CLUTCH MALFUNCTION SPOILS ASHLEY FORCE'S BID TO REACH FINALS Ashley Force, the 24-year-old driver of the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang, was the most successful of the Team Castrol drivers at the 11th annual O'Reilly NHRA Midwest Nationals presented...
CLUTCH MALFUNCTION SPOILS ASHLEY FORCE'S BID TO REACH FINALS
Ashley Force, the 24-year-old driver of the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang, was the most successful of the Team Castrol drivers at the 11th annual O'Reilly NHRA Midwest Nationals presented by Castrol GTX at Gateway International Raceway in Madison, Ill, where she reached the semifinals before falling to points leader Ron Capps. It was Ashley's second straight trip to the semifinals and it enabled her to move from eighth to seventh place in the POWERade Funny Car point standings.
"(Going back to the semi-finals) definitely gives us confidence because we are consistently making rounds," she said. "We're on a roll and our car (has been) able to get down the track in (a lot) of different types of weather. We're not setting speed records, but that is the trick for us."
Strong performances in the first two rounds propelled the NHRA Rookie of the Year contender into the semifinals with lane choice against Capps, but she was derailed in her bid to become the first woman to race for a Funny Car title by a suspected clutch malfunction.
"Guido (crew chief Dean Antonelli) said when we first got back after the run that he thinks something happened with the clutch," Ashley said. "He thinks there was a malfunction. He thought it would run a five flat (so) for it to go right up in smoke like that there must have been something wrong."
The only other woman to race in the semifinals of an NHRA national event was Della Woods, who lost to Kenny Bernstein in the semis of the 1985 Keystone Nationals at Reading, Pa. With her second semifinal appearance Ashley became the winningest female in the history of the class, but she said she is not focusing on gender records.
"(Being the lone female in Funny Car) really isn't anything you can think about. There haven't been that many girls in Funny Car, so every little thing we do there will always be something new. You can't let that get into your head. It is not going to help you win rounds. It is not going to help our performance. It is better to just focus on what we are doing," concluded Force.
Team leader John Force and his Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang improved slightly in the point standings when he defeated Jeff Arend in the first round.
"At least we're not going backwards," said the 122-time tour winner. "Just to get the idea out of your mind that you have to struggle to get past first round is important. Our car is just not where it needs to be (but) as a team, I think we are starting to come around."
John Force, the father, was understandably proud of his daughter, but John Force, the team owner, acknowledged that there still is room for improvement.
"Ashley has definitely impressed me with her driving," he said, "(but) it just wasn't our day. We'll get on to Bristol and turn this thing around. We are only one race out of the points race. All we need is one win. Hell, a win used to be easy for us. We are just not there (yet), but we will fix it."
Robert Hight made an unusually early exit in the first round. His Team Castrol/Auto Club Ford Mustang continued to outperform his opponents for the first half of most quarter mile runs but again it was the last 300 feet that proved to be a trouble spot.
"It was on a perfect run," said the man who had won the last two races in the series. "We were running faster than last night's pass in the first half of the run. We were going right down the middle of the track and then all of a sudden 'pop' and it was just gone. When it started spinning the tires I stayed with it as long as I could (but) it was heading for the wall so I pedaled it (feathered the throttle) and then the engine really revved up.
"When I pedaled it I knew I was out in front, but then I had to get off it. If it would have stayed in the center of the track, I might have been able to hang on for the win," added Hight.
TEAM CASTROL Details:
JOHN FORCE, 58, Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 5th at 4.856 seconds, 317.57 mph.
Race results: Beat Jeff Arend. Lost to Del Worsham.
Notable: Moved up to 18th place in POWERade point standings after celebrating hisu8th birthday on Friday; won first round of 2007 season.
Quotable: "At least we are not going backwards. As a team I think we are starting to come around. Ashley has definitely impressed me with her driving. All we need is one win. We are just not there but we will fix it."
ASHLEY FORCE, 24, Castrol GTX Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 3rd at 4.853 seconds, 309.70 mph.
Race results: Beat Jerry Toliver, Tommy Johnson Jr., Lost to Ron Capps.
Notable: Reached the semi-finals for the second time this season and moved to 7th in the POWERade Funny Car standings.
Quotable: "Getting to the semi-finals again) definitely gives us confidence because we are consistently making rounds. We are on a roll and our car is able to get down the track in any of the different types of weather. We are not setting speed records but that is the trick for us."
ROBERT HIGHT, 37, Team Castrol/Auto Club of Southern California Ford
Qualifying position and performance: 2nd at 4.819 seconds, 319.07 mph.
Race results: Lost to Cruz Pedregon.
Notable: Hight has qualified No. 1 or No. 2 in ten of the last eleven events he has entered.
Quotable: "It was on a perfect run. We were running faster than last night's pass. We were going right down the middle of the track and then all of a sudden 'Pop.' and it was just gone. I stayed with it as long as I could and it was heading for the wall so I pedaled it and then the engine really revved up. If it would have stayed in the center of the track I might have been able to hang on for the win."