NHRA Joliet: Torrence, Hagan, Anderson, Hines are ones to beat Sunday

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NHRA Media Release:

JOLIET, Ill. — The 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season continued Saturday as Steve Torrence held on to the Top Fuel No. 1 qualifying position at the 21st annual JEGS Route 66 NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway.

Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also qualified first in their respective categories at the ninth of 24 events on the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.

Torrence remained in the top spot after setting both ends of the track record with a pass of 3.677-seconds at 333.58 mph in his Capco Contractors dragster during the second qualifying pass on Friday.

The defending event winner and current Top Fuel points leader recorded his first No. 1 qualifier on the season, as he looks to build upon his category-best three victories this season.

“Yesterday had some pretty optimal conditions which allowed for us to have that strong run, but it is definitely a huge confidence booster to go into race day knowing my team has a strong handle on the tune-up,” Torrence said. “I think we are getting really close to having the most consistent car we have ever had, and it’s fun to be driving this racecar right now.”

Torrence will take on Luigi Novelli in the first round of eliminations on Sunday.

Defending Top Fuel world champion Brittany Force qualified second for the weekend with a 3.721 at 329.34 in her Advance Auto Parts/Monster Energy dragster on Friday, as she will face off against Kyle Wurtzel in eliminations.

Hagan stayed atop the Funny Car class with a run of 3.917 at 326.79 in his Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger R/T recorded during his second qualifying pass on Friday. The two-time world champion locked in his second No. 1 qualifier of the season and first since the season-opening event in Pomona, where he also earned his lone victory on the year.

“We’ve had to regroup this season and make some wholesale changes, and even though it’s taken some time to get here but I feel like our car is running strong now,” Hagan said. “Our confidence has definitely grown, and we are blessed to have that No. 1 qualifier heading into race day.”

Hagan faces off with Jonnie Lindberg in the elimination round. Hagan’s teammate Ron Capps qualified second and matches up with Justin Schriefer for Sunday’s first round of eliminations.

Anderson held onto the top spot in Pro Stock after driving to a 6.546 at 211.03 in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro during the second round of qualifying on Friday night. He now has 98 career No. 1 qualifiers and five this season, the most in the class.

“To have 98 career No. 1 qualifiers is quite a feather in the cap for this whole KB Racing Team, and to have low E.T. of every session this weekend is a good feeling going into Sunday,” Anderson said. “I’ve had a great qualifying car all year so far but we haven’t been able to get it done on Sunday, which we will try to change tomorrow.”

Anderson will go head-to-head with David River in the elimination round. Tanner Gray remained in second after his 6.556 at 210.18 from Friday, as he prepares for Wally Stroupe in the first round.

The Pro Stock Motorcycle class was once again led by Andrew Hines, who used a 6.849 at 194.83 on his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson in the final pass of the day to reclaim the top spot.

“We had a really good motorcycle today and this track is really good for us, but all-in-all my team is doing a great job and we are all feeling good about racing here tomorrow,” Hines said. “We threw everything we could at the track today, but it all worked out and it’s nice to get down the track so quick.”

Hines will line up against Cory Reed in the first round.

Hector Arana Jr. secured the second qualifying spot after a 6.852 at 197.45 in the final qualifying pass on Saturday, as he prepares for Marc Ingwersen on Sunday.

Eliminations begin at 12 p.m. EST on Sunday at Route 66 Raceway.

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Sunday’s first-round pairings for eliminations for the 21st annual JEGS Route 66 NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway, the ninth of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Pairings based on results in qualifying, which ended Saturday. DNQs listed below pairings:

TOP FUEL: 1. Steve Torrence, 3.677 seconds, 333.58 mph vs. 16. Luigi Novelli, 3.982, 273.05; 2. Brittany Force, 3.721, 329.34 vs. 15. Kyle Wurtzel, 3.973, 294.88; 3. Tony Schumacher, 3.749, 329.99 vs. 14. Billy Torrence, 3.900, 301.87; 4. Clay Millican, 3.753, 326.48 vs. 13. Pat Dakin, 3.841, 323.74; 5. T.J. Zizzo, 3.771, 326.48 vs. 12. Scott Palmer, 3.839, 326.24; 6. Blake Alexander, 3.781, 328.06 vs. 11. Richie Crampton, 3.817, 319.52; 7. Antron Brown, 3.781, 327.19 vs. 10. Leah Pritchett, 3.797, 328.30; 8. Doug Kalitta, 3.786, 321.96 vs. 9. Terry McMillen, 3.796, 323.97. Did Not Qualify: 17. Terry Haddock, 4.020, 289.82; 18. Chris Karamesines, 4.130, 231.56; 19. Bill Litton, 4.156, 246.66.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 3.917, 326.79 vs. 16. Jonnie Lindberg, Ford Mustang, 4.463, 263.36; 2. Ron Capps, Charger, 3.921, 325.92 vs. 15. Justin Schriefer, Charger, 4.155, 277.72; 3. Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.944, 322.81 vs. 14. Dale Creasy Jr., Dodge Stratus, 4.112, 314.46; 4. Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.966, 327.66 vs. 13. Jim Campbell, Charger, 4.085, 311.13; 5. Cruz Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 3.969, 320.05 vs. 12. Robert Hight, Camaro, 4.073, 267.85; 6. John Force, Camaro, 3.971, 324.59 vs. 11. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.055, 308.78; 7. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 3.980, 326.08 vs. 10. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.011, 323.35; 8. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.981, 320.43 vs. 9. J.R. Todd, Camry, 4.007, 322.88. Did Not Qualify: 17. Bob Bode, 4.502, 239.19; 18. John Lawson, 4.748, 190.35.

PRO STOCK: 1. Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.546, 211.03 vs. 16. Dave River, Chevy Cobalt, 6.950, 197.28; 2. Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.556, 210.21 vs. 15. Wally Stroupe, Camaro, 6.813, 203.43; 3. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.559, 209.95 vs. 14. Mark Hogan, Pontiac GXP, 6.803, 202.21; 4. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.560, 210.67 vs. 13. Tim Freeman, Camaro, 6.629, 208.39; 5. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.564, 210.87 vs. 12. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.600, 209.14; 6. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.579, 209.07 vs. 11. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.587, 209.72; 7. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.581, 210.18 vs. 10. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.585, 209.49; 8. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.582, 209.75 vs. 9. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.584, 210.14.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.849, 194.83 vs. 16. Cory Reed, Buell, 7.038, 189.87; 2. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.852, 197.45 vs. 15. Marc Ingwersen, Buell, 7.026, 187.55; 3. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.862, 194.49 vs. 14. Kelly Clontz, Suzuki, 7.005, 191.27; 4. Matt Smith, Victory, 6.871, 194.83 vs. 13. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.987, 190.51; 5. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.881, 193.90 vs. 12. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 6.975, 192.19; 6. LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.891, 194.66 vs. 11. Scotty Pollacheck, Suzuki, 6.969, 191.76; 7. Angie Smith, Buell, 6.920, 192.66 vs. 10. Joey Gladstone, Suzuki, 6.965, 191.65; 8. Hector Arana, Buell, 6.930, 194.41 vs. 9. Ryan Oehler, Buell, 6.948, 191.46. Did Not Qualify: 17. Mark Paquette, 7.039, 189.42; 18. Karen Stoffer, 7.047, 189.63; 19. Angelle Sampey, 7.060, 189.66.

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.”