On an improbable day when Mother Nature looked to stop the racing action at Lucas Oil Raceway before it even got underway it was Auto Club Road to the Future Award front-runner Courtney Force that rained on the Funny Car classes’ parade. The most recent Funny Car driver to clinch a spot in the Countdown served notice that she was a force to be reckoned with both in tomorrow’s Traxxas Nitro Shootout and in the race on Monday grabbing the provisional No. 1 spot with a career best 4.049 second ET and a career best speed 317.27 mph, which was also fast enough to set the track record.
“I mean, it was a great day for this. The rain delayed us, but the more it delayed us the cooler it got and the better the conditions were so it was good for us and our Traxxas Mustang. We just wanted to get it to the other end, but we had a good time before that had us in pretty good with an 4.08 ET. We knew we were in pretty good, but we thought, ‘You know, we’re going to do the best we can. You might as well just see what it can do if you feel comfortable in the spot. I could tell my Crew Chief Ron (Douglas), he was looking a little nervous on the starting line and I kept looking at him like, ‘What does he have cooking over there?’ but I just had a good feeling about that run,” said Force, the Seattle winner.
“When it’s good conditions like that and I have a great team behind me. I thought, maybe; we’ll see what happens. I didn’t know if it would be a career-best, but it was pretty awesome. He kind of gave me that look like… he was telling me, “don’t look to the other end; ‘It could either blow up in your face, or it’s going to run awesome.’ So, I was like, ‘Okay, Ron!’ I kept it down there and I just wanted to keep it as straight as possible and I mean I have all the faith in the world in my guys.”
"They have been working so hard and to get a career-best at Indy, it’s huge. This is the one track you want to say that at and it’s ‘The Big Go’ and it’s my career-best time with a 4.049 and it’s an awesome time so we’re excited.”
The youngest driver in the John Force Racing stable has had the most consistent Mustang on the property posting ETs that have been in the top three every session. In the opening session on Saturday her 4.107 second run was good enough to earn the Cal State-Fullerton graduate a qualifying bonus point and most importantly it took that point away from Matt Hagan, who is chasing Force’s father for one of the final spots in the Countdown to the Championship.
“I feel like I’m still in this big bubble of a dream. I think that’s the best way to describe it, because it’s been going better than I obviously could have expected, but yes, I am still a rookie. I’m still learning at every race track. I’m obviously not the best driver out there. I’ve got a good team behind me, and like they say, it’s 80% team and 20% driver and my guys give me a heck of a good race car and I do the best job I can to keep it going straight down the track and to give them that run that they’ve worked so hard for,” said Force. “I am still learning as a driver. I make mistakes and I do the best I can to learn from them and recover as quickly as possible so we can get another good run. But you don’t want to screw up at Indy so that was my biggest goal here. I mean I had all season to try to learn and do well and just try to progress.”
If Courtney Force’s time holds up it will be her first No. 1 qualifier as Funny Car driver. It took her sister, Ashley Force Hood, a two-time Funny Car winner at the Mac Tools US Nationals 36 races to achieve this milestone.
“I think (Ashley) tries to not stress me out because she knows dad’s doing a lot of that so she tries to leave me alone and not throw all this information at me because dad’s doing it twice as much especially because it’s Indy. She was in my tow Ford vehicle with Jacob; he took his first steps yesterday which we were all excited about. We were, ‘It’s The Big Go and he had his first steps!’ so that’s why I tweeted yesterday, ‘It feels like a lucky track,” said Force. “And then I go out today and run a 4.049. We’re excited. Ashley has been great. She’s been an amazing mentor. She know what she’s talking about, but she’s always telling me, ‘It’s Indy, but don’t think about it like that or you’re just going to go out there and screw up or do something dumb so you kind of have to look at it as just any other race. You don’t want to get so carried away with it. But, it is Indy.”
Courtney would become just the fourth JFR driver to be No. 1 at the Mac Tools US Nationals joining John Force, Tony Pedregon and Robert Hight. It took the eldest Force eleven tries to get the No. 1 spot. Pedregon achieved the feat in his seventh attempt while Hight was the previous fastest to be the quickest at the “Big Go” in his 5th race in Indy.
On the starting line the team owner and proud father was filled with emotions when the scoreboards flashed Courtney’s time and speed.
“I got just a big old lump in my throat. I believe since the sessions are early tomorrow that 4.04 could stay low ET. My kid is low ET at Indy right now,” beamed John Force. “That is something for her first time in the Funny Car. If she can hold onto it, it ain’t over yet, but that would be big. I am just proud of her and her whole team. (Crew chief) Ron Douglas, Dan Hood and that whole team are doing a great job.”
For John Force, a four-time winner at Indy, his third qualify attempt had major ramifications for his approach to tomorrow’s Traxxas Nitro Shootout and the Mac Tools US Nationals on Monday. His Castrol GTX HIGH MILEAGE Ford Mustang opened up the third session with a solid 4.077 second run good enough for a provisional No. 7 spot.
“I am counting every point and you want to stay in that top twelve. You don’t want to go into Sunday and have to run the Traxxas Nitro Shootout not qualified,” said Force. “So whether the weather is good tomorrow or not we’ll be OK. We do have to get that Auto Club Ford in the show. That is very important. We have Castrol in with me and (Mike) Neff and then Courtney goes and shoots the shot heard round Indy.”
“That 4.04 was awesome I have to get rid of 50 pounds. That was just unbelievable. (Crew chiefs) Dean Antonelli and Danny DeGennero put my old hot rod together and they put a 4.07 out there. I can’t complain.”
“I have had to go in before knowing I wasn’t qualified and then try to win the Shootout and get in the show. That is two games that will screw you up. Right now we are qualified and we are going to hang it out for the Traxxas Nitro Shootout and see what we can do.”
The Castrol GTX Ford Mustang driven and tuned by Mike Neff opened qualifying on Saturday posting a time of 4.089 seconds and gave the 2011 Mac Tools US Nationals winner some breathing room going into Sunday. He smoked the tires in the evening session but at the end of the day his time was good enough to hold onto the No. 10 spot. There will be some opportunities to move around on Sunday in the qualifying order. If he stays in that spot and Force stays No. 7 then he will have the 15-time Funny Car champion in the opening round on Monday.
The biggest surprise was not just that the weather held off to allow for two nitro sessions when the forecast called for an almost certain wash-out today but that two-time Mac Tools US Nationals winner Robert Hight is still on the outside of the qualified field. Hight and the Auto Club Ford Mustang were on a strong run under the lights at Lucas Oil Raceway but at about 700 feet his 8,000 horsepower Mustang spun the tires and slowed to 4.325 seconds. His time was the 18th quickest for the 20 Funny Cars attempting to qualify for one of the 16 spots in the field.
Hight is not the only major name not qualified. He is joined by two-time Funny Car champion Cruz Pedregon (No. 19) on the outside looking in.