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Graham Rahal admits he worries when Courtney, John and Brittany Force race

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When Graham Rahal asked his father for pre-marriage advice before he married Courtney Force in November 2015, Bobby Rahal cut right to the chase:

“I told Graham, “You do realize you’re marrying John, too, right?,” the elder Rahal said with a laugh.

That’s John, as in John Force, the winningest and most popular driver in NHRA drag racing history, and Courtney’s father.

But once he became John’s son-in-law, Graham quickly became a worry-wart, genuinely concerned about John, not to mention Graham’s wife Courtney and sister-in-law Brittany each time they get behind the wheel of either their Funny Cars or Top Fuel dragsters.

You’d worry about them too, given they routinely go over 330 mph in 1,000 feet.

During an interview with MotorSportsTalk earlier this week for an upcoming feature on he and his team for the upcoming 2018 season, we asked Graham his thoughts about John Force’s crash this past Sunday at Chandler, Arizona.

“Obviously, I was concerned because John’s had a lot of close calls the last couple years, of no fault of his own,” Rahal said. “They’ve just had a lot of weird stuff happen.

“I’d lie to you if I didn’t tell you that every time I watch those things, I’m just hoping and praying. I know everybody else watches it and think it’s awesome and fast and loud, but I think about it completely different.”

In the first two race weekends of the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season, John Force Racing has endured quite a bit.

John Force had an engine explosion during qualifying for the season-opening race at Pomona, California, three weeks ago. He went to the hospital, was examined and released, and returned to the racetrack.

Then, two days later, Brittany Force, the 2017 defending NHRA Top Fuel champion, had the worst wreck of her career, suffering a concussion and severe bruising. She, too, went to the hospital, was held overnight and then released.

But there’s more: John suffered another massive engine explosion this past Sunday during the quarterfinals of eliminations. The explosion blew the body off Force’s car, he crossed into the lane of competitor Jonnie Lindberg, ran into Lindberg’s car, got tangled in the parachute cord of Lindberg, and both cars went back across the track and slammed into the outside retaining wall.

“I worry about my family members out there a lot, and unfortunately, the last couple weeks have been a bad couple weeks,” Graham Rahal said. “All I thought about was if he was okay.”

Particularly the impact John Force’s head suffered in the wreck.

“It didn’t look like it was that violent from a broken bones perspective, like maybe Brittany might have faced, but it looked violent from a head perspective,” Rahal said. “When it comes to your head, you only get one shot.”

John Force did not suffer any head injury or trauma, but Graham then worried about his wife, Courtney, who after John’s incident, advanced two more rounds to the finals, which she ultimately won, capturing her first national event victory since 2016.

Said Graham, “I just take that so seriously and get so concerned, that I just wanted to make sure (John Force) was okay, and obviously also that Courtney stayed focused because I knew Courtney had the best car all weekend, and just make sure she can go through and finish off the job – and she did a great job.”

What made things worse is that Rahal was in Sebring, Florida, for testing and was unable to make it to Phoenix, 2,000 miles away. But his heart, spirit and attention were.

“Drag racing, I enjoy it, I get the thrills of it, but I hate the thought of a driver becoming a passenger (losing control of the car), and unfortunately I see it too much,” he said. “And from a family perspective, I get too worried about that. It’s been a little bit tough the last couple of weeks.”

Rahal races next weekend in the Verizon IndyCar Series season opener at St. Petersburg. Courtney will likely be with him, as she doesn’t race again until the following weekend, just a few miles up the road at the NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla.

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F1 Preview – 2018 French Grand Prix

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It’s hard to believe that the French Grand Prix, the oldest grand prix event on the planet, as it dates back to June of 1906, was ever removed from the Formula 1 calendar.

Alas, not since 2008 at Magny-Cours has Formula 1 held a race on French soil. Yet, that all changes this weekend, as Formula 1 visits the Circuit Paul Ricard for its first French race in a decade.

Formula 1 teams are not strangers to Paul Ricard. It has been a popular testing facility for years, as evidenced by the below photo from 2016, featuring Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari in a wet tire test.

LE CASTELLET, FRANCE – JANUARY 26: Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Scuderia Ferrari drives during wet weather tire testing at Circuit Paul Ricard on January 26, 2016 in Le Castellet, France. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

However, in terms of racing, Paul Ricard has also been absent from the calendar for quite a long time – the last time Formula 1 race at Paul Ricard was in 1990. Alain Prost won for Ferrari that day.

1990: Alain Prost of France punches the air in celebration after passing the chequered flag in his Scuderia Ferrari to win the French Grand Prix at the Paul Ricard circuit in Le Beausset, France. Mandatory Credit: Pascal Rondeau/Allsport

As such, despite being a known quantity as a testing facility, how a race weekend will shake out is anybody’s guess.

And what’s more, it marks the beginning of three consecutive race weekends – The French Grand Prix, The Austrian Grand Prix, and The British Grand Prix – which F1 teams and drivers are calling “the triple header.”

Talking points ahead of the French Grand Prix are below.

A Journey Into the Unknown?

Like all new venues, or resurrected and refurbished ones in this case, the Circuit Paul Ricard represents somewhat of an unknown, as there’s no available race data to make predictions off of.

And the 3.61-mile, 15-turn track itself represents a range of challenges. It has fast corners, like Turns 1 and 2 (S de la Verrerie), a technical section between Turns 3 and 7 (Virage de l’Hotel through the Mistral Straight Start), and a 1.1-mile straightaway in the Mistral Straight, though it is separated by a chicane (Turns 8 and 9).

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff discussed the challenge of the circuit, highlighting the lack of data to build off of as well the tough three-race stretch ahead as especially challenging, in a preview on Formula 1’s website.

“France should be an interesting race. We don’t often get to race on a track where we have little to no historical data. It makes preparing for the weekend a bit trickier than usual, but that element of the unknown also adds to the challenge. The French Grand Prix marks the first race of the triple header, which will test all F1 teams to their limits, but also offers the chance to score a lot of points over the course of three weeks – which is precisely what we’re setting out to do,” said Wolff.

That element of the unknown makes Paul Ricard one of the biggest wildcards on the 2018 F1 calendar, and a championship shake up could be in the cards as a result.

Ferrari, Mercedes Continue Their Back and Forth

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 25: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H leads Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 on track during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 25, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Ferrari and Mercedes have traded jabs throughout the 2018 season, with neither able to pull away from the other so far through seven races.

Sebastian Vettel enters the French Grand Prix with a one-point lead over Lewis Hamilton, and holds a slight edge in victories – three to Hamilton’s two – and comes off a thorough domination of the Canadian Grand Prix.

Vettel led every lap at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on his way to victory, while Valtteri Bottas had to carry the Mercedes flag in finishing second. Hamilton languished in fifth, a surprising and disappointing result given his previous success there.

The aforementioned Toto Wolff described it as a “wake up call,” though Mercedes will roll out a power unit upgrade this weekend – Ferrari and Renault, which also powers Red Bull Racing, rolled out upgrades of their own in Canada.

With four long straightaways present at Paul Ricard, power will certainly be at a premium, so such upgrades will be vital in giving Mercedes a chance to make amends after Canada’s disappointment.

Trio of French Drivers Look to Impress on Home Soil

It comes hardly as a surprise that the three French drivers – Romain Grosjean, Pierre Gasly, and Esteban Ocon – are keen to make an impression at their home race.

And all three could certainly use a boost. Gasly has only one finish inside the points (seventh in the Monaco Grand Prix) since his stellar fourth place effort in the Bahrain Grand Prix. Ocon is coming off back-to-back points finishes (sixth in Monaco, ninth in Canada), but he has only one other finish inside the points this year (tenth, in Bahrain). And Grosjean, despite showing the speed to finish in the points, is yet to score any in 2018.

As such, all three are hoping for big things in their home race this weekend.

“I want to get a good weekend, have some luck, get my first points of the season, and get a lot of support from the fans,” said Grosjean. “I think we should be in a nice place at Paul Ricard. I’m always looking forward to jumping back in the car. I just love driving an F1 car.”

Ocon, who has raced and won at Paul Ricard in the past, expects his prior experience could be a big help.

“I did race at Paul Ricard early in my career – it was actually where I had my first victory in single seaters in 2013 so I have some fantastic memories of the place,” Ocon described. “I hope we can add some more success this weekend. Having been there in the junior categories makes getting used to a new track in a Formula One car much easier. I think I will find my rhythm quite quickly.”

Gasly’s excitement level obviously matches that of his French compatriots, with the added bonus that the return coincides with his rookie F1 effort.

“For me it will be absolutely incredible that my first full season of Formula 1 coincides with the return of a French Grand Prix to the calendar for the first time in 10 years,” said Gasly. “That has to be a reason for me to be very happy and I’m really excited to be racing in my home country. I can tell it will be a special feeling going out on track and actually, I have spoken to Jean Alesi and Alain Prost about it and they both told me that it will feel really special and something that you really have to experience as a Frenchman racing in France.”

Qualifying for The French Grand Prix begins at 9:55 a.m. ET on Saturday, with Sunday’s race at 9:30 a.m. ET.

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