Photo by David Campli.
When other kids were playing soccer or football, Robert Torres was at the racetrack. “It goes back to when I was around 6,” says the Great Valley High School graduate. “I always had a passion for speed and controlling something fast. I liked to race my bike around the driveway and the neighborhood.”
Torres started in a go-kart league in New Castle, Del., then another one in Horsham. He earned local championship titles along the way. “It was a good first step for me before jumping into a racing school,” he says.
By eighth grade, Torres knew he was serious. “I grew up believing that there’s always room to improve—the natural drive that makes that fire rise in my stomach, and the passion, hard-headedness and relentlessness come out,” says Torres, who credits his father, Manny, for instilling that mentality.
Through the go-kart racing league, Torres was able to elevate his skills, setting himself up for the next level. “One summer, an instructor there provided some coaching, and he really blossomed,” says his father, who spent many Saturdays trackside with his son during those league years. “He had the drive for it, the passion for it. When he turned 18 and there was an opportunity to get some advanced training, Robert clearly wanted to do it.”
During his senior year in 2017, Torres attended the Bertil Roos Racing School near the Poconos, where he earned his Sports Car Club of America competition license. Today, at 20, he’s in full-time pursuit of a dream to one day become a pro—either as a Formula 1 driver or in the IndyCar Series. As a competitor in the Lucas Oil Formula Car Series, Torres is currently a step below the pro level. His coach is Jonathan Scarallo of the New York-based Group-A Racing.
In a year’s time, Torres hopes to be a Formula 4 driver, something he’s had a taste of throughout his training. He’s currently behind the wheel of a Ray GR-RSC in the Lucas Oil series, working as a development driver with Group-A Racing. He travels once a month to meet with Scarallo at the track. In between, there’s no let up. “We have what’s called iRacing, which is extremely sophisticated, extremely realistic videogames—more of a simulator-type of program,” says Scarallo. “We’ll run on that a lot between events and to help speed up the learning process. It never replicates what it’s like to do it in real life, but it helps.”
The simulator lives in the Torres’s basement. “We usually do 60- to 90-minute sessions,” says Scarallo. “Anything past that, you need to take a break and step back and let everything sink in and do it again a few days later.”
The two also analyze data from the track. “Everything the driver does—as well as the health and status of the car—gets recorded, and they download it,” says Manny. “They play the whole thing back in between practice sessions. They tear it apart.”
The Torres family’s Malvern basement has become a veritable training ground for Torres, who also has weights and a stationery bicycle there. “It’s the one thing over the last few years that I’ve put above my racing, because you have to be in shape in order to race,” says Torres of his exercise regimen.
That means biking 13-14 miles a day, either out on the trails in nicer weather or on the stationery bike during the cooler months. Torres also focuses on strength training, which is important to combat the strain inflicted by the velocity of racing at high speeds, along with the added weight of a helmet, which can tax the neck and shoulder muscles. His commitment to cardio doesn’t let up during race weekends—he’s still out there, racking up the miles on his bike.
Scarallo is seeing that dedication to fitness translate into results on the track. “Right away, you could see it in his stamina,” he says. “If you’re losing 1/10 of a second per turn, it’s not good enough.”
Torres will put his training to the test at the 2019 Lucas Oil series, which kicks off in May and runs through October, with six different events throughout the U.S. This year, drivers compete at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Virginia International Raceway, New Jersey Motorports Park, NCM Motorsports Park in Kentucky and Road America in Wisconsin. The series finale is at Sebring International Raceway in Florida, where Torres finished second during the winter series this past January. Last year, he scored his first podium finish at NOLA Motorsports Park in Louisiana. “On average, the tracks are about three miles long with about 12 to 15 turns in them,” says Scarallo. “If you lose 1/10 of a second per turn, you’re 1.2, 1.5 seconds off.”
The winner of the series walks away with $50,000—and for most of it, Manny will be at his son’s side. “You’d think that parents would be nervous, but that went away a long time ago,” says Manny. “When I see him on the track, he’s so comfortable in the car. It’s the case of the man and the machine as one. It’s an art to watch.”