NHRA: Kalitta, Beckman, Coughlin victorious at Winternationals

NHRA
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The NHRA’s top level of drag racing kicked off its 65th season Sunday, with the 60th running of the Lucas Oil Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Ponoma.

Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel), Jack Beckman (Funny Car) and Jeg Coughlin, Jr. (Pro Stock) all emerged victorious at the end of the first weekend of the 24-race Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.

Here are Sunday’s highlights:

In Top Fuel: Doug Kalitta made Winternationals history by collecting defeating Austin Prock to collect his third consecutive victory in his class.

Additionally, Kalitta is the first driver in Top Fuel history to win three consecutive events at Ponoma, having previously won both the season-ending NHRA finals and Winternationals at the track in 2019.

“It was definitely an interesting day. There was a lot of close racing today,” Kalitta said. “You’ve got people up their trying to tear the tree down on you, so it makes you a little bit nervous. It worked out really well for us. I’m just so proud of my Mac Tools Toyota guys. They busted their tails today. We tore up a few parts, but it was all good.

“To win the 60th Winternationals is pretty special.  Connie (Kalitta) was here at the first one, and he’s here with us and I couldn’t be happier for him. He’s created an amazing legacy out here and I’m just glad this is one of our better tracks.”

Noticeably absent from the season-opening weekend was two-time defending TF champ Steve Torrence, who did not compete due to “untimely circumstances”.

In Funny Car: For the first time in his career, Jack Beckman was victorious in a Funny Car at the Winternationals, defeating the sport’s most successful driver to do so.

Beckman beat John Force with a 3.837 at 333.33 mph to Force’s 3.897 at 332.34 mph to collect the 31st Funny Car victory of his career. He is tied with Del Worsham for eighth on the all-time FC wins list.

“It was just the perfect storm,” Beckman said. “I had never won a Nitro title here at Pomona until November of last year and now I’ve got two in a row. It’s beyond magical.

“I’ve said it before; you don’t know if your last win is your last win. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this ain’t our last win. The Infinite Hero team is just on it. Our car has been amazing.”

In Pro Stock: One day after announcing that 2020 would be his last full-time season, Jeg Coughlin Jr. defeated Jason Line to collect a Pro Stock Wally for the 64th time in his career.

Though Line had the quicker reaction time, Coughlin passed him to cross the finish line in first, running 6.522 at 210.80 mph compared to Line’s 6.565 at 209.56 mph.

“The best memory is racing under that famed Winternationals banner,” Coughlin said. “I was looking at the 60 years logo today and I was thinking about how cool that would be to have that banner over us today. What a win.”

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FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

TOP FUEL: 1. Doug Kalitta; 2. Austin Prock; 3. Brittany Force; 4. Leah Pruett; 5. Clay Millican; 6. Justin Ashley; 7. Shawn Reed; 8. Jim Maroney; 9. Terry McMillen; 10. Cameron Ferre; 11. Antron Brown; 12. Shawn Langdon; 13. Brandon Welch. 

FUNNY CAR: 1. Jack Beckman; 2. John Force; 3. Matt Hagan; 4. Alexis DeJoria; 5. Ron Capps; 6. Tim Wilkerson; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr.; 8. Robert Hight; 9. Paul Lee; 10. Cruz Pedregon; 11. Alex Miladinovich; 12. J.R. Todd; 13. Steven Densham; 14. Bob Tasca III; 15. Bob Bode; 16. Terry Haddock. 

PRO STOCK: 1. Jeg Coughlin; 2. Jason Line; 3. Erica Enders; 4. Kenny Delco; 5. Chris McGaha; 6. Fernando Cuadra Jr.; 7. Steve Graham; 8. Matt Hartford; 9. Alex Laughlin; 10. Aaron Stanfield; 11. Val Smeland; 12. Joey Grose; 13. Greg Anderson; 14. Bo Butner; 15. Deric Kramer; 16. Cristian Cuadra. 

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FINAL RESULTS:

TOP FUEL — Doug Kalitta, 3.698 seconds, 330.23 mph def. Austin Prock, 10.939 seconds, 80.31 mph. 

FUNNY CAR— Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 3.837, 333.33 def. John Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.897, 332.34. 

PRO STOCK — Jeg Coughlin, Chevy Camaro, 6.522, 210.80 def. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.565, 209.56.

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FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL:

ROUND ONE — Clay Millican, 3.731, 323.58 def. Terry McMillen, 4.640, 183.05; Shawn Reed, 3.924, 238.26 def. Antron Brown, 5.233, 143.76; Brittany Force, 8.648, 77.72 was unopposed; Doug Kalitta, 3.885, 326.87 def. Brandon Welch, 7.325, 105.68; Leah Pruett, 3.659, 328.14 def. Jim Maroney, 4.503, 179.71; Austin Prock, 4.004, 316.15 def. Cameron Ferre, 5.164, 143.60; Justin Ashley, 3.726, 323.58 def. Shawn Langdon, 6.312, 102.28; 

QUARTERFINALS — Prock, 3.678, 330.96 was unopposed; Force, 3.682, 336.23 def. Millican, 3.867, 311.13; Kalitta, 3.705, 325.53 def. Ashley, 3.965, 231.83; Pruett, 3.685, 326.40 def. Reed, 4.466, 169.23; 

SEMIFINALS — Kalitta, 3.675, 329.26 def. Force, 3.689, 332.84; Prock, 3.678, 330.63 def. Pruett, 4.927, 140.69; 

FINAL — Kalitta, 3.698, 330.23 def. Prock, 10.939, 80.31. 

FUNNY CAR:

ROUND ONE — Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 5.241, 166.52 def. Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 9.056, 82.90; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.873, 324.83 def. Cruz Pedregon, Charger, 4.383, 221.42; Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 8.365, 85.58 def. Terry Haddock, Mustang, Broke; Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.291, 294.18 def. Steven Densham, Mustang, 7.622, 92.71; Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.914, 330.39 def. Alex Miladinovich, Toyota Camry, 5.859, 124.03; John Force, Camaro, 3.875, 329.02 def. Bob Bode, Mustang, 10.726, 85.45; Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 3.922, 326.71 def. Paul Lee, Charger, 4.091, 240.85;Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 3.879, 326.79 def. J.R. Todd, Camry, 5.983, 116.29; 

QUARTERFINALS — Beckman, 3.871, 329.34 def. Capps, 4.625, 156.01; Force, 4.011, 275.06 def. Johnson Jr., 8.431, 80.69; DeJoria, 5.388, 136.12 def. Hight, 10.238, 86.54; Hagan, 4.042, 284.03 def. Wilkerson, 6.083, 113.18; 

SEMIFINALS — Force, 3.923, 331.28 def. Hagan, 8.859, 78.06; Beckman, 3.843, 332.92 def. DeJoria, 9.729, 78.34; 

FINAL — Beckman, 3.837, 333.33 def. Force, 3.897, 332.34. 

PRO STOCK: 

ROUND ONE — Chris McGaha, Chevy Camaro, 6.590, 209.52 def. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 7.233, 148.18; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.569, 209.39 def. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.561, 210.14; Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.628, 209.75 def. Aaron Stanfield, Camaro, 6.572, 209.46; Steve Graham, Camaro, 6.619, 208.78 def. Bo Butner, Camaro, 7.439, 207.05; Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.559, 210.05 def. Val Smeland, Camaro, 6.640, 208.97; Fernando Cuadra Jr., Ford Mustang, 6.692, 206.70 def. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 37.710, 21.14; Erica Enders, Camaro, 7.429, 130.13 def. Cristian Cuadra, Mustang, No Time Recorded; Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.542, 210.18 def. Joey Grose, Camaro, 6.700, 206.29; 

QUARTERFINALS — Enders, 6.586, 210.50 def. Hartford, Foul – Red Light; Line, 6.574, 208.65 def. Cuadra Jr., Foul – Red Light; Delco, 6.597, 209.69 def. Graham, 7.329, 146.48; Coughlin, 6.546, 210.28 def. McGaha, 6.574, 209.72; 

SEMIFINALS — Line, 6.582, 208.94 def. Enders, 6.621, 209.95; Coughlin, 6.535, 210.44 def. Delco, 6.716, 180.28; 

FINAL — Coughlin, 6.522, 210.80 def. Line, 6.565, 209.56.

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POINT STANDINGS

TOP FUEL: 1. Doug Kalitta, 117; 2. Austin Prock, 99; 3. Brittany Force, 87; 4. Leah Pruett, 80; 5. Clay Millican, 53; 6. Justin Ashley, 52; 7. Shawn Reed, 51; 8. Shawn Langdon, 38; 9. Terry McMillen, 34; 10. Antron Brown, 32.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Jack Beckman, 126; 2. John Force, 94; 3. Matt Hagan, 86; 4. Alexis DeJoria, 67; 5. Robert Hight, 61; 6. Tommy Johnson Jr., 56; 7. Ron Capps, 54; 8. Tim Wilkerson, 52; 9. Paul Lee, 34; 10. J.R. Todd, 33.

PRO STOCK: 1. Jeg Coughlin, 130; 2. Jason Line, 94; 3. Erica Enders, 80; 4. Kenny Delco, 77; 5. (tie) Steve Graham, 52; Matt Hartford, 52; Chris McGaha, 52; 8. Fernando Cuadra Jr., 51; 9. Deric Kramer, 40; 10. Bo Butner, 36.

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Ford unveils a new Mustang for 2024 Le Mans in motorsports ‘lifestyle brand’ retooling

Ford Mustang Le Mans
Ford Performance
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LE MANS, France — Ford has planned a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its iconic Mustang muscle car next year under a massive rebranding of Ford Performance aimed at bringing the automotive manufacturer “into the racing business.”

The Friday unveil of the new Mustang Dark Horse-based race car follows Ford’s announcement in February (and a ballyhooed test at Sebring in March) that it will return to Formula One in 2026 in partnership with reigning world champion Red Bull.

The Mustang will enter the GT3 category next year with at least two cars in both IMSA and the World Endurance Championship, and is hopeful to earn an invitation to next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The IMSA entries will be a factory Ford Performance program run by Multimatic, and a customer program in WEC with Proton Competition.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, also an amateur sports car racer, told The Associated Press the Mustang will be available to compete in various GT3 series across the globe to customer teams. But more important, Farley said, is the overall rebranding of Ford Performance – done by renowned motorsports designer Troy Lee – that is aimed at making Ford a lifestyle brand with a sporting mindset.

“It’s kind of like the company finding its own, and rediscovering its icons, and doubling down on them,” Farley told the AP. “And then this motorsports activity is getting serious about connecting enthusiast customers with those rediscovered icons. It’s a big switch for the company – this is really about building strong, iconic vehicles with enthusiasts at the center of our marketing.”

Ford last competed in sports car racing in 2019 as part of a three-year program with Chip Ganassi Racing. The team scored the class win at Le Mans in 2016 in a targeted performance aimed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford snapping Ferrari’s six-year winning streak.

Ford on Friday displayed a Mustang with a Lee-designed livery that showcased the cleaner, simplified look that will soon be featured on all its racing vehicles. The traditional blue oval with Ford Performance in white lettering underneath will now be branded simply FP.

The new mark will be used across car liveries, merchandise and apparel, display assets, parts and accessories and in advertising.

Farley cited Porsche as an automaker that has successfully figured out how to sell cars to consumers and race cars in various series around the world while creating a culture of brand enthusiasts. He believes Ford’s new direction will help the company sell street cars, race cars, boost interest in driving schools, and create a merchandise line that convinces consumers that a stalwart of American automakers is a hip, cool brand.

“We’re going to build a global motorsports business off road and on road,” Farley told the AP, adding that the design of the Mustang is “unapologetically American.”

He lauded the work of Lee, who is considered the top helmet designer among race car drivers.

“We’re in the first inning of a nine inning game, and going to Le Mans is really important,” Farley said. “But for customer cars, getting the graphics right, designing race cars that win at all different levels, and then designing a racing brand for Ford Performance that gets rebranded and elevated is super important.”

He said he’s kept a close eye on how Porsche and Aston Martin have built their motorsports businesses and said Ford will be better.

“We’re going in the exact same direction. We just want to be better than them, that’s all,” Farley said. “Second is the first loser.”

Farley, an avid amateur racer himself, did not travel to Le Mans for the announcement. The race that begins Saturday features an entry from NASCAR, and Ford is the reigning Cup Series champion with Joey Logano and Team Penske.

The NASCAR “Garage 56” entry is a collaboration between Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and is being widely celebrated throughout the industry. Farley did feel left out of the party in France – a sentiment NASCAR tried to avoid by inviting many of its partners to attend the race so that it wouldn’t seem like a Chevrolet-only celebration.

“They’re going right and I’m going left – that NASCAR thing is a one-year deal, right? It’s Garage 56 and they can have their NASCAR party, but that’s a one-year party,” Farley said. “We won Le Mans outright four times, we won in the GT class, and we’re coming back with Mustang and it’s not a one-year deal.

“So they can get all excited about Garage 56. I almost see that as a marketing exercise for NASCAR, but for me, that’s a science project,” Farley continued. “I don’t live in a world of science projects. I live in the world of building a vital company that everyone is excited about. To do that, we’re not going to do a Garage 56 – I’ve got to beat Porsche and Aston Martin and Ferrari year after year after year.”

Ford’s announcement comes on the heels of General Motors changing its GT3 strategy next season and ending its factory Corvette program. GM, which unlike Ford competes in the IMSA Grand Touring Prototype division (with its Cadillac brand), will shift fully to a customer model for Corvettes in 2024 (with some factory support in the IMSA GTD Pro category).