NHRA: Shawn Langdon getting more comfortable, successful after switch to Funny Car

Photo courtesy Kalitta Motorsports
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Shawn Langdon knew what he was up against when he switched from a near-decade stint as a NHRA Top Fuel driver to Funny Car this season for Kalitta Motorsports.

A former Top Fuel champ (2013, as well as prior titles in Junior Dragster and Super Comp sportsman racing), Langdon was in a sense starting his career over from scratch.

\He not only had to undergo a learning curve to drive a Funny Car, which he had never driven before, he also had to get used to a new team and a new way of doing things than the way he’d been used to doing them with past teams, including Al-Anabi Racing and Alan Johnson Racing.

“When I am standing outside of the car or looking at stats, you get a weird feeling because I never would have envisioned my name besides these guys (like John Force, Ron Capps, Cruz Pedregon and Robert Hight),” Langdon said. “It is humbling and cool.

“These are people I grew up idolizing, so to see my name there makes me realize how fortunate I am.

“However, when I am in the race car, I do not put them on the pedestal. I look at them as a competitor. I am trying to beat them and get a win. As much as I respect them and what they have accomplished, I want to beat them. ”

The transition from Top Fuel to Funny Car for Langdon remains a work in progress as he competes in this weekend’s Toyota Sonoma Nationals in Sonoma, California.

Sonoma is the second race of the annual three-race Western Swing that began last week in Denver, and concludes next weekend in Seattle.

This race has added significance to Langdon, as he grew up in California (Mira Loma), and anticipates a number of family and friends to attend this weekend’s race in the Napa Valley.

“Sonoma is a big track for me,” Langdon told MotorSportsTalk. “Toyota has been a big part of my career, and they are going to have a lot of people there which makes it even more important. We get a ton of support from Toyota and TRD (Toyota Research and Development).

“But it is important to me too because I grew up in California. I am very familiar with the track, and even won there at the sportsman level.”

Admittedly, the first 14 races of the 24-race NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series have been a struggle at times for Langdon as he has made the transition from Top Fuel to Funny Car.

Yet at the same time, things are looking up: he has reached the semifinals four times within those first 14 races, most recently in the NHRA New England Nationals July 6-8 in Epping, New Hampshire.

“I think (the transition from TF to FC) has gone fairly well,” Langdon said. “It has been a pretty big learning curve for me especially the first 20-30 runs.

“I was mentally behind the car, so it was me making the adjustments to my driving to make the changes I need in the seat. I have been pleased with the growth and the feedback I have been able to provide to my Global Electronic Technology/WIX Filters Toyota team.

“But you cannot get comfortable, because the Funny Car can throw you curve balls like it did in the final qualifying session in Denver. I was not aggressive enough and got close to the wall. Racing Funny Car will humble you. It will let you have a few good runs, but it will bring you back with a run like that.”

Also speaking of being humbled, the 35-year-old Langdon is used to winning: he has 14 Top Fuel and seven Sportsman victories in his career.

But he comes into Sonoma ninth in the Funny Car standings, more than 500 points behind series leader Courtney Force.

That leaves Langdon in a very uncomfortable position, as – including this weekend – there are still four more races remaining to cement his position in the upcoming six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

A win would lock him in; but even if he were to nail more semifinal finishes, it may not be enough to qualify for the playoffs.

“I think right now, we are in a pretty tough position,” Langdon said. “We have three normal points races left, and then Indianapolis (the U.S. Nationals, the biggest race of the season), which is points and a half.

“We are in a position that we cannot have back-to-back bad races with this team. There are really four guys who can catch us, with three within three rounds.”

Those four drivers are Bob Tasca III, who is 51 points behind Langdon, Tim Wilkerson (53 points back), Cruz Pedregon (57 points behind) and Jonnie Lindberg (117 points back).

Still, exuding the confidence that he has always displayed throughout his racing career, Langdon is emphatic about what he has to do and knows what it will take. After this weekend’s race, three races remain to make the playoffs: Seattle, Brainerd (Minnesota) and Indianapolis.

“I like the position we are in; we control our destiny,” Langdon said. “I think if we get a win in the next four, we will be in for sure. We just have to continue to go rounds.

“When you look at the points the races provide and the history, you have to look at Indianapolis. I have been lucky enough to win Indy before, and would love to get a U.S. Nationals win for Global Electronic Technology and everyone at WIX and Toyota, and all our other partners. They have supported this change and I would love to deliver them a trophy.”

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Meyer Shank Racing wins Petit Le Mans to take final DPi championship in dramatic finale

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Meyer Shank Racing outdueled Wayne Taylor Racing to win the Petit Le Mans and clinch the championship in a thrilling final race for the DPi division.

Tom Blomqvist, who started from the pole position, drove the No. 60 Acura ARX-05 to a 4.369-second victory over Pipo Derani in the No. 31 Action Express Cadillac.

“That was incredible,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports’ Matt Yocum. “I’ve never dug so deep in my life. The adrenaline. I did that for the guys. I was so motivated to win this thing this weekend. But I’ve got to thank everyone on the whole team.”

With co-drivers Oliver Jarvis and Helio Castroneves, Blomqvist helped MSR bookend its season-opening victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona by winning Saturday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale at Michelin Road Atlanta.

In between those two victories, the No. 60 earned five runner-up finishes to stay in the thick of the championship hunt and trail WTR’s No. 10 Acura by 14 points entering Saturday’s race.

WTR’s Filipe Albuquerque had a lead of more than 10 seconds over Blomqvist with less than 50 minutes remaining in the 10-hour race.

But a Turn 1 crash between the Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillacs brought out a yellow that sent both Acuras into the pits from the top two positions.

Though he entered in second, Blomqvist barely beat Albuquerque out of the pits, and he held the lead for the final 45 minutes.

Blomqvist said he gained the lead because of a shorter fuel fill after he had worked on being efficient in the second-to-last stint.

“The team asked a big job of me with the fuel; I had a big fuel number to hit,” Blomqvist said. “We knew that was probably our only chance. The yellow came at the right time and obviously we had a bit less fuel to fill up, so I was able to jump him and then it was just a matter of going gung-ho and not leaving anything on the line. And obviously, the opposition had to try too hard to make it work. I’m so thankful.”

Albuquerque closed within a few car lengths of Blomqvist with 14 minutes remaining, but he damaged his suspension because of contact with a GT car in Turn 1. The WTR car was forced to retire and finished ninth overall (sixth in DPi).

“I’m simply devastated with the ending,” Albuquerque said in a release. “I really think we were doing a perfect race and unfortunately the last pit stop wasn’t great for our side. Obviously, when you start on pole and up front, you always have a little bit of an advantage. Traffic always benefits the guy leading, and it got me big time there. Passing a GT car and I don’t think he saw me and the level of risk was high. We touched and my car was damaged and it was over for us. It was a bit inglorious to finish like that.”

Said teammate Ricky Taylor, who started third but had to pit on the second lap after a spin in qualifying damaged his tires: “I couldn’t be more proud to be teammates with Filipe. He gives everything and we wouldn’t be in this position in the championship without him. We take risks and I don’t even think what took us out was even a risk. He was fighting for the win and I had no doubt that he was going to pass the 60 car if he had the chance.”

It’s the first prototype championship for Meyer Shank Racing, which also won the 2021 Indy 500 with Castroneves.

“We’ve had in the last four years, three championships for Acura, the Indy 500 win and the Rolex 24, it doesn’t get any better,” team co-owner Mike Shank told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee.

It’s the third consecutive runner-up finish in the points standings for Wayne Taylor Racing, which won the first Daytona Prototype international championship in 2017. The premier category will be rebranded as the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class with the LMDh cars that will establish a bridge to racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“Congratulations to Mike Shank for winning the drivers’ and teams’ championships,” team owner Wayne Taylor said in a release. “What can I say. We thought we had it, but didn’t. Everybody gave it their all.”

Kamui Kobayashi finished third in the No. 48 Cadillac of Action Express that also includes Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller.

The podium showing marked Johnson’s last scheduled race in IMSA’s top prototype division. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion has raced in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac lineup as the Action Express entry has run the Endurance Cup races.

Johnson said a lack of inventory will preclude him having a 2023 ride in the top category. But he still is hopeful of racing the Garage 56 Next Gen Camaro in next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and possibly running in a lower class for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“I’d love to be at Le Mans next year,” Johnson told NBC Sports’ Dillon Welch after his final stint Saturday. “I’d love to be at the Rolex 24. The series is going through a shake-up with the reconfiguration of the rules and classes, so I don’t have anything locked down yet, but I’m so thankful for this experience with Action. The support Ally has given us, Mr. Hendrick, Chad Knaus, all of Hendrick Motorsports. It’s been a fun two years, and I certainly hope I’m on the grid again next year.”