Photo: Audi Sport

Magnus Audi snatches California 8 Hours win in Monterey

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Among three factory Audi Sport entries fielding Audi R8 LMS GT3 cars at the Intercontinental GT Challenge’s inaugural U.S. race, the California 8 Hours, the local team from U.S. shores emerged with the victory.

Audi Sport Team Magnus, with its No. 44 Audi driven by Kelvin van der Linde, Pierre Kaffer and Markus Winkelhock, took the lead in the final 20 minutes of the race after a dramatic final 75 minutes where the two other Audis, the dominant entry in the polesitting No. 29 Audi Sport Team Land car, and the No. 11 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT car, ran aground of a pair of problems.

At their last pit stops, both the No. 29 and No. 11 Audis committed pit stop delta infringements, completing their services sooner than the minimum pit stop time of 1 minute, 57 seconds. The No. 29 Audi (1:27.326) and No. 11 Audi (1:18.426) went shorter on their scheduled stops on purpose, took drive-through penalties for missing the minimum delta, and then the No. 29 car driven by Christopher Mies emerged ahead of the No. 11 car driven by Robin Frijns, but only just.

The two drivers looked set to duke it out for the win between them but it all went wrong just in the final 50 minutes. Lapping a slower TRG Aston Martin V8 Vantage GT4 at Turn 10, Mies went to the outside of the right hander and Frijns went to the inside as they split the Aston Martin. The two got past the Aston Martin but then crashed into each other at Turn 10. Frijns was beached in the gravel trap, which brought out a full course caution, while Mies made it back onto the road but with right front aero damage.

That brought Mies back into the clutches of van der Linde, in the Magnus Audi, who completed the ultimate pass for the win on Lap 300 of the race. He went around the outside of Mies at the left-hand Turn 5, completing the pass through corner exit on the run up the hill to Turn 6. Within a lap, the gap was 0.614 of a second to Mies and the race win was cinched there.

With van der Linde completing the pass of the Land Audi, it left the German team but with U.S.-based Starworks Motorsport’s logistical and strategic support less than an hour shy of its second major U.S. endurance race victory in as many weeks. Mies finished second with Connor De Phillippi and Christopher Haase in a separate chassis than what Mies, De Phillippi, and van der Linde’s younger brother Sheldon van der Linde drove to a GT Daytona class win in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale, Motul Petit Le Mans.

WRT’s demise left the final podium spot open to, like Magnus, another Pirelli World Challenge regular team in K-PAX Racing. Alvaro Parente, Bryan Sellers and Ben Barnicoat shared the No. 9 McLaren 650S GT3.

Adorned in a throwback red and white livery, the No. 43 RealTime Racing Acura NSX GT3 of Ryan Eversley, Tom Dyer and new Acura Team Penske driver Dane Cameron came home fourth overall with the No. 54 Black Swan Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R of Tim Pappas, Jeroen Bleekemolen and David Calvert-Jones fifth overall.

The Black Swan Porsche was the top GT3 Pro-Am finisher, and Bleekemolen held off Frijns’ fightback for an overall top five position. Frijns shared his car with Jake Dennis and Stuart Leonard.

The No. 193 MARC Mazda 3 V8 (Jake Camilleri, Hadrian Morrall, Morgan Haber) and No. 26 Rearden Racing Porsche GT4 Cayman MR (Jeff Kearl, Jeff Westphal, Sean McAlister) were Invitational and GT4 class winners on the day.

Heartbreak struck the No. 58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R crew of Porsche factory aces Patrick Long, Joerg Bergmeister and Romain Dumas with a fueling apparatus issue in the final couple hours, and the second RealTime Acura, the No. 93 car of Peter Kox, Mark Wilkins and Jules Gounon, with a cooling system issue in the first hour.

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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