NHRA: Steve Torrence ready to climb mountain again in Denver for another win

(Photos courtesy NHRA)
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Top Fuel driver Steve Torrence is picking up where he left off.From four years ago, that is.

The Texas native had his best season ever performance-wise in 2012, winning the first three races of his Top Fuel career. Unfortunately, he struggled during the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoff and finished ninth in the final standings.

Torrence wouldn’t win again until last year, when he reached the winner’s circle at Bandimere Speedway in Morrison, Colorado (a suburb of Denver).

Torrence is now looking to make it two wins in a row at Denver, which is where the NHRA national tour finds itself this weekend for the 37th annual Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals.

“I’m not bragging on ourselves, but we’ve had one of the best cars in Denver the last few years,” Torrence said. “As far as our gameplan, we’re going to continue to do what we’ve been doing.

“We have a good baseline (for Denver) and we’re not going to deviate from that.”

2016_Steve_Torrence headshot
NHRA Top Fuel driver Steve Torrence

But there’s more: Torrence is also looking for his third win of 2016, which would tie the number of wins he earned in 2012. And there are 11 races remaining for Torrence to do just that.

In addition, Torrence is ranked a solid third in the Top Fuel point standings heading into this weekend.

Much of the upswing in Torrence’s performance this season is the affiliation with 15-time NHRA Top Fuel champion crew chief and team owner Alan Johnson, who is also working with and has likewise led Brittany Force to two wins this season, as well.

As a result, Torrence not only has gone on to two wins under Johnson’s watch, he also has one runner-up showing and has qualified a class-best No. 1 six times in the first 13 races of 2016.

“I think as far as me making strides, it’s the confidence this team has given me,” Torrence said in an NHRA media release. “I’m just confident in this car and this team does their job flawlessly. I cannot give them enough credit for giving me the confidence to drive this car.

“Everybody has been together a minimum of two years and that cohesiveness has been a huge part of it. Richard (crew chief Richard Hogan) is more confident than ever and Alan (Johnson) is just the best in the business. To have him at your disposal for consulting or a question or advice, that’s a huge benefit.”

While Torrence is taking things one race at a time, he’s also well aware that not only will he likely make the six-race Countdown for the Championship, he’ll also be going for his first NHRA Top Fuel crown.

“We’ve been digging deep and working as hard as we can,” Torrence said. “We’re in a fight for a championship and everything you do has to count moving forward.

“You can’t stand pat and sit idle to win a championship in this class. The parity is better than it has ever been. We’re trying to get up there and close that gap and maybe open up the gap with the people behind us. The higher you start in the Countdown, the easier you make it on yourself.”

NOTES: Sunday race, which kicks off the annual “Western Swing” (Denver, Sonoma and Seattle) marks the first time in NHRA’s 65-year history that the semifinals and final round will be televised live on national network television (FOX).

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MOPAR MILE-HIGH NHRA NATIONALS FACT SHEET

WHAT: 37th annual Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals, the 14th of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Drivers in four categories – Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle – earn points leading to 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships. The NHRA Lucas Oil Series also will be featured at this event.

WHERE: Bandimere Speedway, Morrison, Colo. The track is 10 miles west of Denver, just north of the historic town of Morrison. From Denver, take Interstate 70 west to C-470 and travel south to the Morrison Road exit. Take Morrison Road west to Rooney Road and go north to the track.

COURSE: Championship drag strip; Track elevation is 5,860 feet above sea level; Track direction is south to north.

WHEN: Friday through Sunday, July 22-24

SCHEDULE:        

FRIDAY, July 22- LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying

MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 5 and 7:30 p.m.

SATURDAY, July 23- LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations

MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 4 and 6:30 p.m.

SUNDAY, July 24 – Pre-race ceremonies, 10 a.m.

MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at 11 a.m.

TELEVISION:      

Friday, July 22, FS1 will televise one hour of qualifying coverage at 8 p.m. (ET).

Saturday, July 23, FS1 will televise one hour of qualifying coverage at 11:30 p.m. (ET).

Sunday, July 24, FOX will televise three hours of live finals coverage at 3 p.m. (ET).

2015 EVENT WINNERS: Steve Torrence, Top Fuel; Jack Beckman, Funny Car; Larry Morgan, Pro Stock, Eddie Krawiec, Pro Stock Motorcycle.

MOST VICTORIES: Bob Glidden, 7, PS; Joe Amato, 6, TF; John Force, 6, FC; Allen Johnson, 6, PS; Warren Johnson, 5, PS; Matt Hines, 4, PSM

TRACK RECORDS:            

Top Fuel – 3.791 sec. by Larry Dixon, July ’15; 326.95 mph by Brittany Force, July ’15.

Funny Car – 4.015 sec. by John Force July ’15; 318.39 mph by Force, July ’14.

Pro Stock – 6.877 sec. by Allen Johnson, July ’15; 201.01 mph by Shane Gray, July ’15.

PS Motorcycle – 7.169 sec. by Eddie Krawiec, July ’15; 187.96 mph by Hector Arana Jr., July ’15.

NATIONAL RECORDS:    

Top Fuel – 3.676 sec. by Brittany Force, May ’16, Topeka, Kan.; 332.75 mph by Spencer Massey, Aug. ’15, Brainerd, Minn.

Funny Car – 3.862 sec. and 335.57 mph by Matt Hagan, May ’16, Topeka, Kan.

Pro Stock – 6.455 sec. by Jason Line, March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.;  215.55 mph by Erica Enders, May ‘14, Englishtown N.J.

PS Motorcycle – 6.728 sec. by Andrew Hines, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 199.88 mph by Hector Arana Jr., March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.

TICKETS: For tickets, call (800) 664-UWIN (8946) or purchase online atwww.bandimere.com.

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NHRA MELLO YELLO DRAG RACING SERIES WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS STANDINGS

Top Fuel: 1.  Antron Brown, 1,056; 2.  Doug Kalitta, 1,054; 3.  Steve Torrence, 912; 4.  Brittany Force, 896; 5.  Tony Schumacher, 803; 6.  Shawn Langdon, 746; 7.  J.R. Todd, 725; 8.  (tie) Richie Crampton, 603; Clay Millican, 603; 10.  Leah Pritchett, 521.

Funny Car: 1.  Ron Capps, 1,068; 2.  Jack Beckman, 942; 3.  Courtney Force, 892; 4.  Matt Hagan, 828; 5. Tommy Johnson Jr., 803; 6.  Robert Hight, 799; 7.  Del Worsham, 796; 8.  Tim Wilkerson, 760; 9. John Force, 699; 10.  Alexis DeJoria, 697.

Pro Stock: 1.  Jason Line, 1,472; 2.  Greg Anderson, 1,392; 3.  Bo Butner, 898; 4.  Allen Johnson, 773; 5. Drew Skillman, 717; 6.  Vincent Nobile, 666; 7.  Shane Gray, 619; 8.  Chris McGaha, 610; 9.  Jeg Coughlin, 580; 10.  Alex Laughlin, 530.

Pro Stock Motorcycle: 1.  Eddie Krawiec, 639; 2.  Andrew Hines, 505; 3.  Angelle Sampey, 471; 4.  Jerry Savoie, 428; 5. Hector Arana, 344; 6.  Chip Ellis, 333; 7.  LE Tonglet, 289; 8.  Steve Johnson, 258; 9.  Matt Smith, 235; 10.  Michael Ray, 228.

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NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E and Ian James set to race ahead of electric motorsports’ curve

James McLaren Formula E
McLaren Racing
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As Formula E enters their ninth season and McLaren Racing is set to compete in last year’s championship winning car, Ian James is passionate about pushing electric motorsports forward at a critical stage as race technology begins surpassing that of the street cars.

Midseason, McLaren acquired the assets of the Mercedes-EQ team as they were already on their way to winning a second consecutive championship. With those assets in place and coming off a successful debut in the Extreme E series, James is set to usher in a new era in electric car racing.

Last week’s announcement that Jake Hughes will join Rene Rast behind the wheel of the NEOM McLaren Formula E team was the last piece of the puzzle.

McLaren’s electric portfolio is building with the Formula E team coming one year after they entered the Extreme E rally series in 2022 with Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour. There were a lot of lessons to learn in that series with growing pains during the first three of five rounds. Rounds 4 and 5 were a completely different matter with the team crossing the finish line first in Chile before being assessed a time penalty.

In the final round in Uruguay, they scored an elusive podium.

“McLaren kicked off the season in Extreme E at the beginning of this year, so our first [electric] race took place Neom, actually out in Saudi,” NEOM McLaren Racing Team Principal James told NBC Sports. “At the time, we were in very early discussions about opportunities with the Formula E team. I actually went out there to meet with Zak [Brown, CEO McLaren Racing] and that was my first taste of Extreme E.

“Since the transition, I joined them in Chile in Atacama Desert, and then Uruguay last weekend. [The second-place finish was] a lovely way to round out the season. The fact that they got that podium. It was very well deserved. It’s a great team and a great series actually. It’s just so very different from anything else. The team’s done a great job in getting set up, and it’s nice now to, we’re trying to use that momentum that we’ve got from Uruguay to get us into next season when it kicks off next year, which will be great. I think we’re mid-March is looking like the first race, so a little bit of time to get things prepped for that.”

 

James McLaren Formula E
The NEOM Mclaren Racing Formula E team was created through the acquisition of last year’s championship car from Mercedes-EQ. – McLaren Racing

Synergies exist between the single seater and rally series. Lessons learned about battery power and sustainability in the electric SUV carry over so long as one is mindful of keeping focus on the individual needs and nuances of each series.

Especially now that electric racing technology has caught up, and is ready to surpass, the existing technology that has gone into building street cars.

When internal combustion engines gained the upper hand soon after automobiles were invented, racing paced alongside. The pressure of competition pushed the development of their commercial equivalents. The same has not necessarily been true of electric cars. Street cars were not designed to undergo the same stress as racecars – and that vulnerability showed up on the racetrack.

“Formula E has come along a long way,” James said. “I think one of the most notable developments is in the battery technology. In Gen 1, you had the drivers jumping from one car to another car midrace because the battery technology and capacity simply wasn’t where it needed to be to do the full distance. That obviously changed in Gen 2 and we saw a power increase as well to the 250 kilowatts.

“Now going to Gen 3, we have 350 kilowatts in a smaller battery. But that means that we’re relying on the regeneration of energy and for that reason, we’ve got also the opportunity to regenerate on the front axle as well as the rear axle now. So, there’s all sorts of things that are developing in the right direction.

“In terms of throttle response, actually, we’re now in a situation with electric racing and the motors that it’s instantaneous. And one of the advantages of electric over combustion engine is that the torque is instantaneous as well, so that gives you a lot more room to play with.”

No matter the power source, racing has always been about resource management. Drivers and teams select tire strategies they believe produce the fastest elapsed time and fuel conservation comes into play.

On one hand, electric racing is the same, but there is a critical difference. With the battery as both the power source and an integral part of the engine, there are multiple reasons to manage it.

In electric racing, the brain of the car is the software – and that is where James sees the greatest room for advancement.

“As we are working with our drivers and engineers – and start to look at functionality to improve our efficiency and our performance, that’s something we’ll continue to push because that development is open throughout the season,” James said. “That’s going to be our focus going forward and provides enough of a challenge for us to get our teeth into.

“What’s going to be fascinating is as Formula E continues, is to really look at which areas of development on the car are going to be the most relevant and ensuring that we can focus on those together with the manufacturers so we continue and use the series as a platform for technical development that can then feed back into the road car side of things as well.

“At the end of the day, that’s what motorsports always been, a very powerful tool for, and I see Formula E as no exception.”

James McLaren Formula E
Jake Hughes and Rene Rast were chosen for their ability to drive fast and execute the necessary strategy for energy management. – McLaren Racing

Selecting Rast and Hughes as McLaren’s Formula E drivers was not simply because they know how to drive fast. James believes both drivers have the mental aptitude to execute energy management strategies throughout the race and squeeze maximum performance.

“As with many other motorsports, you’ve got a certain amount of energy that you’re able to deploy during the race and the management of that energy is absolutely crucial,” James said. “What we’re seeing typically in electric motorsports now is the hardware side of things. The efficiencies that we’re seeing in the powertrain as a whole, they’re getting up to the sort of 96%, 97%, 98% efficiency, so the gains that you get through that further and further become more marginal.”

With much more room for improvement, software is a different matter. To make the best decisions, the drivers need data, and that is where James believes McLaren Formula E will make their greatest impact.

“And then you really switch that focus to the software and that’s where you’re going to see the most the most improvement and the most gains,” James continued. “It’s then using that software to ensure that you’re deploying the energy in the most efficient manner during race, and thereby giving the driver the most performance. And that’s something which is incredibly complicated, but I find it a fascinating area to work in.

“The benefit of being involved in racing is you can really push the envelope in a way that you can’t do on road cars. And I think that that’s where that value comes in. It means that you accelerate the development a lot quicker. We will get ahead of the curve – and we are getting ahead of the curve now – and that will mean that the electric motorsports remain part of the overall development process.

“The key to that is also making sure that the racing’s exciting and fun for the fans. If we can, we can tick both of those boxes, then it’s got a very bright future ahead of it.”