PRE-SEASON TEST TIMES MAKE FORCE FAVORITE IN 46TH WINTERNATIONALS 13-Time Series Champion Aims to Reclaim Championship POMONA, Calif. (Feb. 9-12) -- Re-energized by his loss last year of the NHRA POWERade Funny Car Championship, John...
PRE-SEASON TEST TIMES MAKE FORCE FAVORITE IN 46TH WINTERNATIONALS
13-Time Series Champion Aims to Reclaim Championship
POMONA, Calif. (Feb. 9-12) -- Re-energized by his loss last year of the NHRA POWERade Funny Car Championship, John Force tries to transform testing glitter into racing gold this week when he debuts a new 2006 Castrol GTX® Ford Mustang in the 46th annual CARQUEST Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
Calling his long-awaited new Mustang "sleek and sexy," Force has been installed as the unofficial favorite to win the season-opener on the strength of a mesmerizing performance during pre-season testing, one in which he broke the benchmark 4.70 second barrier on five separate occasions at two different racetracks.
Now, the king of charisma must turn those impressive practice numbers into four runs consistently quick enough to deliver his 120th tour victory.
"Running a couple of 4.60s (in testing) doesn't mean we're going to win the championship back," Force said. "(Reigning champion Gary) Scelzi didn't get into the '60s, but he came pretty close (4.701 at Las Vegas; 4.704 at Phoenix).
"The Dodges (driven by Scelzi, Ron Capps and Whit Bazemore) still are right there, right where we expected them to be. Tommy Johnson Jr., (the defending Winternationals champion in Don Prudhomme's Skoal Chevrolet) ran 4.75, so it's going to be another fight."
Nevertheless, Force acknowledged that he is more focused this year, determined to win back the title that his team had won 12 consecutive times before last year's stumble.
"We spent a lot of time over the winter on our engine program and everything (co-crew chief Austin) Coil wanted to try seemed to work (during the two test sessions)," Force said. "The cars performed right out of the box, but what we really needed to work on was routine.
"We've got a lot of new guys this year and they didn't really understand the maintenance program. They were struggling to get our cars serviced between rounds and the rounds were two hours apart. This week, we'll only have 75 minutes."
Nevertheless, Force is optimistic about his chances if not a little perplexed by the reaction of some rivals to the new Mustang which, because of numerous revisions and mountains of red tape, was 18 months in development.
"There were a lot of people whining about the new body (at the test sessions)," Force said, "but, bottom line, all but one of the 4.60s we ran, me and Robert (Hight, driver of the Auto Club Ford) and Eric (Medlen, driver of the Castrol SYNTEC® Mustang), were with the old body, the same one we've been running since 2003."
"Where we really picked it up was in the motor," he said. "By itself, the new body didn't make us better. It just puts the icing on the cake."
Force enters his 24th NHRA season in a position to extend some impressive records including a qualifying streak that spans 18 seasons and 369 events. The last time he failed to put a Castrol Funny Car in the starting lineup was at the 1987 World Finals contested on this same Auto Club track.
In addition, if he can win at Pomona for the 12th time in his career, the fifth time at the Winternationals, he can extend to 20 the number of consecutive seasons in which he has won at least one tour event. That's the longest active streak in the sport.
The official NHRA national record-holder for quarter mile time and speed at 4.665 seconds, 333.58 miles per hour, Force traditionally has performance well on his home track. That said, he's won just one round of racing in his last three Winternationals appearances and his first round exit a year ago started him on a downward spiral.
Before season's end, he had lost a personal record 10 first round races along with the championship. That, he said, "was unacceptable."