NHRA

Force-power problem: John, Brittany, Courtney hope to bounce back at St. Louis

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Heading into this weekend’s second round of the six-race NHRA Countdown to the Championship playoffs, one well-known team has a horsepower problem.

Or maybe it would be better to say the team has a Force-power problem.

As they prepare for this weekend’s AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals near St. Louis, 16-time Funny Car champ John Force and his daughters – Funny Car driver Courtney Force and defending NHRA Top Fuel champ Brittany Force – are looking for big rebounds from the tough times they experienced in the Countdown opener last weekend at Maple Grove Raceway near Reading, Pennsylvania.

Let’s break it all down:

* Brittany Force suffered the biggest loss at Maple Grove, losing in the first round. That dropped her to 10th – last in the 10-driver Countdown field for Top Fuel.

Not only was that race rough, so has been the overall season. Brittany has just one win and one No. 1 qualifier in the first 17 races of the 24-race season.

If she has another bad run this weekend, trying to retain last season’s championship is going to be extremely difficult in the four remaining races.

“We’re struggling and we’re really trying to figure this car out,” Brittany Force said in a media release. “All my guys are right there with me. I know they are putting their heart into this car, trying to figure it out.

“Our hard work hasn’t paid off yet, but I know there are five races left and I know we can turn the corner. We’re going after wins and want to move up that ladder.”

* Courtney Force has led the Funny Car standings for most of the season. But after losing in the first round at Maple Grove – despite earning her 11th No. 1 qualifier position – she has dropped to third heading into this weekend’s race at Gateway Motorsports Park.

“We are looking for a fresh start in St. Louis,” Courtney Force said. “We lost some ground in the points but we are still right in the mix in the top three. We are going to go after those bonus points in qualifying and hopefully get the win on Sunday so we can get that No. 1 position back.”

The first priority for John Force’s youngest daughter and IndyCar driver Graham Rahal’s wife is to have a strong qualifying effort during sessions on Friday and Saturday.

Courtney’s 11 No. 1 qualifiers is third-most in a season for Funny Car drivers behind father John Force’s 13 in 1996 and Cruz Pedregon’s 12 in 1998. Courtney’s No. 1 streak is also the most by a Funny Car driver since John Force had 11 in 2000.

Thus far this season, Courtney has four wins, two runner-up finishes and five semi-final showings in the first 17 races.

* John Force Racing team patriarch John Force isn’t giving up on earning his 17th NHRA Funny Car championship. John Force reached the second round at Maple Grove before losing to Tim Wilkerson.

Now he returns to Gateway Motorsports Park, where he has enjoyed success in the past, including three wins (the last being in 2013).

The elder Force will need a good weekend, as he is in ninth place in the Funny Car standings, 102 points behind J.R. Todd, who has won the last two races (Indianapolis and Maple Grove).

“What I have to look at is the consistency,” said John Force, who has just one win this season (Denver). “Even when I got beat by (Tim) Wilkerson, my car still went A to B, and that made it six (competitive runs) in-a-row.

“Plus, we had top speed (of the entire race at 331.12 miles per hour) so we’ve got good power. It’s been a long year but, bottom line, I ain’t dead yet.”

* About the only person in the John Force Racing family who didn’t struggle at Maple Grove is team president (and John Force’s son-in-law) Robert Hight.

Hight, last season’s NHRA Funny Car world champion, reached the semifinals at Maple Grove. He potentially could have made it to the final round if it had not been due to a rare red light starting line foul by Hight.

“Obviously, that was not the way we wanted to end the weekend,” Hight said. “This AAA Camaro was running great, and we would have had that round win and probably won the race.

“Turning it around like that gives me all the more confidence in this AAA team. I believe we have the car to beat. We’re ready to head to St. Louis, we moved up in the points (he’s currently 2nd) and we’re going to keep it going.”

Hight won at Gateway back in 2010, along with three additional semifinal finishes. He’s been the No. 1 qualifier the last two years at the track just east of St. Louis.

“This is a big race for the AAA Funny Car team,” said Hight. “We love racing in St Louis and this is the first of three sponsor races in the Countdown for us.

“We would love to sweep the Auto Club races which I think would put us in a great position to win the championship. It won’t be easy but I learned a lot about myself racing for the championship last season. I am a much better driver and I want to show that this weekend at Gateway.”

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