Rookie sensation Courtney Force checked off another goal on her highly successful first season, clinching a spot in the 2012 Countdown to the Championship, with her provisional No. 3 qualifying performance tonight. On the first day of qualifying for the 58th annual Mac Tools US Nationals the youngest Force posted a solid 4.085 second run just a few ticks behind Johnny Gray (4.079 seconds) and Jack Beckman (4.051 seconds).
After winning the Traxxas Nitro Shootout fan vote – garnering 63% of the Funny Car votes - and lottery on Wednesday to secure the final spot in the $100,000 to win bonus race on Sunday attention switched to insuring that the Seattle winner had a shot at winning her first NHRA Full Throttle Championship. The driver of the Traxxas Ford Mustang was excited to start her first Mac Tools US Nationals in the Funny Car class with such a strong first run and event top speed, 311.56 mph.
“That was a huge round for us. Going into that round, mentally you’re trying not to think about everything you need to do, but really we needed that run; we needed to go from A to B. It was an important run for us. To be able to go out there on the first run of Indy and make a great pass like that and put us not only in the top half of the field, but in the third spot, with a 4.08. That’s good run on any race track and to do it at Indy. That’s right where we want to be,” said an excited Force.
“It definitely gives us confidence going into tomorrow. It’s great knowing that we’ve clinched in the Countdown. We just wanted to keep fighting and working hard until it was official and I’m glad to say that it finally is. It’s really exciting. I can actually officially look for a banquet dress for myself and it won’t be for my dad’s banquet which is going to be really cool.”
“My Traxxas guys have worked so hard this season and all I’ve wanted was just to be a good driver for them and really do the best I can. That was such an important run. If I would’ve made a little mistake it might have really screwed things up for us. I’m really proud of my guys and everything we’ve accomplished so far this season. Going into Indy, we’re excited. We’re pumped up. We’ve got a great car. Our Traxxas Ford Mustang has been running good and I really think we can be competitive this weekend; not only for the ‘Big Go,’ but for the Traxxas Nitro Shootout as well. I think we’re going to give everyone a run for their money,” added the youngest Force.
Mike Neff, driver and tuner of the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang, was running beside his rookie teammate and his Funny Car crossed the finish line in 4.089 seconds at 306.53 mph. As the defending event winner Neff and his Castrol GTX crew brought a strong performance car to the first session.
“We’re really happy with that. It’s been a little stressful. You know, you go all day Friday waiting for that one run. Just being Indy, the stress level just seems like it’s pegged, but only getting the one run and knowing what we know about the weather and possibility of rain the next few days, this was just probably the most critical run that we’ve made all year,” said Neff. “Being the biggest race of the year and the chance of rain the next few days, the goal was to make a good run and get qualified well so we didn’t have to sit here and stress about it the next few days. It did exactly what we wanted it to so we’re really glad.”
The lone JFR driver that has not officially clinched his spot in the Countdown is 15-time Funny Car champion John Force. He has a solid lead over drivers behind him and most likely when the four-time Mac Tools US Nationals winner qualifies for the race it will be academic and the winningest driver in NHRA history will finish no worse than tenth for an unprecedented 28th consecutive season.
Force and his Castrol GTX HIGH MILEAGE Ford Mustang was the first JFR Funny Car down the track and he paved the way with a 4.119 second run.
The Auto Club Ford Mustang driven by Robert Hight closed out the Friday night session. The 2008 Mac Tools US Nationals winner will have to wait to qualify after his Funny Car lost power on his lone Friday run beside Ron Capps. The Auto Club Ford Mustang coasted across the finish line with a pedestrian time of 6.584 seconds.
With a questionable forecast for the next two days Hight will have to play a waiting game to see if he can improve his position. He has reached the final three times in seven previous Mac Tools US Nationals appearances and he has never failed to qualify.