Courtney Force, with husband Graham Rahal and father, John Force. Photo: NHRA

John Force: ‘Mixed emotions’ on daughter Courtney ending drag racing career

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Legendary NHRA Funny Car driver John Force admits that he has “mixed feelings” about Thursday’s announcement that daughter Courtney has likely ended her drag racing career.

On one hand, John Force has a number of great memories garnered from not only watching Courtney grow up, but also as she followed in his racing footsteps to become Funny Car racing’s winningest female driver during her seven-year career in the class. He couldn’t be prouder of the person she’s become and what she’s achieved.

Courtney, my daughter, grew up around racing,” John Force told NBC Sports. “As a kid she lived at the race tracks and at home she drew pictures racing her dad in a Funny Car.

John Force. Photo: NHRA.

“We knew at an early age that all the girls had an interest but Courtney probably showed it the most. As she evolved through super comp into A-fuel while attending college and getting her degree, it was always about race cars. When she went pro, following her sister Ashely, she excelled.

“Courtney had this love and passion and she took to it like a fish in water,. She was living the dream like I was, running to the race tracks, travelling, loving the teams. That was probably what she cherished most was her team, that was her family.

“It wasn’t just the winning, she proved she could do that, she led the points all of 2018 and we thought she was going to win the title, but she always worked with the fans, especially the children. They adored her, why wouldn’t they? She is a social media machine and a PR dream and worked it continually. She accomplished so much and now wants to move onto the next chapter in her life.”

But on the other hand, the elder Force had hoped his youngest of four daughters would eventually replace him as the lead Funny Car driver at John Force Racing

Am I saddened by her leaving? Yes and no. I have mixed emotions. (Courtney) would have replaced me in time.

“Am I saddened by her leaving? Yes and no. I have mixed emotions,” John Force said. “(Courtney) would have replaced me in time as a female Funny Car star but now her goal is to move ahead.

“Once you get hooked on the sport it’s really hard to walk away. She not only drove a race car but she married a race car driver, Graham Rahal, so she’s in this life.”

Courtney is now the second of three of Force’s daughters who have walked away from racing (Ashley Force Hood ended her career after the 2011 season to start a family).

But her older sister, 2017 NHRA Top Fuel champ Brittany, will continue to carry the family torch, in addition to papa John, who turns 70 in May.

John Force said that while Courtney will no longer be behind the wheel, she will still be involved in the sport in other ways, including serving as a spokesman for Advance Auto Parts, as well as having a presence at John Force Racing.

“Courtney will continue to work with sponsors in the future,” Force said. “She’s going to be out there and not just at the drag races.

“It’s been fun the last few days, we’ve spent some time with her, the whole family, (wife) Laurie, Brittany, Ashely, Adria (plus John Force’s other three daughters) and myself. It’s important to keep the family together. The door is always open (for Courtney), she’ll always have a spot here at John Force Racing if she chooses.”

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F1 tests: Mercedes innovates with wheel adjustment system

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MONTMELÓ, Spain — Veteran Kimi Raikkonen set the fastest time on the second day of Formula One preseason testing on Thursday, but Mercedes still garnered more attention by introducing an innovative wheel adjustment system.

On-board footage showed defending champion Lewis Hamilton pulling the steering wheel back and forth on the front straight to apparently change the angle of the front wheels on his Mercedes car.

The team stayed tight-lipped about the car’s new feature but guaranteed it was “safe” and “legal.”

“I probably won’t shed a great deal more light than what you saw on the TV but yeah we have a system in the car, it’s a novel idea,” team technical director James Allison told F1 TV. ”We’ve got a name for it, it’s called DAS, if you’re interested, and it just introduces an extra dimension for the steering, for the driver, which we hope will be useful during the year. But precisely how we use it and why we use it, that’s something we will keep to ourselves.”

Allison said governing body FIA knew in advance that the team was introducing the new system.

“It’s something we’ve been talking to them (about) for some time,” he said. “The rules are pretty clear about what’s permitted on steering systems and we’re pretty confident that it matches those requirements. I’m pleased we got it on the car, it seems to be useful, and we’ll see over the coming days how it benefits us.”

Hamilton said he was still trying to get used to the system, but praised the team for coming up with the innovation.

“I’ve only had one morning on (it, so) I don’t really have a lot to talk about with it. We’re trying to get on top of it, understand it, but safety-wise no problem today and the FIA are OK with the project.

“For me it’s really encouraging to see that my team is continuing to innovate and stay ahead of the game, and I think that’s down to the great minds in the team and so hopefully that’ll work to our benefit.”

Hamilton led the time charts on Wednesday but was only ninth-fastest on Thursday.

MORE: Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas fastest in Day 1 of F1 practice
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The 40-year-old Raikkonen, who has a chance this season to break the record for most race starts in F1, was fastest with a time of 1 minute, 17.091 seconds in his Alfa Romea. He was 0.2 seconds quicker than Sergio Pérez with Racing Point. Daniel Ricciardo of Renault was third.

Raikkonen caused a red flag near the end of the afternoon session when his car stopped on the track with an apparent mechanical issue. The Finnish driver had spun earlier in the session, as did Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes, Romain Grosjean of Haas and Pierre Gasly of Alpha Tauri, formerly known as Toro Rosso.

Grosjean had the most laps among the 13 drivers who went to the track on Thursday, with 158.

Bottas was the slowest driver of the day, while Sebastian Vettel was sixth-fastest with Ferrari.

Pérez had set the quickest time in the morning session. The Mexican driver had been third fastest on Wednesday, behind Hamilton and Bottas.

Drivers will be back on the track on Friday to close out the first week of testing. Teams will have another three days to test next week.

Preseason testing has been reduced from eight to six days to help compensate for the record 22 races on the calendar, including a new Vietnam Grand Prix and the return of the Dutch GP. Midseason testing also has been eliminated.

The season opens on March 15 at the Australian GP.

The Barcelona-Catalunya track will host the Spanish GP on May 10.