HIGHT WINS AS TEAM CASTROL DOMINATES WINTERNATIONALS Team Castrol rolled through the gates of Auto Club Raceway at Pomona on a mission; prove that its redesigned Funny Car chassis will not only be safer but will also be competitive. Based on ...
HIGHT WINS AS TEAM CASTROL DOMINATES WINTERNATIONALS
Team Castrol rolled through the gates of Auto Club Raceway at Pomona on a mission; prove that its redesigned Funny Car chassis will not only be safer but will also be competitive. Based on today's performance at the 48th CARQUEST Auto Parts Winternationals consider it mission accomplished on the first stop of the 2008 POWERade season as John Force Racing placed three Ford Mustangs in the semi-final round and Team Castrol driver Robert Hight defeated 1992 POWERade Funny Car Champion Cruz Pedregon to take the title.
Hight had to beat 2008 Funny Car title contender Ron Capps, veteran Gary Densham, and 14-time POWERade Funny Car champion and father-in-law John Force on his way to his match-up with Pedregon. In both the first and second rounds Hight had to use superior driving skill to reign in his powerful Ford Mustang as it lost traction in both races before Hight regained control and powered across the finish line for the wins.
Prior to the final he had to watch his sister-in-law lose to Pedregon before his father-in-law smoked the tires in their race. As Hight was about to take the green light he noticed that his Supercharger belt was shredding.
"I just hoped it would hold on long enough for us to get the win," Hight said, "and it did -- but just barely. I honestly didn't know who won. My car was slowing down (284 mph) and Cruz came around me so fast (322 mph) that I couldn't tell whether he got me or not. Fortunately, we had just enough."
In the pressroom following his win Hight gave credit to Niranjan Singh, one of the Ford engineers who has been working with John Force Racing on making their Ford Mustangs safer.
"This guy worked day and night on our chassis program. He worked Thanksgiving and he worked Christmas. He used to work in Formula 1 and he's one smart guy. We're fortunate to have him work with us on this program and this win wouldn't have been possible without him."
Possibly even more dramatic than Hight's win was the comeback performance of team leader John Force who narrowly qualified for the event waiting until the last qualifying session before blasting down the famed ¼ mile race track on Saturday afternoon.
In the first round today he took the win when former teammate Tony Pedregon red-lit and then suffered a spectacular explosion in front of Force. Pedregon survived with minor burns but Force was still concerned for his former charge.
Force had to take out another former World Champion when he pulled up beside Gary Scelzi in round two. This round was less dramatic by comparison considering Scelzi broke as his MOPAR/Oakley Dodge Charger broke immediately after crossing the starting line. The 14-time champ gave a glowing assessment of his team as well as the redesigned Ford Mustang.
"I'm excited for Robert Hight. He was on his game last year. He was right in the hunt to win the championship last year. To see Ashley evolve as driver and gather up her Mustang when it was in trouble to get the win. She learned a lot in her rookie year. I think Mike Neff is going to be fantastic. I think he is a just a natural and Robert has said that too," said a euphoric and tired Force. "I've still got a couple of months of rehab to get back to where I was. I've got a well-rounded team. That is what is important to me that what we went after to build a better race car with the people involved worked. It is heavier but it can compete and it isn't that expensive to buy. If you have you buy one you will spend a little more but it is nothing when you are talking about safety."
Ashley Force had a solid day behind the wheel of her Castrol GTX Ford Mustang beating Bob Bode and Bob Tasca III on her way to the semis. In the first round the second year Funny Car driver showed veteran-like patience when both she and Bode smoked the tires but she was able to (wo)manhandle her Mustang first and take the win.
"It was great to get to the semi-finals. Of course we wanted to win but to get to the semi-finals again was great," said the 2007 Rookie of the Year. "We are pumped up that we are coming out of this race number three in the points."
Rookie of the Year candidate Mike Neff and the Old Spice Ford Mustang made the earliest exit for Team Castrol when he dropped his first round match-up to Cruz Pedregon. Neff is continuing to work with Ford Racing on the development of the BOSS 500 Ford engine and the progress has been encouraging even though the on track results have come slowly.
"I think we had a pretty good weekend here despite the fact that we went out first round. For everything that we have changed and the minimal amount of test runs that we made to come here and qualify not too far off the pace in impressive," said the favorite for the 2008 Rookie of the Year, "It was on a good run in the first round and it was just one little move off from winning and having a chance to move on. All in all, I am pleased with the way things went."
JOHN FORCE, 58, Castrol High Mileage Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 5th at 4.823 seconds, 321.58 mph.
Race results: Beat Tony Pedregon, Gary Scelzi. Lost to Robert Hight
Notable: Reached semi-finals in first race back in competition after devastating crash last September...by reaching semi-finals Force became the first driver to win 100 rounds at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona...now only six wins away from 1,000 competitive round wins in NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series...defeated two former POWERade Funny Car champions en-route to semi-finals (Tony Pedregon and Gary Scelzi)
Quotable: "As a team we did our job. For Robert to win it for all of our sponsors is a great feeling. I'm pitching a lot of sponsors because I couldn't do it at the end of last year. Mainly seeing that the technology that came out of Eric's crash and my accident really works. At the end of the day what we did in the last ten months the car is still not where we want it to be. It's not the car of the future. We have years to build that. Right now this car is a lot safer."
ASHLEY FORCE, 25, Castrol GTX Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 6th at 4.828 seconds, 309.77 mph.
Race results: Beat Bob Bode, Bob Tasca III. Lost to Cruz Pedregon.
Notable: Reached fourth semi-final of her young career.
Quotable: "It was great to get to the semi-finals. Of course we wanted to win but to get to the semi-finals again was great. We are pumped up that we are coming out of this race number three in the points."
ROBERT HIGHT, 38, Team Castrol/Auto Club of Southern California Ford
Qualifying position and performance: 9th at 4.837 seconds, 319.14 mph.
Race results: Beat Ron Capps, Gary Densham, John Force, Cruz Pedregon
Notable: Hight's three wins at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona have all come from the bottom half of the field (No.12, No. 14 and No. 9 positions)...Third final round appearance in a row at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona...By picking up four round wins today Hight moved his career mark to 101-58 making him the quickest driver to reach the 100 round win plateau.
Quotable: "It's gonna be a tough year. There are a lot of good cars our here. Cruz Pedregon's running great. Tim Wilkerson. He was No. 1 qualifier and I think he was the No.1 qualifier last fall, too. There's gonna be a lot of different winners this year. It's gonna be hard to win this championship, but it's gonna be exciting."
MIKE NEFF, 40, Team Castrol/Old Spice Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 10th at 4.840 seconds, 317.64 mph.
Race results: Lost to Cruz Pedregon.
Notable: First race with primary sponsor Old Spice.... Continued to race the BOSS 500 Ford engine as part of partnership between John Force Racing and Ford Racing.
Quotable: "We are learning more with every run we make in this Old Spice Ford Mustang. It is great to get three John Force Racing Mustangs into the semi-finals and I know we will improve as we move on."