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United States GP Paddock Notebook – Friday

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AUSTIN, Texas – Friday at the United States Grand Prix, edition 2015, is in the books.  Unfortunately the fans who were dedicated and hearty enough to come out to the track only got one session’s worth of running, with some decent action in free practice one occurring before a deluge occurred to wash out free practice two.

As such, it’s hard to glean too much from today’s times this morning, but it is important to note how long some of the runs were on Pirelli’s intermediate tire.

Perhaps the biggest news of the day was what was unexpected, when Lotus F1 Team CEO Matthew Carter said during the FIA Friday Press Conference that the team’s second driver would be named within the hour. Soon enough, there was confirmation of Jolyon Palmer alongside Pastor Maldonado for 2016.

Here’s a roundup of today’s posts, features and analysis from Friday at Circuit of The Americas:

SESSION REPORTS

PADDOCK NEWS AND FEATURES

THOUGHTS FROM THE TRACK

Eeny, meeny, miny, Renault?

Just as the old children’s song had four possible choices, so too does Red Bull in regards to its 2016 engine situation. Excuse the creative liberty as I opted to swap “Renault” in for “moe” – it rhymes and it also seems to be the most realistic option as it stands. Except if it isn’t.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner made the media rounds today, first telling Sky Sports tongue-in-cheek that there was a 25 percent chance of choosing Honda next year. Then he spoke to NBCSN’s Will Buxton during the rain-canceled FP2, saying, “Of course there’s a lot of speculation. This week it’s Honda. It was Ferrari last week. Renault before that. There’s a lot of conversation in the background.”

Finally in the FIA Friday Press Conference, Horner reiterated his goal is to keep Red Bull not just afloat but competitive in the future – that is his clear objective – but whether that is with or without the blessing of his ultimate boss, Red Bull’s Dietrich Mateschitz, still remains to be seen.

The saga that seems to have no end date in sight needs a resolution soon, as several in the room noted the urgency of getting something sorted sooner rather than later.

Another engine option for 2017? 

Late word came in Friday night, via Auto Motor und Sport and Motorsport.com, that the FIA may push a concept of a low-budget power unit, rumored to be a 2.2L twin-turbo V6 engine – the same engines you see in IndyCar – for 2017. Watch this space to see if or how it develops.

Palmer’s graduation after grad school

Lotus reserve and third driver Jolyon Palmer has made it to Formula 1 after winning the GP2 Series championship after all – just a year late. The Englishman was confirmed late Friday afternoon to join the team for 2016, replacing Haas-bound Romain Grosjean.

Palmer’s appointment isn’t necessarily a surprise – he’s driven or been scheduled to drive in 11 free practice sessions this season – but the timing is. Earlier this month, Pastor Maldonado said he had no preference over a a teammate, but just in the last week or so, said he’d prefer a teammate with experience. Now, he doesn’t have one, as Palmer will find his footing in his maiden Grand Prix season.

Interestingly, poor Palmer has had a rough go of things in his most recent practice sessions. After banking a wealth of laps in seven of his first eight outings, he’s only had nine total laps in his last three, in the Russian Grand Prix FP1 session that barely had any running. At both Suzuka and now today in Austin, Palmer’s been nominated to drive but hasn’t completed any laps.

Rain reigns, part one, with Saturday timetable TBD

The expectation was that FP1 wouldn’t see much running, but it did. Meanwhile FP2 was entirely washed out, with torrential rain then sweeping through the paddock only about five minutes after 2 p.m. CT and local time, when the session was scheduled to start. It marks yet another Friday where there hasn’t been proper running in at least one of the two sessions for the field.

The question, of course is how whatever rain is leftover and hits central Texas stemming from Hurricane Patricia – the Category 5 hurricane which is well on its way to Mexico – will affect the timetable for Saturday’s running. It may be a case where Saturday becomes a complete washout.

The thoughts, prayers and concerns are with those neighbors to the south first, given what by all accounts is shaping up to be a monster of a storm.

“How you doin’?”

On a much lighter note, I don’t know if he got TV time today, but I managed to spot Matt LeBlanc at the Lotus F1 Team garage just before FP2. The former Friends and current Episodes star has been to each of the three previous USGPs at Austin, and kept his streak alive by showing up today – we can only assume he took shelter shortly after this shot.

Lotus paid tribute to LeBlanc’s appearance with an excellent play-on-words of Friends episode titles. Each Friends episode begins with the words, “The one where…,” and so Lotus rather astutely called its social media recap of free practice two, “The one where we didn’t actually have FP2…”. Top job, lads.

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Join us tomorrow for all of the action from Austin on NBC Sports Live Extra (FP3 at 11 a.m. ET), with NBCSN coverage starting at 12:30 p.m. ET. FP3 will be shown, and will lead straight into LIVE qualifying, projected to start at 2 p.m. ET. For more information on the broadcasting options for the United States GP, click here.

More tomorrow from what is bound to be another abnormal day at the office.

NHRA: Steve Torrence’s 2nd Top Fuel title was emotional roller coaster day

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There’s no question Steve Torrence is a proud Texan. When he’s not strapping on his racing helmet, the Kilgore, Texas resident proudly wears a black cowboy hat and shiny boots practically everywhere he goes.

It’s just part of who one of the Lone Star State’s favorite sons is.

Torrence also has a great deal to be proud of after winning his second consecutive Top Fuel championship in Sunday’s NHRA season-ending national event at Pomona, California.

In doing so, he joins seven of the biggest names in drag racing history to win back-to-back titles: Don Garlits, Joe Amato, the late Scott Kalitta, Gary Scelzi, Tony Schumacher, Larry Dixon and Antron Brown.

Torrence followed up last season’s 11 wins – including being the first driver to win all six Countdown to the Championship playoff races – with nine wins in 2019, giving him 36 career wins and 55 final round appearances in his career.

But as he was interviewed shortly after he clinched the championship — even though he lost in the semifinal round of eliminations — instead of being effusive and ecstatic, Torrence was also uncharacteristically somewhat solemn and melancholy at the same time.

After publicly thanking his team – “the best in the business,” as Torrence frequently says – he also quickly paid tribute to a young man from Texas by the name of Brandon Seegers, who was tragically killed in an ATV accident last week (the young man in glasses is pictured in the tweet below).

Torrence wanted the world to know who Brandon was, calling him one of Torrence Racing’s biggest fans. It wasn’t lip service. Brandon – a 15-year-old freshman football player at Carthage (Texas) High School – truly was one of Torrence’s biggest supporters. He’ll be buried Tuesday.

Torrence also paid tribute to Brandon’s parents. The young man’s father has worked 30 years for Capco Contractors Inc., an oil and gas company owned by Torrence’s family. In a sense, because of their close relationship, Brandon and his parents are extended members of the Torrence family.

“This is for the Seegers family, who lost their little boy the Wednesday of last week,” Torrence said. “He was the biggest Capco fan there was. We’re taking the championship trophy home to him. We’re going to give it to all the Capco guys and his family.”

Admit it, when was the last time you heard someone in sports win a championship and then dedicate that effort to a young fan who was tragically killed just a few days earlier in an accident.

But that’s the kind of guy Torrence is, one of the classiest individuals in motorsports. And if you don’t really know who he is, you should, because you might understand why Torrence is who he is.

At the age of 36, Torrence is not just a survivor of the 1,000-foot dragstrips wars from New Hampshire to Seattle to Phoenix to Gainesville and everywhere in-between.

He’s also a survivor of something much more important: Before he was Steve Torrence, two-time NHRA Top Fuel champ, he was Steve Torrence, cancer and heart attack survivor. That kind of thing gives someone a much different perspective than most other individuals.

Torrence knows how fortunate he is to not only be a two-time champion, but more importantly, to be alive to earn and enjoy both of those titles. He came close, really close, to not being here anymore. That’s why Brandon’s death hit Torrence so hard.

He even tried to keep from choking up when he told the crowd about who his young friend Brandon was.

Torrence spent much of the weekend at Pomona thinking about his young fan. It definitely affected Torrence’s mindset and demeanor, especially on Sunday, with the pressure packed championship on the line.

To illustrate how different Torrence acted, he was involved in an incident after the first round that was completely out of character. While he may be one of the most competitive drivers on the NHRA circuit, he’s also normally a very level-headed, calm and cool persona.

Torrence uncharacteristically slapped young opponent and part-time Top Fuel driver Cameron Ferre in the face at the end of the drag strip after they climbed from their race cars following their first round run and exchanged words.

Normally a fan favorite, Torrence was uncharacteristically criticized on social media and was met with a wave of fan boos after the race when he climbed on stage to accept his championship trophy and the big check that came with it. A contrite Torrence eventually issued a public apology to both Ferre and fans, admitting he was wrong. The NHRA is reviewing the incident and still could penalize Torrence.

“Tensions are high,” Torrence told NHRA.com. “There’s a lot of crap going on out there, but there’s still no excuse for me acting that way. I apologize to every fan, all my racing friends and racing rivals. It was a heat-of-the moment reaction on a day when emotions were high, especially in the Capco camp. I talked to Cameron and we’ll just put it behind us and move on.”

Given the championship pressure and what he was enduring emotionally, Sunday may not have been Torrence’s finest moment or best day professionally or personally. But at the same time, he further cemented why he’s on his way to becoming one of the best drivers in Top Fuel history, that he makes mistakes and was man enough to admit when he made one.

He also cares for others and what they go through perhaps more than most because he himself came so close to not being around to enjoy the success he has enjoyed to date – and all the additional success that he’s likely to continue to enjoy for many more years to come.

 

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