© Getty Images

What to watch for: Canadian Grand Prix (NBC, Live Extra from 1pm ET)

Leave a comment

After kick-starting his season with victory in Monaco two weeks ago, Lewis Hamilton enters Sunday’s Canadian Grand Prix hopeful of further cutting the gap to Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg in the Formula 1 drivers’ championship.

Hamilton’s record at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal is unmatched by his peers, having claimed four wins in the past, including his first back in 2007 with McLaren.

On Saturday, Hamilton charged to his fifth pole position in Montreal after edging out Rosberg by just 0.062 seconds in the final stage of qualifying.

Ever the perfectionist, Hamilton said after Q3 that his lap for pole wasn’t all that great, acting as an ominous warning to his rivals ahead of Sunday’s race – there is more pace to come.

Here are a few things to watch for in today’s Canadian Grand Prix, live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 1pm ET.

2016 Canadian Grand Prix – What to watch for

Can anyone stop Lewis?

Lewis Hamilton’s record in Montreal is the envy of the F1 field. Only Michael Schumacher has won more races than the Briton in Canada, making the task of beating him from pole position all the more difficult on Sunday.

Nico Rosberg will certainly hope to keep his teammate honest from P2 on the grid, but he must avoid rolling over for Hamilton as he did in Monaco two weeks ago. He cannot let that setback snowball into a title-deciding momentum swing, the like of which we saw in 2014 (Hungary).

Leaving Canada with the deficit to Rosberg standing at more than 20 points will go down as a failure for Hamilton. If the foundations for his fourth championship were laid in Monaco, it’s time for him to build on them in Montreal.

Ferrari stirs from its slumber

After showing so much promise in pre-season and being tipped to challenge Mercedes for both championships in 2016, Ferrari’s start to the year has been rather underwhelming.

Many updates have arrived and been hyped up only to fall short, making the arrival of a new turbo and some other minor changes in Canada a case of ‘wait and see’.

However, with Sebastian Vettel qualifying within two-tenths of a second of Hamilton at the front, it appears Ferrari have finally made the step that has been promised for much of the season.

With Red Bull now in a position to also fight for second in the constructors’ championship, Ferrari will want to make the most of its pace and the cooler temperatures in Canada and take home a good haul of points.

Come rain or shine

Monaco turned out to be a thriller largely thanks to the wet conditions under which the race started before the track dried – and we could be set for something similar in Montreal on Sunday.

Conditions this morning have been chilly, which will have an impact on drivers keeping their tires up to temperature if the rain does stave off.

A one stop race could even follow despite the presence of the ultra-soft tire, which has failed to live up to expectations so far.

Rain will be in the area throughout the race and could have an impact. Should the heavens open, expect Hamilton to come into his own along with the Red Bulls, particularly Daniel Ricciardo who was hugely impressive in Monaco before the pit blunder.

Haas hopes to impress, targets double points

The Canadian Grand Prix acts as the first opportunity for many American F1 fans to see the new Haas team racing in the flesh ahead of the United States Grand Prix in Austin this October.

Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez were both knocked out in Q2, yet the team is confident that it is in a position to get both cars up into the points for the first time.

“I think after the free practice sessions we knew that this is around where we would be positioned,” team principal Guenther Steiner said.

“We are very close to the teams in front of us, which is very encouraging. We’re making progress and feeling very stable.

“We’ve achieved what we wanted to achieve this weekend and we’re in a good position for tomorrow to get some points for both of the drivers.

“The weather is a little temperamental, but it will be the same for everyone. We’re going to take every opportunity we can and we’ll see what happens.”

More victims for the Wall of Champions?

It’s been a busy weekend for one of F1’s most notorious corners. The final chicane at Montreal often makes or breaks a lap – or, if you get it really wrong, a car.

Carlos Sainz Jr. became the latest driver to fall foul of the Wall of Champions during qualifying on Saturday when he tapped it with the rear of his Toro Rosso, sending the front spinning into it.

Jolyon Palmer, Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel also had close scrapes, the latter saying that he now had no need to touch it in the race on Sunday.

Cold temperatures, cold tires and a hint of desperation – that’s all it takes to add your name to the list of names to have shunted at the final corner in Montreal.

Pirelli strategy prediction

Track temperature will determine what the optimal strategy is for the 70-lap race. If it’s cold, we’re looking at a one-stopper: starting on super-soft and then moving to soft on lap 26 is theoretically the fastest way. If starting on ultra-soft (which all the top 10 will do), the strategy is extremely similar, with the change to soft coming one lap earlier, on lap 25.

2016 Canadian Grand Prix – Starting Grid

1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
3. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
4. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull
5. Max Verstappen Red Bull
6. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
7. Valtteri Bottas Williams
8. Felipe Massa Williams
9. Nico Hulkenberg Force India
10. Fernando Alonso McLaren
11. Sergio Perez Force India
12. Jenson Button McLaren
13. Esteban Gutierrez Haas
14. Romain Grosjean Haas
15. Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso
16. Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso
17. Jolyon Palmer Renault
18. Pascal Wehrlein Manor
19. Felipe Nasr Sauber
20. Rio Haryanto Manor
21. Marcus Ericsson Sauber
22. Kevin Magnussen Renault

The Canadian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 1pm ET on Sunday.

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

Leave a comment

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.


Follow @JerryBonkowski