First day of qualifying at St. Louis puts Force at the top

ST. LOUIS - Top notch weather conditions today made for some interesting and impressive qualifying sessions to kick off the Inaugural AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park.

Three of the four John Force racing drivers drove their Ford Mustangs to the top half of the field and welcomed the return of the St. Louis-based track.

John Force stumbled in the opening round of qualifying when his Castrol GTX HIGH MILEAGE Ford Mustang smoked the tires at the hit. Force posted a 7.317 ET at 93.09 mph, but redeemed himself in the second session with a notable performance sending him to the No. 1 position.

John Force
John Force

Photo by: Michael C. Johnson

Force’s 4.060 pass at 308.35 mph was bumped down one spot, only by Jack Beckman with a 4.049 ET. By the end of qualifying, Force found himself sitting comfortable in the No. 2 spot to race into Saturday.

“Conditions are really good here; the air is good. You’ll see Top Fuel hurt some feelings down there tonight. The national record, I don’t know, it depends on how late we run tomorrow.

We run early so it will be hard to beat that (national record).

It’s a good track though. We were really excited to come out of the box and run that good early. It will help us to come out tomorrow and really hit it. We’ll just see what happens,” said the 15-time Full Throttle Champion Force.

Force’s youngest daughter Courtney ended the day just a couple spots behind her father in the 19-car field. She made a good, clean pass in the initial round of qualifying with a 4.148 ET at 282.13 mph.

“It was a good first pass for the conditions. We were excited to get running in the second qualifying round just because it was going to be cooler conditions. The sun went down and the track cooled off so we knew we could go after a quick run.

After seeing my dad run his 4.06 and going to the top spot we got really excited. We wanted to go after it,” said Force, a two-time No. 1 qualifier and winner of the Seattle Northwest Nationals.

The frontrunner for Auto Club’s prestigious Road to the Future Award presented to NHRA’s top “Rookie of the Year” posted a 4.073 ET at over 309 mph in the second session of the day when temperatures had dropped to near-perfect conditions.

“We ended up with a decent run. You can always keep pushing it further, but we are happy with where we are at. We’re going to see how we can get it to run tomorrow with the next two runs. Overall we had two good qualifying sessions.”

“Being in the top half of the field is important now being in the Countdown to the Championship. Most importantly we want to keep a spot in the top half of the field at the end of qualifying so we can have lane choice on race day.

It’s definitely going to be important here. It’s a great track here in St. Louis. We’re excited to see what we can run tomorrow during the day,” added the youngest Force.

Force will go into Saturday’s sessions in the No. 4 spot and get two more chances to better her qualifying time. Her father was equally pleased with her performance on the first day of qualifying as well as the rest of his team.

“I’m proud of Courtney. Night time racing I know is tough on her. I could hardly see myself. Pretty good lighting here, but it’s still night time. She got it right down the avenue and that’s what it’s all about,” said Force.

“Zippy was on a run, I thought he was going to be low. He got loose down there at the other end. Right lane was loose, but luckily I got to be in the left.”

After a full day of testing on Monday at Texas Motorplex expectations were high for Robert Hight’s AAA Insurance Ford Mustang. Those hopes were realized when Hight blasted to the provisional No. 7 spot on Friday at the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals.

Hight and his Jimmy Prock tuned Mustang were up early in the session and they took a shot which paid off with a solid time that has them securely in the field and ready to improve on Saturday.

“We were hoping for more, but it worse the clutch out and slowed way down in the middle. For a minute there we were getting excited because if Tim Wilkerson and Cruz (Pedregon), the last pair, would’ve bumped us that would have put us and Capps first round and that’s what we wanted. That’s our best shot at getting back those points,” said Hight.

“At least we are qualified. We would not want to go into Saturday of the AAA race not qualified so if we can get the chance tomorrow maybe we can improve.”

Mike Neff and the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang blasted out of the pack during the first session posting a solid 4.131 second run at a top speed of the session 305.63 mph. It set up the driver and crew chief to be aggressive in the night session when conditions would be ideal for some stellar runs.

Prior to the night session Neff felt that his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang was in position to record a mid-4.0 elapsed time.

“You look at the conditions and they are really good. I am going to shoot for a mid-four second run. I think that will be a good run for this second session and you should see a lot of four ohs,” said Neff.

The conditions were there and Neff was aggressive with his tune up. His Castrol GTX Ford Mustang charged down the 1000 ft track at Gateway Motorsports Park but just past half-track his BOSS 500 motor overpowered the track and shook the tires loose.

It was a disappointing end to the day for Neff but not a major set-back. With two more sessions tomorrow crew chief Neff will go to work to get a race day set-up that he hopes will carry him to the winner’s circle on Sunday.

Source: Team JFR

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Tim Wilkerson , Jack Beckman , Robert Hight , Mike Neff
Article type Qualifying report
Tags courtney, force, ford, funny car, gateway, jfr, madison, mustang, nhra, st.louis