ENGLISHTOWN, NJ --- On Saturday at the 43rd running of the Toyota NHRA SuperNationals Robert Hight and his Auto Club Ford Mustang continued to show that they are one of the cars to beat posting the third quickest time of the final qualifying session and going into race day as the No. 2 Funny Car. They set the pace for JFR but Hight’s teammates including Mike Neff, No. 7 qualifier, as well as the Forces, John and Courtney, could easily step up and go rounds on Sunday.
In the first qualifying session today Hight’s Auto Club Ford Mustang had a minor mechanical issue and was a bit off the pace. With some changes for the final session the team is excited to hit the track against rookie of the year candidate Blake Alexander. Hight’s final run of qualifying was the third quickest of the session and set up the 2009 Funny Car champion for a good first round.
“He (Blake Alexander) is hungry. That is a good car. They will keep us honest. I believe if we make the run we just made, the 4.066 second run, in the first round it will put us in a good position for the second round. I think the conditions will be similar at 11 a.m. like they were tonight,” said Hight.
Hight will not be looking past the No. 15 qualifier tomorrow. In the season opener as the No. 1 qualifier Hight was upended by Todd Lesenko in the opening round. That has been Hight’s only first round loss this season.
"With conditions like this you still have to get after it. Look at what happened in Pomona. We were No. 1 qualifier and we went out there to race Lesenko first round and we thought let’s just make sure it goes and it was weak and shook the tires loose. I think we have learned a lot since then. We are in a better position,” said Hight. “We were going to make a good run this morning but the clutch didn’t wear enough. We tried some stuff tonight that I believe helped pick it up early. It was kind of a test run. I think we will keep running the new stuff. We have a good point lead. We are not going to do anything stupid. We still want to win this race.”
A win tomorrow would be big for Hight and the Auto Club team when you consider this is one of the “major” races on the NHRA Full Throttle Series.
“I think there are five or six majors. You have both of the Pomona races since you start and end the season there. There is Gainesville and I finally got a win there this season. There is Indy and I have won there twice and been to the final a couple more times,” said Hight, a 27-time NHRA national event winner. “Then there are Englishtown and Reading. Both of those races have historic value to our sport. I want to win Englishtown. Neff got it last year. I worked on John’s car when we set the national speed record that was faster than the Top Fuel record. That has never happened since then. I want to win this race as a driver. Jimmy Prock has won it with Gary Densham.”
Over the past three events including this weekend’s qualifying round no Funny Car has shown more steady improvement than John Force’s Castrol GTX HIGH MILEAGE Ford Mustang. At the Summit Racing Southern Nationals Force averaged 4.247 seconds and his quickest elapsed time was 4.19. Two weeks ago in Topeka, Kansas, his average elapsed time was 4.174 with a quick ET of 4.136. So far this weekend Force’s four runs have an average ET of 4.133 and his quickest time of 4.066 was posted on Friday night and he followed that up with a strong 4.090 second time in the final session.
Force, the No. 11 qualifier, will square off with rookie of the year candidate Alexis DeJoria, the No. 6 qualifier, in the first round. The 15-time champion has a 1-1 record against the upstart driver who has Top Fuel world champion Del Worsham tuning her Tequila Patron Funny Car. In the final qualifying session, which most likely will be closest to race day conditions Force posted a quicker 4.090 second time versus DeJoria’s 4.104 second time.
"Tomorrow will be an exciting day. I am trying to move up further in the Top Ten and Alexis is trying to get into the Top Ten. They have a good hot rod and Del Worsham has been doing a great job tuning it. Dean Antonelli and Danny DeGennaro have my Castrol GTX HIGH MILEAGE car running good,” said Force, a four-time SuperNationals winner. “My car is getting more consistent and it is getting quicker. We made good runs this weekend. I am glad Robert and Courtney aren’t racing each other in the first round. Ron Douglas and Danny Hood – Courtney’s tuning tandem - stepped her up and that was big. Robert and Neff have been running big numbers and we’ll get there. I am glad to representing Castrol this weekend in their backyard but it is also important to get wins for Ford, Auto Club, BrandSource Mac Tools and Traxxas.”
Mike Neff, driver of the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang Funny Car, who is also defending his 2011 SuperNationals event title, made two solid runs today which left him in the No. 7 spot going into Sunday’s eliminations. He will have lane choice and like Rookie of the Year candidate Courtney Force, Neff will also face-off against a fellow Ford driver, Bob Tasca III who qualified it the No. 10 spot.
Yesterday Neff pulled off a 4.052 ET at 312.71 mph, taking his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang to the No. 1 spot for the first session. By the end of Friday’s qualifying, he was sitting in 7th and never moved from the top half of the field.
“We were definitely disappointed last night. Those were just probably the best conditions we’ve seen all year. The unfortunate thing is you only get maybe a handful of those runs all year, so to miss that last night was a bummer,” said the defending SuperNationals event champion and No. 3 driver in Full Throttle points.
Neff made two strong passes today in conditions that are likely to be the closest match of those for Sunday. He posted a 4.110 ET at 308.85 mph followed by a 4.074 ET at 311.85 mph.
“We made three out of four good runs in qualifying this weekend for Castrol GTX and all of our sponsors- Ford, Auto Club, Traxxas, Mac Tools, BrandSource and Freightliner. We made a great run the very first session and two good runs today.
Today was really the most important because this is what I feel the conditions will be tomorrow. I feel really good about our weekend so far. We only had one mishap during the second session so we really are looking forward to getting out here for eliminations,” added Neff.
Courtney Force will go into Sunday’s eliminations in the No. 13 spot, taking on fellow Ford driver Tim Wilkerson in the first round. Force and her Traxxas Ford Mustang Funny Car team struggled in Friday’s eliminations, missing two top-notch opportunities to race in near-perfect track and weather conditions, but stepped up today and made the show.
“Qualifying for this race was probably our biggest challenge so far this year. This is one of the most difficult race tracks we’ve encountered and the conditions have been different every day. It’s cool and then the cloud cover goes away and it’s hot so there is a lot we need to consider when making adjustments.”
“Our first two sessions yesterday didn’t go so well, but I’m learning how to pedal this car, it’s all new to me, so I guess it was kind of good that I got practice yesterday,” said Force, the current front-runner for Auto Club of Southern California’s Road to the Future award for top “Rookie of the Year.”
“Obviously you don’t want those kinds of runs like we had yesterday going into race day; you want a consistent car. Yesterday didn’t go like we had hoped, but we came back and got two good runs down the track today. We ran a 4.130 in the first session where our number one goal was getting in the show. We were working on getting the car to the other end and then just kind of tweaking from there and that’s exactly what we did,” said Force, recapping the significance of the team’s third qualifying pass where they posted a 4.130 at 301.40 mph and bumped into the qualified field.
Force managed to push her Traxxas Ford Mustang to a career-best elapsed time during the fourth and final qualifying session. She ran a 4.099 at the NHRA Arizona Nationals in Phoenix earlier this season, but threw a 4.098 ET out at the end today, beating her personal time by a thousandth.
“We were able to step it up in the second session and run my career-best of 4.098. I definitely feel confident to know our race car can run fast in not the greatest conditions. Last night was almost perfect and you expect your cars to run great then, but today it was different and we got down well. That means more to us. It gave us a boost of confidence.
“I’m happy that we could get qualified for all of our sponsors. We won’t have lane choice tomorrow against [Tim] Wilkerson, but that’s okay. I’m so proud of my guys for getting this car turned around today. I know how hard they work and it’s amazing to me that we are a rookie team and qualifying for all of these races. We know we have a great car and we’re excited for race day tomorrow,” Force said.