POMONA – Robert Hight and the Automobile Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro SS Funny Car team picked up right where they left off after last week’s test session in Phoenix. The 2099 NHRA Funny Car champion blasted to the provisional No. 1 spot in Funny Car at the 56th annual Circle K NHRA Winternationals with a first session 3.942 second run at 322.19 mph. He was followed immediately by teammate and sister-in-law Courtney Force in the No. 2 position on the strength of her 3.945 second pass. Team leader John Force and his PEAK Antifreeze Chevy Camaro finished the day in the No. 6 spot and Brittany Force and the Monster Energy Top Fuel team will go into Saturday as the No. 5 Top Fuel team.
For Hight and his Mike Neff tuned Auto Club Camaro Funny Car the first run of the day was impressive because of the heat of the track and the statement it made to the rest of the field. After a historic season of Funny Car racing last year Hight knew that the strategy of the class would have to change moving forward in 2016.
“The way last season ended motivated everyone at JFR. We worked hard and had a great test session out in Phoenix. We showed it is not a fluke with me and Courtney being 1-2 after today,” said Robert Hight.
“If you don’t get down the track on the first run you are just behind the eight ball all weekend. My crew chief Mike Neff usually plays it pretty smart the first run and goes for a baseline run. I think the whole Funny Car ballgame has changed since last year,” said Hight from the Auto Club Raceway at Pomona press room. “You have to be aggressive. If you look at last year this 3.94 I just ran would have been a national record at this race track and we did it on a pretty hot race track. We have to adapt to that. We have to be more aggressive.”
In the second session Hight’s Funny Car lost traction at about 300 feet but his first session time was quick enough to hold onto the top spot.
Courtney Force and her Traxxas Camaro SS Funny Car were also impressive I both sessions posting the second quickest time of Q1 and the quickest time of Q2 to earn five qualifying bonus points and give the second generation Force racer a boost of confidence on the first day of the season.
“When I walked into the track this morning it was exciting because this is my home track but I was so nervous because it felt like the first day of school. I was nervous but hoping for a lot of success at the end of the day. Getting back into these race cars is tough when you have been out of them all off season,” said Force.
“I was eager to get back in to get that feeling of going over 300 mph. It was a great start for this Traxxas team when you look at how we ran two runs in the threes. We feel pretty confident about that. We have a pretty good race car and I have two new crew chiefs in Danny Hood and Ronnie Thompson that have tuned this Camaro to some great passes. I want to keep pushing this Chevy Camaro to better time tomorrow but we have some tough competition out there.”
The winningest driver in NHRA history, John Force, was running right in the thick of the competition after the first session. His PEAK Antifreeze Chevy Camaro was No. 5 with a strong 4.017 second run. In the second session his Funny Car dropped a cylinder as soon and Force hit the throttle and just before the finish line his Funny Car engine blew up slowing Force and costing him a chance to move up in the qualifying order.
At the end of the day Force only slipped back one spot to No. 6 heading into Saturday and the loquacious Force was all smiles as he talked about his team’s success in the pits.
“I am proud of how this whole team started the Winternationals. Robert and Courtney are at the top and my hot rod was trucking. It dropped a cylinder at the hit of the throttle in that last session or it would have been up there at the top,” said Force. “I loved seeing that Monster Energy Top Fuel dragster running low ET of the first session and then coming back with another quick run. I have a great brain trust and we are working together. It is a long season but getting the first day started with a positive is a good thing.”
The Funny Cars were the class of their category for JFR and Brittany Force and the Monster Energy Top Fuel team held up their end of the bargain as well. Force opened up her 2016 season with a class leading 3.74 second run that earned her three qualifying bonus points and gave the fourth year driver confidence in her new team moving forward.
“It feels so great to be out here. It is home out here in this Monster Energy Top Fuel dragster. When it is running good everything feels great. I am super pumped up with how today went. I have a great crew chief in Brian Husen and a great team behind me. We get two more runs tomorrow and then we will go into Sunday with some confidence,” said Force.
The driver of lone Top Fuel entry for JFR is looking for her first round win at the historic Circle K NHRA Winternationals and getting off to a fast start has Force looking towards Saturday and Sunday with confidence. She knows with a new team and new car set up it will be a process but the 2013 NHRA Rookie of the Year knows that every run gets her closer to success.
“Going back to day one of testing in Phoenix this was a completely new car and everything felt different. I was worried I wouldn’t be caught up by the time we got here. I am still working on it but I feel a whole lot better now,” added Force.
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JOHN FORCE, 66, PEAK Antifreeze Chevrolet Camaro SS
Qualifying: 6th at 4.017 seconds, 314.83 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: 0
ROBERT HIGHT, 46, Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro SS
Qualifying: 1st at 3.942 seconds, 322.19 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: +3 (quickest of Q1)
COURTNEY FORCE, 27, Traxxas Chevrolet Camaro SS
Qualifying: 2nd at 3.945 seconds, 323.04 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: +5 (2nd quickest of Q1 and quickest of Q2)
BRITTANY FORCE, 29, Monster Energy Top Fuel Dragster
Qualifying: 5th at 3.753 seconds, 319.52 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: +3 (Quickest of Q1)
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Saturday, February 13
3rd round qualifying 1:00 PM
4th round qualifying 4:00 PM
Sunday, February 14
Final Eliminations 11:00 AM