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Alexander Rossi confirmed in Andretti/Herta IndyCar

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Late word came Monday night from NBCSN IndyCar contributor Robin Miller in a RACER.com post that Alexander Rossi’s next move would, in fact, be to the Verizon IndyCar Series.

The 24-year-old Californian has been confirmed Tuesday as driver of the No. 98 Honda for Andretti Autosport, formerly the Bryan Herta Autosport entry before Andretti Autosport and BHA announced a partnership last week.

“I’m very much looking forward to making my IndyCar Series debut this season and am proud to be racing with a team of such high caliber and pedigree as that of Andretti Autosport,” said Rossi. “As a racer through and through, I cannot wait to get started; our goal is to be competitive immediately at the first race in St. Petersburg.”

His first test will be March 1 at Sebring along with fellow rookie Spencer Pigot of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. So he won’t test this week in Phoenix.

“We’re really excited to have Alexander join the team,” said Andretti Autosport CEO Michael Andretti. “His credentials speak for his ability and we’re confident he’ll transition seamlessly into IndyCar racing. It’s neat to have the last three American F1 drivers in 25 years to be under one roof, I think it speaks to the level of talent we have.”

“Personally, I’m really pleased at how well all these pieces have come into place for this group,” Herta added. “Adding Alexander as a driver is going from strength to strength for us. We can’t wait to get on track together and start our preparation for the 2016 season.”

The move provides Rossi a landing place after being passed over for the final spot on the Formula 1 grid with the Manor Racing MRT squad, and a driver for the Herta-led IndyCar as part of the expected 21-car full-season grid Stateside.

He’ll also be the third Sunoco rookie-of-the-year contender, alongside fellow American who’d had both an international and U.S. focus in Conor Daly and ex-Marussia F1 driver Max Chilton, who raced in the U.S. most of the season last year with Carlin in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires series.

Rossi has U.S. race experience – he’s a past Formula BMW Americas champion – but has opted to focus primarily on Europe for the past several years.

The buildup led Rossi into Formula 1 last season in a five-race cameo with Manor, where he generally outperformed Englishman Will Stevens. Rossi and Stevens were known to be in contention for the second seat that eventually went to Indonesian Rio Haryanto.

With Rossi’s confirmation Tuesday, it leaves just the second Dale Coyne Racing Honda, the No. 19 car, as the lone full-season entry yet to have its driver revealed.

Ed Carpenter Racing’s No. 20 Chevrolet, which Carpenter will drive in oval races, does not yet have a driver for the road and street course races. If one is named, it would bring the field up from 21 expected full-season cars to 22 cars.

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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