(11/13/12) --- Top Rookie of the Year contender Courtney Force closed-out the 2012 season today with a strong finish in both the Auto Club NHRA Finals and in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series points standings. Force took out the likes of Matt Hagan, Tim Wilkerson and Ron Capps en route to a runner-up finish against two-time Funny Car champion Cruz Pedregon.
“We’ve had an amazing season as a rookie team. We had a consistent race car the entire weekend here in Pomona. Coming out to the Auto Club NHRA Finals is something I always dreamed of as a kid, I watched my dad win here in February and we were runner-up this weekend in the Funny Car category,” said Force.
Force began the day in the No. 4 qualifying spot and took on No. 13 qualifier Matt Hagan, hoping to score a winning record against the 2011 Champion. Force had lane choice and proved to have the better car after she ran a 4.055 ET at 318.02 mph to his 4.081 second pass at 304.87 mph, sending her on to the next round and upping her 2012 record to 3-2 over Hagan.
“We had an awesome car this weekend and for three straight rounds today. We came out of the No. 4 spot and had to take out some heavy hitters throughout the day,” said Force.
In the second round of eliminations, Force was first off the line beside fellow Ford driver Tim Wilkerson. She posted a 4.064 ET at 317.12 mph to Wilkerson’s tire-smoking fight 9.821 ET at 86.19 mph. With this second-round victory, Force moved up from the No. 6 spot to the No. 5 spot in the NHRA Full Throttle point standings.
In the semi-finals Force was faced with a huge matchup against championship contender, Ron Capps, who needed to claim victory over Force to stay in the running for NHRA Full Throttle World Championship in the Funny Car category. Force and her Traxxas Ford Mustang took advantage of lane choice and ended Capps’ championship hopes by posting a 4.069 ET at 318.24 mph to his 4.091 ET at 313.95 mph.
“I hated being in the middle of a championship decision in that big round against Capps. I love both Capps and Beckman. They’re great guys and great drivers, but we were going after the win,” said Force.
Force went on to face Cruz Pedregon in the final round without the luxury of lane choice. Force was 1-1 against Cruz in previous events. Force lost the event win after the connecting rods in the motor of her Traxxas Ford Mustang broke leading to a dramatic loss of power.
“I was looking to move up to the No. 4 spot, but I had to get around Cruz for that to happen. We made it into the No. 5 spot in the NHRA point standings and I really couldn’t be happier.
“I couldn’t have asked for this year and this weekend to go any better. I have a great race car in this Traxxas Ford Mustang Funny Car; it’s a consistent one. I have a great team and those things are just what you need on race day. I’m so happy to have them with me and I’m really looking forward to next season,” said Force.
Mike Neff, driver and crew chief of the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang, had an uphill battle for the 2012 NHRA Funny Car championship that came to an end when Ron Capps and Jack Beckman won their first round match-ups at the 48th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals. Neff will finish the season third in the Full Throttle point standings, an improvement over his 2011 fifth place finish.
“I am really proud of our season. We finished third in one of the toughest Funny Car seasons ever. I want to congratulate Jack Beckman and Ron Capps. We fought down to the last day and they came out on top,” said Neff. “My guys have been great all season and I couldn’t be prouder of the car they gave me every race. In the past three seasons we have won more rounds and more races than anybody else. This Countdown is tricky. You have to get hot at the right time. The win in Reading helped us get in the game and we had a long shot to win it today. I want to thank Castrol and all our sponsors for all their support.
Neff won his first round match-up with Paul Lee before dropping a close race to eventual Auto Club NHRA Finals winner Cruz Pedregon. For the season Neff defended his Mac Tools US Nationals title becoming just the fifth driver to achieve that accomplishment. He also defended his Norwalk win and won the Reading race in the Countdown.
The 2012 season came to an end for four-time 2012 national event winner Robert Hight and the Auto Club Ford Mustang in the second round when he smoked the tires against Ron Capps. In the opening round Hight the No. 9 qualifier outran No. 8 qualifier Johnny Gray, in a tire smoking 4.529 to 4.640 seconds battle.
“The 2013 season starts in about two days. Once you get past the banquet you start focusing 100% on next season. My crew chief Jimmy Prock has some ideas and we will start working on them at the shop in Brownsburg right away. We’ll do a lot of testing this off-season. I would have liked to have put this Auto Club Ford Mustang in the Auto Club NHRA Finals winner’s circle at Auto Club Raceway. The Winternationals are right around the corner.”
Hight finished the season as the No. 7 driver in the Full Throttle Funny Car standings.
John Force and the Destination Force Castrol GTX HIGH MILEAGE Ford Mustang came out on the losing end in the first round against fellow Countdown competitor Jeff Arend. Force’s Ford Mustang hazed the slicks as Arend pulled away from him sending Force into the off-season as the No. 9 driver in the Full Throttle point standings.
When the 15-time champion was asked to evaluate his rookie driver’s performance he was pleased with her first season.
“I think (Courtney) evolved as a driver very fast. She had a lot of help from Ashley (sister Ashley Force Hood) who drove the Fuel Funny Car. We have a really good team with Ron Douglas and Dan Hood. She has a great sponsor with Traxxas and Ford that gave her the money to do it. As a rookie she did everything you could have asked of her. She qualified at every event,” said Force.
“She was low ET at a number of events. She won the race in Seattle and it took me over 10 years to win my first race. She made the Traxxas Shootout by winning the lottery and the popular vote. At the end of the day the only thing left was the championship and rookie of the year. We’ll know about that tomorrow and rookie of the year is looking pretty good. I am very proud of her.”
As a team owner every year the goal is to win the championship and to have a driver in the hunt on the last day is key to achieving that goal. When Force looked at the accomplishment of driver and tuner Mike Neff he was equally pleased with how his season turned out even though it did not culminate with a Full Throttle championship.
“Mike Neff did a great job driving and tuning. He gave us a shot at the title here in Pomona. Robert Hight’s car with Jimmy Prock tuning dominated the first part of the season. I got a win at the opening race of the season in Pomona and I won the $100,000 at the Traxxas Shootout,” said Force, the winningest driver in NHRA history. “I was still in the game and we all made the Countdown. We will salute Beckman at the end of the season and right now we are looking at where we are going for next year. I am really excited about it because the morale is good. We never gave up the fight and fought until the very end.”