NHRA: Robert Hight looks for another jackpot in Las Vegas

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When people think of John Force Racing, it’s almost always about team founder and patriarch, 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion and the winningest driver in drag racing history, John Force.

But when it comes to success thus far in the first three races of 2019, folks are talking not so much about Force but rather more about JFR team president Robert Hight.

It’s not a surprise, really.

Robert Hight (Photo: NHRA)

Hight, a two-time NHRA Funny Car champ (most recently in 2017), has blasted out of the starting gate with outstanding success and consistency. He won the season-opening race in Pomona, California, reached the semifinals in the following race at Chandler, Arizona, and last week won the 50th anniversary Amalie Motor Oil Gatornationals in Gainesville, Florida.

To say the 49-year-old Hight is red hot is an understatement.

This is huge, my fourth time winning here,” Hight said following the Gatornationals. “This is a big one, the 50th. There will only be one of these. It seems like my boss, John Force, always wins the big races. He just seems to win all the cool races but I finally got one.”

Hight, who is also Force’s son-in-law (married to Force’s oldest daughter, Adria), has blasted out to a big lead in the Funny Car points standings, holding a 105-point edge over “Fast Jack” Beckman. Matt Hagan is third (-115 points), followed by Force (-130) and Tommy Johnson Jr. (-139).

Hight, along with all the regular racers on the NHRA national event tour, are enjoying this weekend and next weekend off. But Hight is already thinking about how he can continue his run in 2019 at the next race, the Denso Spark Plugs Four-Wide Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, April 5-7.

John (Force) probably is not going to want me going to Vegas because I beat him the first three races,” Hight laughed. “It would be cool if we were racing in the final.”

Robert Hight (Photo: NHRA)

Force has been chasing a milestone win since last season: his next triumph will be the 150th of his storied NHRA career.

That car and that team are really stepping up,” Hight said. “John’s going to get some wins. His 150th is coming, I know it is. It’s a lot of fun right now in our camp because all our cars are running well. It’s probably the most fun I’ve had in a long time.”

The key to Hight’s success thus far has been hallmark consistency established in the setup on his Chevrolet Camaro Funny Car that has been dialed in by crew chief Jimmy Prock and assistant crew chief Chris Cunningham. That consistency streak actually began last season, when Hight finished second in the standings and won four races, the most victories he’s earned in a season since 2014, when he won five races.

Given he already has two wins in the first three races of 2019, there’s no question Hight, Prock and Cunningham have definitely hit upon a winning combination.

I’ve never seen a fuel car so consistent as what I have right now, especially a Funny Car,” Hight said. “Jimmy Prock is on it. He and Chris Cunningham are really happy with the clutch package we have and they keep talking a lot about how my car ran in 2017 (when he won his last championship).

It just responds and it repeats, so that’s a good sign. … Hopefully it gets better and better.”

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Starting lineup grid for IMSA Petit Le Mans: Tom Blomqvist puts MSR on pole position

Petit Le Mans lineup
IMSA
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IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship contender Tom Blomqvist put the Meyer Shank Racing Acura at the front of the starting lineup for the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta.

Blomqvist turned a 1-minute, 8.55-second lap on the 2.54-mile circuit Friday to capture his third pole position for MSR this season. Earl Bamber qualified second in the No. 02 Cadillac for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ricky Taylor was third in the No. 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing, which enters Saturday’s season finale with a 19-point lead over the No. 60 of Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves) for the 10-hour race.

PETIT LE MANS STARTING GRID: Click here for the starting lineup l Lineup by car number

PETIT LE MANS: Info on how to watch

With the pole, MSR sliced the deficit to 14 points behind WTR, which will field the trio of Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley in Saturday’s race.

“We really needed to put the car in this kind of position,” Blomqvist said. “It makes our life a little less stressful tomorrow. It would have given the No. 10 a bit more breathing space. It’s going to be a proper dogfight tomorrow. The guys gave me such a great car. It’s been fantastic this week so far, and it really came alive. I’m hugely thankful to the boys and girls at MSR for giving me the wagon today to execute my job.

“That was a big effort from me. I knew how important it was. It’s just awesome for the guys to give them some sort of reward as well. It’s always nice to be quick. If you do the pole, you know you’ve got a quick car.”

Though WTR has a series-leading four victories with the No. 10, MSR won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and has five runner-up finishes along with its three poles.

The strong performances of the ARX-05s ensure that an Acura will win the final championship in IMSA’s premier Daytona Prototype international (DPi) division, which is being rebranded as Grand Touring Prototype in the move to LMDh cars next season.

Taylor qualified third despite sliding into the Turn 5 gravel during the closing minutes of qualifying while pushing to gain points.

“Qualifying was important for points,” Taylor said. “Going into it, if we outqualified the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura, they had a lot to lose in terms of championship points. So, we were trying to increase the gap over 20 points which would’ve made a big difference for tomorrow. We would have loved to get the pole and qualify ahead of the No. 60, but in the scheme of the points, it didn’t change a whole lot. I’m feeling good since it’s such a long race, and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura team does such a good job strategizing and putting us in a good position.

“I’m very confident in our lineup and our team compared to them over the course of 10 hours. I’d put my two teammates up against those guys any day. I think we are all feeling optimistic and strong for tomorrow.”

In other divisions, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports (LMP2), Riley Motorsports (LMP3), VasserSullivan (GTD Pro) and Paul Miller Racing (GTD) captured pole positions.

The broadcast of the 10-hour race will begin Saturday at 12:10-3 p.m. ET on NBC, moving at 7 p.m. to USA Network. Peacock will have flag-to-flag coverage.


QUALIFYING

Results

Results by class

Fastest lap by driver

Fastest lap by driver after qualifying

Fastest lap by driver and class after qualifying

Fastest lap sequence in qualifying

Best sector times in qualifying

Time cards in qualifying

PRACTICE RESULTS: Session I l Session II l Session III