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Alexander Rossi, James Hinchcliffe recall first Bathurst 1000 experience

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While NTT IndyCar Series team owner Roger Penske was able to celebrate his first victory in the famed Bathurst 1000, two of the star drivers of the series also competed in the race for Walkinshaw Andretti United.

Alexander Rossi, the 100th Indianapolis 500 winner in 2016 and a perennial contender for the IndyCar championship, and James Hinchcliffe shared a Holden Commodore in the famed endurance contest at Mount Panorama in New South Wales, Australia.

They finished 19th after starting on the last row of the 26-car grid. At one point in the race, they were running in the mid-teens before finishing just inside the top 20.

“I came here with a huge amount of respect for this place and this Series, and I’m for sure leaving with no less,” Rossi said afterward. “We knew this would be a big challenge. We didn’t come into this with an arrogance that it would be easy. By the same token, we didn’t really come here to finish 19th, either, so we are a bit bummed about that.

“Nonetheless, we finished, and we finished ahead of where we started so that’s a positive. I think that’s all we can ask for considering where we started the weekend.”

Rossi admitted it took time to get comfortable with the car, but once he was able to familiarize himself with the Commodore, they made consistent improvement in every session.

The gap between the “Wild Card” entry and the front had to do with overall familiarity with the cars, according to Rossi.

Hinchcliffe is a popular driver from Oakville, Ontario, and became a popular driver in the paddock in his first Bathurst 1000 with his friendly personality and unique wit.

He also proved to be a driver who learned in one weekend how to work with the 650-horsepower Holden Commodore.

“First ‘1000’ in the books – it was quite an experience all around,” Hinchcliffe said. “We had an OK start, but the first stint was honestly a real handful. The track conditions were quite a bit different than what we had pretty much all through practice with it being really cold and overcast and/or wet. So with the track heating up, the balance wasn’t quite there. I was working a lot with the tools in the car, so struggled a little bit in that first stint to get things on the right track.

“Alex jumped in after that, and we started to make some progress on the balance. Track grip started to come up with the rubber going down and he had a couple really good stints. I jumped back in and had a couple good stints. But one of the big challenges at that point, though, is once you’re a lap down, with the blue-flag rules here, you lose so much lap time just trying to let the leaders go by. It’s an unfortunate reality, but if you don’t want to do it, don’t go a lap down.”

Even with as much experience in racing as Hinchcliffe and Rossi possess, it’s a sport where a driver always learns something new. This past weekend in New South Wales, Australia, was one of those times.

“Oh, for sure,” Hinchcliffe said. “I think every lap you do at this place puts you in a better position than the lap before. Over the race distance, you have a lot of things that you experience that are going to be valuable to know next time you find yourself in that position. For sure, there are lessons I wish I could tell my four-day younger self, but that’s the name of the game. You’ve got to go out there and pay your dues.

“We tried to run our race and make as few mistakes as possible. We made a couple little ones, I think that’s to be expected. A lot of more experienced guys made even bigger mistakes than we did, so I think there’s a lot to be proud of from the whole team.”

A main goal was to be running at the finish, and the team was able to accomplish that. With that goal accomplished, Hinchcliffe wants do to more.

“I’m dying to come do it again,” Hinchcliffe said. “It was a ton of fun. These cars are so, so unique, but they are a blast to drive when you get it right. It feels so good when you get a strong lap here. Obviously, we still have a couple of seconds to find, so I can only imagine what that feels like. But hopefully, we’ll get an opportunity to do it again one day.”

Although Hinchcliffe is eager to return, Rossi has to think about whether he wants to return to Bathurst one day.

“I don’t know yet,” Rossi said. “You may have to ask me that again later, I’m still digesting the weekend. I think the whole Walkinshaw Andretti United team did a really good job of helping James and I. We felt really comfortable in the car at the end, but ultimately we’re missing something in terms of pace and performance.

“I think the overall confidence of the car was at the limit. Just sliding around. The high-speed corners I felt really comfortable. So, I think the biggest thing is just understanding the car at its limit. If I was starting all over again tomorrow, that would have made it a much easier proposition.

“Nonetheless, I think we learned a lot.”

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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