Force Racing, her father, 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force.

While John Force was in a Chandler, Arizona hospital after a wicked crash in the second round of Sunday’s eliminations of the NHRA Arizona Nationals, No. 1 qualifier Courtney Force went on to win her first Funny Car national event since 2016.

And that’s the best medicine she could have given her father, as he was released after being examined and evaluated at nearby Chandler Regional Hospital, and returned to the racetrack to celebrate with his race-winning daughter.

Also Sunday, Steve Torrence won his first Top Fuel race of 2018, after winning a class-high eight races last season, while Chris McGaha earned his sixth career win in Pro Stock.

In Funny Car, Courtney Force ran 337.16 mph at 3.834 seconds in defeating Tommy Johnson Jr. in the final round. It was Force’s first win since Houston 2016.

“Having [crew chief] Brian Corradi on my team and working with Dan Hood has been a great connection for our entire team,” Force said. “I had the utmost confidence to get in the car today because of the job my team does on it, so to get a victory at this race and take home a Wally (championship trophy) at the end of the weekend is pretty incredible.”

In addition to winning the race and being No. 1 qualifier, Courtney Force also set both ends of the Wild Horse Pass track records for Funny Car elapsed time and speed.

In Top Fuel, Torrence ran 330.72 mph at 3.729 seconds to defeat Scott Palmer in the final round.

It was Torrence’s first career triumph at White Horse Pass Motorsports Park (formerly Firebird Raceway).

Ironically, Torrence defeated his father, Billy Torrence, in the semifinal round.

“There is no easy round in this Top Fuel class anymore, you can’t take anybody lightly but it was a heck of a day with some pretty great races,” Torrence said. “The round against my dad is one that ranks up there that you remember as a high note that you remember of your career.”

In Pro Stock, McGaha earned his first win since last April in Charlotte, reaching the winner’s circle with a 211.59 mph run at 6.529 seconds, defeating Jason Line.

“We picked up some power this offseason that we’ve been looking for,” McGaha said. “But when we went No. 1 in the first round of qualifying we knew we had something that could compete. It’s really satisfying to do this as a one-car team, and it’s really special to get our first win of the year.”

The NHRA takes the next two weeks off before its third race on the 24-race Mello Yello Drag Racing Series national event schedule, March 15-18, in the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville (Florida) Raceway.

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FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

TOP FUEL: 1. Steve Torrence; 2. Scott Palmer; 3. Billy Torrence; 4. Greg Carrillo; 5. Blake Alexander; 6. Brittany Force; 7. Antron Brown; 8. Leah Pritchett; 9. Mike Salinas; 10. Troy Buff; 11. Tony Schumacher; 12. Richie Crampton; 13. Clay Millican; 14. Doug Kalitta; 15. Terry McMillen; 16. Steven Chrisman.

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

PRO STOCK: 1. Chris McGaha; 2. Jason Line; 3. Alex Laughlin; 4. Deric Kramer; 5. Greg Anderson; 6. Drew Skillman; 7. Erica Enders; 8. Jeg Coughlin; 9. Bo Butner; 10. Val Smeland; 11. Kenny Delco; 12. Tanner Gray; 13. Alan Prusiensky; 14. Steve Graham; 15. Matt Hartford; 16. Vincent Nobile.

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FINAL RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: Steve Torrence, 3.729 seconds, 330.72 mph def. Scott Palmer, 6.449 seconds, 102.70 mph.

FUNNY CAR: Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.834, 337.16 def. Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 6.814, 101.57.

PRO STOCK: Chris McGaha, Chevy Camaro, 6.529, 211.59 def. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.538, 210.14.

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FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Antron Brown, 8.756, 79.76 def. Mike Salinas, Foul – Red Light; Blake Alexander, 3.848, 322.27 def. Terry McMillen, 11.728, 65.81; Brittany Force, 3.724, 293.66 def. Clay Millican, 5.154, 135.70; Leah Pritchett, 3.679, 333.08 def. Troy Buff, 3.823, 314.75; Greg Carrillo, 4.223, 221.27 def. Tony Schumacher, 4.858, 189.66; Steve Torrence, 3.705, 330.07 def. Steven Chrisman, 14.505, 71.18; Scott Palmer, 3.768, 325.45 def. Richie Crampton, 5.061, 144.95; Billy Torrence, 6.570, 138.34 def. Doug Kalitta, 6.714, 154.46;

QUARTERFINALS — Carrillo, 4.054, 284.21 def. Brown, 6.793, 120.75; B. Torrence, 3.723, 320.74 def. Force, 4.661, 156.12; S. Torrence, 3.690, 331.36 def. Alexander, 3.784, 306.19; Palmer, 3.844, 325.85 def. Pritchett, 7.962, 86.85;

SEMIFINALS — Palmer, 3.853, 322.11 def. Carrillo, 4.999, 147.25; S. Torrence, 3.722, 328.86 def. B. Torrence, 3.726, 328.54;

FINAL — S. Torrence, 3.729, 330.72 def. Palmer, 6.449, 102.70.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Jonnie Lindberg, Toyota Camry, 4.618, 283.67 def. Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 4.862, 225.03; Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 3.908, 325.30 def. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.091, 256.89; Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 4.334, 228.61 def. Del Worsham, Camry, 5.084, 167.47; Richard Townsend, Camry, 5.503, 179.90 def. Jack Beckman, Charger, Broke; John Force, Camaro, 5.715, 224.51 def. Jeff Diehl, Camry, 7.620, 124.46; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.715, 225.60 def. Robert Hight, Camaro, 4.806, 273.44; Shawn Langdon, Camry, 3.965, 328.22 def. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 5.112, 152.95; Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.910, 331.85 def. J.R. Todd, Camry, 4.017, 320.66;

QUARTERFINALS — Langdon, 3.927, 328.14 def. Capps, 4.651, 182.30; J. Force, 4.139, 278.75 def. Lindberg, No Time Recorded; Johnson Jr., 4.454, 244.74 def. Townsend, 5.174, 144.52; C. Force, 3.965, 319.14 def. Hagan, 4.480, 192.19;

SEMIFINALS — C. Force, 3.938, 327.90 def. J. Force, Broke – No Show; Johnson Jr., 3.916, 328.46 def. Langdon, 3.958, 325.77;

FINAL — C. Force, 3.834, 337.16 def. Johnson Jr., 6.814, 101.57.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Drew Skillman, Chevy Camaro, 6.536, 210.34 def. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 16.184, 50.25; Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.553, 211.73 def. Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.642, 209.82; Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.574, 209.49 def. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.555, 211.03; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.552, 210.08 def. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, Broke; Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.676, 202.58 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 8.557, 112.00; Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.628, 208.88 def. Val Smeland, Camaro, 6.609, 203.06; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.561, 209.92 def. Steve Graham, Camaro, 9.567, 96.49; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.552, 211.46 def. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.622, 207.94;

QUARTERFINALS — Laughlin, 6.577, 209.92 def. Coughlin, 6.590, 209.69; McGaha, 6.561, 211.93 def. Enders, 6.549, 210.14; Line, 6.548, 210.37 def. Anderson, 6.541, 211.00; Kramer, 6.542, 210.67 def. Skillman, 6.548, 210.54;

SEMIFINALS — McGaha, 6.562, 211.83 def. Laughlin, 6.574, 210.21; Line, 6.552, 210.41 def. Kramer, Foul – Red Light;

FINAL — McGaha, 6.529, 211.59 def. Line, 6.538, 210.14.

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POINT STANDINGS AFTER PHOENIX RACE:

TOP FUEL: 1. Steve Torrence, 183; 2. Doug Kalitta, 144; 3. Tony Schumacher, 140; 4. Scott Palmer, 139; 5. Antron Brown, 133; 6. Clay Millican, 122; 7. Leah Pritchett, 90; 8. Brittany Force, 86; 9. Billy Torrence, 71; 10. Greg Carrillo, 66.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Matt Hagan, 179; 2. Courtney Force, 160; 3. Ron Capps, 139; 4. Robert Hight, 133; 5. Tommy Johnson Jr., 128; 6. Jack Beckman, 122; 7. Jonnie Lindberg, 107; 8. Shawn Langdon, 104; 9. J.R. Todd, 83; 10. Cruz Pedregon, 82.

PRO STOCK: 1. Jason Line, 195; 2. Deric Kramer, 154; 3. Chris McGaha, 152; 4. Bo Butner, 149; 5. Alex Laughlin, 136; 6. Erica Enders, 134; 7. Greg Anderson, 119; 8. Drew Skillman, 117; 9. Vincent Nobile, 95; 10. Jeg Coughlin, 84.

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IndyCar drivers say Thermal Club could host race after successful opening day to test

IndyCar Thermal race
Andy Abeyta/The Desert Sun / USA TODAY Sports Images
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THERMAL, Calif. – The “motorsports country club” passed the first test (figuratively and literally) with NTT IndyCar Series drivers pleased enough to proclaim The Thermal Club as race-eligible after its debut.

Though there were a few minor incidents on the 17-turn, 3.067-mile permanent road course east of Palm Springs in Southern California’s Coachella Valley, there was no significant damage for the 27 full-time cars that turned 1,119 laps Thursday.

Perhaps more importantly, drivers seemed to enjoy the ride around the track, which is unlike anything on the current circuit.

“I would love to race here,” said Chip Ganassi Racing rookie Marcus Armstrong, who posted the 10th-quickest time (1 minute, 39.9077 seconds) in the No. 11 Dallara-Honda that he will race on street and road courses after coming from the F2 Series. “I think it’s awesome. Would have to do a lot of neck training prior to the race because it’s much like a European circuit, quite demanding on the neck, towards the end of the lap anyway.

PRACTICE SPEEDS: First session l Second session l Combined

‘AN AMAZING PLACE’: IndyCar and its big plans for Thermal

“I think it’s cool. Very flowing, banked corners, banked high-speed corners. In terms of racing, it could be potentially not a lot of overtaking. You’d have to commit hard (in) maybe Turn 1. It wouldn’t be the easiest place to overtake. As a whole facility and circuit, it’s very enjoyable.”

Juncos Hollinger Racing No. 77 Chevrolet driver Callum Ilott, another F2 veteran who is entering his second year in IndyCar, was seventh fastest. Ilott said Thermal would “set a standard really of what we want to be doing with this series.

“It’s really, really high level, high tech,” said Ilott, whose rookie teammate Agustin Canapino went off course twice but incurred no major trouble. “As a circuit, yeah, it’s got a little bit different corners. I think the overtaking — we’ll find a way, we’re IndyCar — someone always sends it down the inside. I think if we can extend the straight and get some overtaking between Turn 6 and 7. It’s definitely a great circuit to drive and good fun and a bit different to the normal winter training we get in Florida. So I like the circuit.

“I think if we could, it would be good to race here once.”

Andretti Autosport’s Colton Herta, who turned the fastest lap (1:39.3721) in his No. 26, also was optimistic despite the passing challenges.

“I think it really comes down to tire deg, what people are showing with that,” Herta said. “It will be tough to pass, right? A lot of the good braking zones, you’re coming off of high-speed corners, so it will be hard to follow.

“But you never know. I would say some of the tracks we go to would be terrible for racing, and IndyCar still puts on a great show. You never know until it’s tested and proven right or wrong.”

The possibility of adding an IndyCar race at The Thermal Club has been floated, but there would be some challenges. It likely would be a made-for-TV event given it’s a private club (and filled with multimillion-dollar homes filled with vintage cars). The test is closed to the public and open only to members and VIPs.

There also are some areas that would need to be improved, namely the galvanized steel Armco barriers that ring the track and generally are considered antiquated in motorsports.

“I think the Armco might propose a little bit of an issue,” Ilott said. “Again, it depends on what angle you’re hitting them obviously. It’s a pretty straightforward process to make it a bit safer and a bit more cushiony. I’m not in charge of that stuff. I just drive and try not to hit those things.

“I think it’s a straightforward process. To be fair, everyone has had a little moment today, spun and carried on. That’s a good start. Obviously there are anomalies, these things happen. So far, so good.”

Said Herta: For sure. It probably needs a little bit of work. They’ve already done a lot for us to come here already. It seems like if they do want to have a race here, they’re willing to put the work in and money in to upgrade the facility to make it a little bit safer for us.”

Christian Lundgaard of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing was second fastest (1:39.3767), followed by Alex Palou (1:39.3970) and Romain Grosjean (1:39.4826). Will Power was the top Chevrolet driver in fifth (1:39.5690).

Though Andretti had two of the top four times, Herta downplayed the significance other than getting reacclimated to his team.

“Just a lot of knocking the rust off,” he said. “It’s quite a long offseason without being in the car. I don’t know how much we’re really going to learn from running here. It’s really good to get the team back into it, get all the boys working again. Yeah, just get everybody back into the flow of it.

“It could be a huge shake-up when we go to St. Pete and who’s up front and who’s at the back. It is too early to tell. It’s nice just to be back in the car and get lap times down, get everybody working again.

“The track surface is very strange, very different to anything I’ve really felt in IndyCar. It’s seven first-gear corners. We don’t really have that many anywhere we go on a street course. It is quite a bit slower than our natural terrain courses. But I don’t want to be in here and dig it the whole time. It’s a fun track to drive, especially the back section. It keeps you on your toes. It doesn’t really replicate anything else that we go (race).”

The test will continue with another six-hour session Friday.