NHRA: Torrence, C. Force, Enders early No. 1 qualifiers at Topeka

Photo of Steve Torrence courtesy NHRA
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NHRA Media Release

TOPEKA, Kan. – The 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season continued Friday as Courtney Force powered to the Funny Car qualifying lead at the 30th annual Menards NHRA Heartland Nationals presented by Minties at Heartland Motorsports Park.

Steve Torrence (Top Fuel) and Erica Enders (Pro Stock) are also provisional qualifying leaders in their respective categories at the eighth of 24 events on the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.

In Funny Car: Force is atop the category with a run of 3.911-seconds at 321.73 mph in her Advance Auto Parts Chevy Camaro SS recorded during her second qualifying pass of the day. The current Funny Car points leader is chasing the top position in Topeka as she aims for her fifth No. 1 qualifier of the 2018 campaign and third consecutive.

“We had a decent run in the first qualifying round but I knew we had more with this crew tuning my car and we were able to get that top spot back,” Force said. “It’s definitely a big deal to be running consistently, but there are still plenty of runs tomorrow where we will have to hold onto that number one position.”

Jonnie Lindberg is currently qualified second after a 3.962 at 316.23 run in his Head Racing Ford Mustang Funny Car, while Cruz Pedregon slotted into third.

In Top Fuel: Torrence is the current No. 1 qualifier with a run of 3.770 at 325.92 in his Capco Contractors dragster during the final qualifying pass of the day and his father Billy qualified second after his 3.796 at 320.97 run in his dragster.

“To go up there and put the Capco cars on top at the end of the day was really as good of a finish to a Friday as I could have imagined,” Torrence said. “Any day you can put your whole team in the top of the qualifying board makes you really proud and it’s just a great way to cap off the day.”

In Pro Stock: Enders currently holds the top spot after driving to a 6.625 at 207.59 pass in her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro during the second round of qualifying. The two-time world champion is chasing the first No. 1 qualifying position of the season and first since 2015.

“The more time I have with this car the more comfortable I get, and I’m really just thrilled to have a car that is competitive that you are able to drive to the winner’s circle on Sunday,” Enders said. “I can hear the confidence back in my crew chief’s voice which gives me a ton of confidence every time I hit the track.”

Vincent Nobile sits at second with a run of 6.629 at 208.01 in his Mountain View Tire Chevy Camaro, as defending event winner Tanner Gray rounds out the top three.

Qualifying continues at 2:30 p.m. ET on Saturday.

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FRIDAY’S RESULTS

TOP FUEL: 1. Steve Torrence, 3.770 seconds, 325.92 mph; 2. Billy Torrence, 3.796, 320.97; 3. Doug Kalitta, 3.798, 321.81; 4. Terry McMillen, 3.809, 320.89; 5. Tony Schumacher, 3.836, 324.51; 6. Antron Brown, 3.840, 319.45; 7. Leah Pritchett, 3.840, 286.07; 8. Brittany Force, 3.852, 277.03; 9. Scott Palmer, 3.855, 321.50; 10. Richie Crampton, 3.875, 318.32; 11. Bill Litton, 3.915, 305.08; 12. Mike Salinas, 3.929, 260.56; 13. Kebin Kinsley, 4.019, 271.52; 14. Terry Haddock, 4.098, 256.94; 15. Terry Totten, 4.227, 246.35; 16. Clay Millican, 4.470, 176.03. Not Qualified: 17. Audrey Worm, 4.983, 147.09.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.911, 321.73; 2. Jonnie Lindberg, Ford Mustang, 3.962, 316.23; 3. Cruz Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 3.983, 314.68; 4. J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.996, 320.89; 5. Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 4.008, 313.00; 6. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.028, 315.78; 7. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.048, 311.56; 8. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 4.052, 314.31; 9. John Force, Camaro, 4.053, 314.97; 10. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.058, 313.80; 11. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.086, 304.53; 12. Dale Creasy Jr., Dodge Stratus, 4.088, 309.70; 13. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.095, 305.70; 14. Robert Hight, Camaro, 4.163, 259.96; 15. Richard Townsend, Camry, 4.247, 248.16; 16. Todd Simpson, Charger, 4.617, 196.47. Not Qualified: 17. Jim Campbell, 4.659, 191.32; 18. Shane Westerfield, 5.357, 140.58.

PRO STOCK: 1. Erica Enders, Chevy Camaro, 6.625, 207.59; 2. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.629, 208.01; 3. Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.640, 207.30; 4. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.641, 206.42; 5. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.642, 207.30; 6. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.645, 207.88; 7. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.649, 207.37; 8. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.653, 207.85; 9. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.656, 206.39; 10. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.663, 206.26; 11. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.671, 206.54; 12. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.671, 206.54; 13. Richard Freeman, Camaro, 6.714, 205.98; 14. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.717, 205.16; 15. Mark Hogan, Pontiac GXP, 7.033, 172.17; 16. Will Hatcher, Dart, 9.684, 97.85.

IndyCar’s ‘Phoenix’ flying into 2023 season: Romain Grosjean enjoying the pilot’s life

IndyCar Romain Grosjean pilot
Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment
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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – The IndyCar driver known as “The Phoenix” already has taken flight before the 2023 season, and newly licensed pilot Romain Grosjean also got a head start on the opener.

Fulfilling a dream several years in the making, the Andretti Autosport plunged into aviation training over the offseason. Since beginning with online studying last August, Grosjean quickly progressed to earning his licenses for multiengine planes and instrument ratings while completing 115 hours of flight time.

He has landed twice at Albert Whitted Airport, whose primary runway also doubles as the front straightaway on the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg street course.

“Just to land on the start-finish line, that was pretty cool,” Grosjean said during IndyCar Preseason Content Days ahead of the Feb. 2-3 test at The Thermal Club. “The air traffic control guy was like, “Yeah, left on Acre Five, turn, and then back. I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s the last corner of the racetrack, I’ll take it and go back to the pit lane. He was like, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, that’s true.’ So it was quite funny.”

Grosjean, 36, said he had wanted to become a pilot since he was 30 but was discouraged by Europe’s complicated and time-consuming licensing process (“to go to ground school twice a week, and with our life, it’s impossible”). He was inspired again last year by (now former) teammate Alexander Rossi, who flew to some 2022 races after earning his license a couple of years ago.

“I thought that was pretty cool,” said Grosjean, who had grown “bored of waiting in the airports.”

He plans to fly to nearly all the races this year (“if the weather is good enough, I’ll be flying”) and jokes about being “commercial by the end of the year, so then I can take Roger (Penske). Roger can pay me to fly him around to races if things go bad with racing.”

Grosjean’s social media has been filled with posts about his new hobby, which afforded him the opportunity recently to take his wife to Key West for lunch from their home in the Miami area. The trip took 37 minutes there and 41 minutes on return and highlighted why Grosjean loves flying: “Freedom. Freedom to go anywhere you want, anytime you want. It’s the beauty of it. We can go to the Bahamas for a day if we want to. Anywhere. I think that’s just great to know that you can do whatever you want.”

It’s reminiscent of the cross-country trip across the Midwest in an RV that Grosjean took with his family during the summer of his 2021 rookie season.

“There’s one thing that I told my kids, and I told my friend about America, and for me, that’s the biggest difference between Europe and here, is here everything is possible,” said Grosjean (whose “Phoenix” nickname was derived from a brush with death in his final Formula One start). “If you have the wish, if you give yourself the possibility of doing it, everything is possible. It is different in Europe. Much more boundaries on the way. Much more steps that you need to do in a certain order. But if you want to be extraordinary (in the United States), if you want to do something different, you don’t need to do those steps because you can work through.

“Yeah, I like doing things, and when I do them, I like doing them well. But here I think just the opportunity of driving the RV, flying planes, for my kids to do whatever they want to do, we love that here. Yeah, it’s been the best discovery for us.”

The Swiss-born Frenchman already has flown himself to a race this year, jetting up the Florida coast for his Rolex 24 at Daytona debut last month. It was his debut as a Lamborghini factory driver, and his new deal will continue with the Twelve Hours of Sebring and possibly the Petit Le Mans while he also helps develop the automaker’s new hybrid prototype (LMDh) for next year.

Grosjean, who finished a disappointing 13th in the 2022 points standings with one podium for Andretti in his first full season, said IndyCar will remain his priority in 2024.

But he hopes the IndyCar schedule will afford racing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship endurance races and perhaps another his longest plane flight yet — a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“I’ll keep my fingers crossed like that we get the weekend off from IndyCar,” said Grosjean, noting that 10 IndyCar drivers were in the Rolex 24. “I think it would make a lot of sense. I think for both series it’s amazing. If we can get Le Mans, it’s also amazing because it’s just cool.

“I remember Mario flying across the Atlantic doing Monaco and the Indy 500, and those guys, they were racing everywhere, Formula 3, Formula 2, Formula 1. They were doing the races in opening of the Formula 1 race, and I think that’s very cool for us. So yeah, looking forward to the project. There’s going to be a lot of development coming on. By the time we finish the IndyCar season, the LMDh will be here in the States, and that’s when I’m going to spend a lot of time on it.”