NHRA Sonoma: Millican, C. Force, Anderson, Krawiec No. 1 qualifiers; Smith wins Pro Bike Battle

Matt Smith won the Mickey Thompson Pro Bike Battle Saturday. Photo and videos courtesy NHRA.
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Courtesy NHRA Communications Dept.

SONOMA, Calif. – Clay Millican (Top Fuel), Courtney Force (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are No. 1 qualifiers in their respective categories for Sunday’s Toyota NHRA Nationals at Sonoma Raceway, the 15th of 24 events on the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.

In Top Fuel: Millican scored his seventh No. 1 qualifier of 2018 and first at Sonoma, as his pass of 3.700 at 327.98 in his Great Clips/Parts Plus dragster from Friday held up. It is also the 17th career No. 1 qualifier for Millican, who clinched his spot in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship on Saturday and is also seeking his first career win at Sonoma Raceway.

“I am not ever going to complain about being the No. 1 qualifier and it certainly shows that the team is capable of being the quickest car here,” Millican said. “It’s stacked on our side (of the ladder), but you have to beat them all to get a yellow hat (for a win) and that’s our gameplan. Our goal is to be No. 1 and we achieved that.”

Leah Pritchett, who won last weekend to kick off the Western Swing, will start from second in her Palomar Builders dragster after her 3.727 at 328.38 on Friday. She will meet Bill Litton in the first round. Pritchett and Tony Schumacher both clinched spots in the Countdown to the Championship.

In Funny Car: points leader Courtney Force secured her 10th No. 1 qualifier of the season thanks to her run of 3.910 at 326.16 mph on Friday in her Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro. It is the 26th career No. 1 qualifier for Force, who claimed the top spot at Sonoma for a second time and will face Del Worsham in the opening round on raceday.

“It’s been a lot of fun for me to drive,” Force said. “They’ve got that thing dialed in. We had a great number in Q2 yesterday that took us to that top spot. We were looking to improve today or at least have a little bit more consistency, but we struggled a little bit. But we were still able to take that top spot, which feels pretty good, especially to hear it’s our 10th this season. That’s pretty incredible and this is exactly how we would like to go into the second race of the (Western) Swing.”

Jack Beckman’s 3.929 at 324.51 from Friday in his Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger R/T kept him second, setting up a first-round matchup with defending event winner J.R. Todd.

In Pro Stock: Anderson grabbed his ninth top qualifier in 2018, as the points leader’s 6.515 at 211.16 from Friday in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro remained the category leader. It is the 102nd career No. 1 qualifier for the four-time world champion, tying Anderson, who is seeking a second straight win on the Western Swing, with Bob Glidden for the third-most all-time. Anderson also clinched his spot in the Countdown to the Championship.

“It’s just a heck of an honor to tie that record,” Anderson said. “We try every day to set records and break records, and win races. It feels great to be tied with (Glidden), and I’m pretty happy with that. The depth in this class is deeper than it has ever been and there’s just zero room for error anymore, but that’s what is great about it. I feel it’s the ultimate challenge in racing.”

Anderson will race Joey Grose in the first round of eliminations, while his longtime teammate, Jason Line, starts second after his run of 6.517 at 211.03 on Friday in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro. He will meet Steve Graham in round one on Sunday.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle: defending PSM world champion Krawiec raced to the No. 1 position for the second straight race with a run of 6.757 at 199.94 on his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson. Krawiec, who has five No. 1 qualifiers at the track, will meet Karen Stoffer to kick off eliminations. He also clinched his spot in the Countdown to the Championship, as did teammate and points leader Andrew Hines.

“We’ve been chasing that 200 mph run and it was right there,” Krawiec said. “The weekend is still not over and (Sunday) it could definitely happen. I’m excited about it. I’m happy to have a green hat (as No. 1 qualifier), but I really wanted to hold that Mickey Thompson Pro Bike Battle check at the end of the day here. I had a great motorcycle all day and I’m excited going into raceday.”

Hector Arana Jr. stayed in second on his Lucas Oil Racing TV EBR, improving to a 6.775 at 199.88, setting up a first-round matchup with Angelle Sampey.

Also, Matt Smith raced to his first career NHRA Mickey Thompson Tires Pro Bike Battle win during Saturday’s action. Smith earned a $25,000 payday in the all-star bonus race featuring eight top riders in the Pro Stock Motorcycle category.

Making his fourth appearance in the Mickey Thompson Tires Pro Bike Battle, Smith had his best career showing on his Victory Magnum, defeating LE Tonglet and Andrew Hines to meet up with Eddie Krawiec in the finals. Smith was quicker off the starting line, scoring the holeshot victory with a pass of 6.793 at 196.93 mph.

“This is huge for our team,” Smith said. “We’ve got a great bike and we’ve got a bike that can win this championship. I saw my win light come on and, man, I was excited. This is big for me.”

Eliminations at the Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday.

 

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SUNDAY’S FIRST ROUND PAIRINGS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Clay Millican, 3.700 seconds, 327.98 mph vs. Bye; 2. Leah Pritchett, 3.727, 328.38 vs. 15. Bill Litton, 4.056, 251.58; 3. Antron Brown, 3.744, 327.43 vs. 14. Jim Maroney, 4.005, 261.47; 4. Tony Schumacher, 3.747, 329.99 vs. 13. Shawn Reed, 3.903, 298.14; 5. Brittany Force, 3.752, 328.78 vs. 12. Richie Crampton, 3.828, 321.73; 6. Blake Alexander, 3.775, 326.63 vs. 11. Mike Salinas, 3.823, 322.34; 7. Scott Palmer, 3.778, 323.35 vs. 10. Terry McMillen, 3.811, 325.92; 8. Steve Torrence, 3.785, 330.55 vs. 9. Doug Kalitta, 3.790, 324.05.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.910, 326.16 vs. 16. Del Worsham, Toyota Camry, 4.164, 254.18; 2. Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 3.929, 324.51 vs. 15. J.R. Todd, Camry, 4.102, 312.13; 3. Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 3.950, 318.47 vs. 14. Jonnie Lindberg, Mustang, 4.086, 313.07; 4. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.956, 319.98 vs. 13. Jim Campbell, Charger, 4.082, 309.91; 5. Ron Capps, Charger, 3.972, 321.42 vs. 12. Richard Townsend, Camry, 4.055, 307.72; 6. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 3.975, 309.56 vs. 11. Robert Hight, Camaro, 4.051, 318.24; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.988, 322.04 vs. 10. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.032, 306.26; 8. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 4.023, 318.77 vs. 9. John Force, Camaro, 4.026, 315.34. Did Not Qualify: 17. Jeff Diehl, 4.421, 261.72; 18. Terry Haddock, 5.803, 109.54.

PRO STOCK: 1. Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.515, 212.59 vs. 16. Joey Grose, Camaro, 6.733, 205.82; 2. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.517, 212.49 vs. 15. Steve Graham, Camaro, 6.643, 207.82; 3. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.524, 211.43 vs. 14. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.639, 209.07; 4. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.526, 211.89 vs. 13. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.603, 209.10; 5. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.530, 212.03 vs. 12. Fernando Cuadra, Camaro, 6.572, 209.79; 6. Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.531, 211.66 vs. 11. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.553, 210.60; 7. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.540, 212.33 vs. 10. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.553, 211.06; 8. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.547, 211.33 vs. 9. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.550, 210.70.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.757, 199.94 vs. 16. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.925, 195.48; 2. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.775, 200.11 vs. 15. Angelle Sampey, Buell, 6.914, 197.80; 3. Matt Smith, Victory, 6.783, 198.12 vs. 14. Ryan Oehler, Buell, 6.903, 194.63; 4. LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.806, 197.57 vs. 13. Cory Reed, Buell, 6.890, 197.22; 5. Joey Gladstone, Suzuki, 6.815, 196.22 vs. 12. Angie Smith, Buell, 6.886, 192.91; 6. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.823, 197.74 vs. 11. Scotty Pollacheck, Suzuki, 6.885, 195.08; 7. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 6.845, 196.62 vs. 10. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.863, 195.62; 8. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.857, 195.96 vs. 9. Hector Arana, Buell, 6.861, 197.91.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Katie Sullivan, 6.946, 195.48; 18. Freddie Camarena, 6.954, 195.99; 19. Kelly Clontz, 6.958, 193.05; 20. Scott Bottorff, 7.184, 184.17.
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Saturday’s final results from the Mickey Thompson Pro Bike Battle at the 31st annual Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals at Sonoma Raceway. The race is a special race within a race.

FINAL ROUND: Mickey Thompson Pro Bike Battle — Matt Smith, Victory, 6.793, 196.93 def. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.764, 198.17.

Final round-by-round results from the Mickey Thompson Pro Bike Battle at the 31st annual Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals at Sonoma Raceway. The race is a special race within a race.

ROUND ONE — Scotty Pollacheck, Suzuki, 6.941, 193.60 def. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, Foul – Red Light; LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.841, 196.44 def. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.889, 200.02; Matt Smith, 6.783, 197.33 def. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.898, 197.74; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.848, 198.73 def. Angie Smith, Buell, 6.910, 180.36; SEMIFINALS — Krawiec, 6.757, 199.94 def. Pollacheck, 6.885, 195.08; M. Smith, 6.803, 198.12 def. Tonglet, 6.806, 197.57; FINAL — M. Smith, 6.793, 196.93 def. Krawiec, 6.764, 198.17.

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.”