Motocross: What to watch for today at Thunder Valley

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If anyone is going to emerge as a first-time winner today, they’ll not only have to battle the dominant Red Bull KTM and Star Yamaha teams, they’ll also have to contend with some challenging conditions.

The Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship is at Thunder Valley in Lakewood, Colorado for the third round of the 12-stop series. This race brings a unique element to the championship race – at an elevation of more than 6,000 feet above sea level, bikes are robbed of horsepower, and riders get winded much easier. In order to overcome these elements, riders must be in peak physical condition, and they must have a team behind them capable of making the necessary adjustments to coax as much power out of their bikes as possible.

Riders will be tested as soon as the gate drops in each race. The very first thing they’ll have to deal with is an uphill straightaway where power will be especially important. Starts are one of the most important elements motocross – if you don’t get a good one, working your way up to a podium position is a longshot.

Add this to the fact that the Red Bull KTM duo of Ryan Dungey and Ken Roczen has dominated the 450 Class, while the Yamalube/Star Racing/Yamaha sophomores Jeremy Martin and Cooper Webb have been running away from the field in the 250 Class, and it’s going to be a tall order for any other rider to capture their first win of the season.

For a look at the uphill start and all the other features riders will encounter today, check out an animated preview of the track layout below:

Live coverage from Thunder Valley begins at 12:30pm E.T. with the second practice session, available on ProMotocross.com and NBC Sports Live Extra. Coverage resumes with the online-only pre-show at 2:15pm E.T., followed by all four motos streaming live online from 3-7pm E.T. NBCSN will also carry live coverage of the second motos in both classes at 5pm E.T. Click here to access the Live Extra stream.

Here’s a few storylines to keep an eye on as you watch today’s races.

450 Class

Justin Barcia (4-5 at Hangtown): Currently sixth in the 450MX points standings, the Honda Muscle Milk rider is out for today’s race with foot and ankle injuries.

James Stewart (5-3 at Hangtown), Trey Canard (3-4 at Hangtown), Brett Metcalfe (6-9 at Hangtown): If anyone is going to top Roczen or Dungey this week, these three have the best chances to do it. Stewart’s results have steadily improved with each moto, Canard has been consistently fast, and Metcalfe led a few laps a week ago at Hangtown.

Weston Peick (8-6 at Hangtown): It feels like it’s only a matter of time before Peick records a top-five overall finish. In his first season riding on a factory team, Peick has done well but needs better starts in order to elevate himself into that next tier. His best position after Lap 1 of any moto this year is tenth.

Josh Grant (9-39 at Hangtown): After winning the first moto of the season, Hangtown wasn’t the encore Grant was looking for. He was hampered by a bad start in Moto 1 last weekend, then had bike issues and twisted his ankle in Moto 2. Thunder Valley may help provide a better idea of what to expect going forward.

250 Class

Jessy Nelson (7-5 at Hangtown): Martin and Webb are the biggest surprises in the 250 Class, but Nelson has been quite a revelation too, quietly working his way up to fourth in 250MX points after a career-best fifth-overall finish at Hangtown. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that he’s done it without getting good starts – something that he’s proven capable of in the past. If he puts it all together, he could go down as one of the most improved riders not on a blue bike.

Blake Baggett (6-34 at Hangtown): After two rounds, Baggett sits 52 points back of Martin in the championship race. There’s still a long season ahead, but the 2012 champion already has a lot of ground to make up. To put it in perspective, Martin could DNF both motos at Thunder Valley, Baggett could sweep both motos, and the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki rider would still find himself two points back of Martin.

Jackson Richardson (21-9 at Hangtown): Richardson is a full-fledged privateer from Australia who always seems to turn in solid results when he races in the U.S, and his most recent success was a ninth-place finish in Moto 2 last weekend. Thunder Valley could mark his last Lucas Oil Pro Motocross race of the season before he goes back to Australia though. Can he get one more impressive result under his belt before heading home?

2017 PRI Show post-weekend notebook

Rahal and Bell's Chris Wheeler. Photo: IndyCar
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The 2017 edition of the Performance Racing Industry (PRI) trade show is in the books for another year. Here’s some notes we gathered from the event at the Indiana Convention Center in downtown Indianapolis.

While INDYCAR did not have a booth at this year’s show, there were still some interesting Verizon IndyCar Series and Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires nuggets to emerge.

RAHAL RUNNING REV

On Thursday, Graham Rahal was named as honorary chair of the Rev Indy charity event, held before the month of May’s on-track activity at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway really gets going. The event is sponsored by Fifth Third Bank, which grew its relationship with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing this past year.

The kickoff event was held at legendary St. Elmo’s, at its 1933 Lounge upstairs, with some samples of the food that will be served. Particularly noteworthy was St. Elmo’s trademark shrimp cocktail, which even caught out some local reporters on its heat…

PAGENAUD IN FINE FORM

Pagenaud meets the media. Photo: IndyCar

Further breakouts from him will come in the following days, but Simon Pagenaud was in very good spirits when meeting a small group of reporters on Thursday. The 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series champion mentioned a small relief that he didn’t have to go through the ringer of the champion’s postseason media tour in the days after Sonoma, as he won the season finale. That can be draining, he said, but it allowed him to get refreshed. Since Sonoma, he raced at Petit Le Mans, where he drove with Team Penske’s one-off Oreca 07 Gibson LMP2 car, he went back home to France before coming back to the U.S. for a mix of testing and other year-end commitments.

Of the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit, Pagenaud said it’s close to the initial Dallara DW12 chassis at its outset, although hailed the better and more balanced weight distribution of the new kit.

He also said it will be a different team dynamic without having Helio Castroneves there full-time. Castroneves, he said, kept all three of Pagenaud, Josef Newgarden and Will Power grounded and all in good temperament at the same time. Pagenaud made an interesting point that with each of the three full-time drivers all at the same point in their careers – they all have one championship and none has an Indianapolis 500 victory yet – none has the upper hand, and there isn’t the “aura” of Castroneves’ three ‘500 wins hanging over their head.

On top of that, Pagenaud cracked several jokes and hailed his involvement as part of the “Penske Games” social media competition the team created. In some respects, Pagenaud hailed his own lack of success there to generate more notoriety!

SPM’S SMASH, RETURN, THEN PRE-SEBRING SCRAMBLE

The 2018 Dallara UAK got its first crash test – particularly inadvertently – by James Hinchcliffe during testing last week at Phoenix International Raceway (soon to be ISM Raceway). The team was still in the process of diagnosing what caused a crash at Turn 3 of the 1-mile oval, an odd place to have an impact.

What it’s meant was the car, which is short on spare parts at the moment, had to make it back to Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ Indianapolis shop and get rebuilt over a 48-hour period in advance of this week’s final round of 2017 testing at Sebring International Raceway’s short course. Testing can run through December 14 before the holiday blackout, and before testing shifts from manufacturer testing to team testing after the new year.

SCHMIDT’S SHANK SYNC-UP FURTHER DETAILS

Schmidt, Steve Eriksen (HPD), Harvey and Shank. Photo: IndyCar

Team co-owner Sam Schmidt was present at Michael Shank’s combination IndyCar and sports car announcements on Friday, which confirmed further details of Jack Harvey’s program for next season. It’s meant to be a three-year deal, and will begin with the six races Harvey will run in 2018. Will Anderson, who has been an assistant engineer with SPM for several years after joining from Dale Coyne Racing, will be Harvey’s race engineer.

SPM will loan a chassis to Shank for testing in January before Shank’s team receives its chassis in February, and that’s an interesting point to note. Schmidt said SPM, which saw its proposed deal with Calmels Sport for next year’s Indianapolis 500 fall through, could still run a third in-house SPM car for the 2018 Indianapolis 500 beyond the two full-time entries and the MSR/Shank car for Harvey.

But Schmidt’s long-term belief and relationship with Harvey helped make the move a reality, as Harvey drove two really strong years with the team in Indy Lights.

“His timeline is our timeline; we were not going to do it for only one year,” Schmidt told NBC Sports. “Jack has been a part of this team for several years and our job is to help him and Mike continue to grow in their IndyCar careers.”

FURTHER TBA’S GETTING REVEALED SOON?

Gathered around the Bell booth in Indy. Photo: IndyCar

If the rumor mill is to be believed, next week could see at least one if not both of the two known outstanding TBA slots at Dale Coyne Racing (No. 19 Honda) and Ed Carpenter Racing (No. 20 Chevrolet for road and street courses) get revealed.

We spoke to Carpenter at the PRI Show who confirmed the No. 20 car’s road and street course car is “close” to being filled, and is down to just two potential candidates. Asked when he wanted to announce, Carpenter deadpanned, “Last week!”

If you know the names of the free agents that are already out there, you pretty much know who’s in the frame for these two seats.

Carpenter has one more round of testing this week at Sebring. The team has been busy with testing at multiple tracks, and has moved into its new shop on Georgetown Rd. from its previous location near IMS in Speedway, Ind.

BUSY TIMES AT BELL BOOTH WITH INDY, MRTI DRIVERS

Both Carpenter and Spencer Pigot were among a bevy of IndyCar and Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires drivers on the Bell Racing U.S.A. stage during the weekend. Others included Graham Rahal, Marco Andretti, Conor Daly, Zach Veach, Jack Harvey and Pippa Mann, and MRTI veterans Aaron Telitz, Ayla Agren, Juan Piedrahita and Colton Herta.

Additionally, Bell announced it will be opening a pro shop in Speedway. It’s busy times for the helmet manufacturer but one that is held in high regard in the open-wheel and sports car communities.

GOOD TIMES FOR DUSICK’S CHARITY EVENT

Another of the quickly-becoming-a-PRI-staple type events is the “Racers Know Dave Dusick” charity fundraiser, supported by Cooper Tires, which this year supported the Riley Children’s Foundation. That foundation supports Riley Hospital for Children, Indiana’s only comprehensive hospital dedicated exclusively to the care of kids.

A further recap can be found via Dusick’s @IKnowDaveDusick Twitter account; Dusick is a veteran behind-the-scenes member of the racing community, primarily known for his Race Track Engineering business and a member of race control groups in various series. A tweet from Alexander Rossi is below.

CALLAWAY CONFIRMATION GIVES PWC NEEDED SHOT IN THE ARM

Callaway, Cooper, Gill. Photo: PWC

Pirelli World Challenge got three good pieces of news in a two-day period last week, with first the pair of Wednesday announcements that K-PAX Racing would switch to Bentley’s Continental GT3 models and Robinson Racing would run a pair of Mercedes-AMG GT4s in the GTS class.

Confirmation of Callaway’s team program for GT in 2018, with Michael Cooper and Daniel Keilwitz the two drivers revealed there, was an added bonus. The striking Callaway Corvette C7 GT3-R was unveiled in full, with comments from Reeves Callaway and WC Vision head Greg Gill, with other series insiders present. Aided by the addition of Erin Gahagan as team manager, who has recent PWC experience with EFFORT Racing, that should help Callaway in its entry into the championship. She will continue as team manager for the Tequila Patron ESM team with its Nissan Onroak DPi in IMSA for another season as well.

Cooper’s confirmation keeps him in another GM model after developing into a top-line GT driver the last couple seasons in one of the factory Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.Rs, and after winning a GTS championship in a Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R prior to that. Keilwitz, an ADAC GT Masters veteran, will be new to the U.S. but should learn quickly as other European converts tend to do.

“In a word, hallelujah,” was Gill’s immediate take at the presentation of the new car.

PWC also held its annual “State of the Series” meeting for competitors on Friday afternoon. A combination of the usual marketing, competition and communication updates were revealed to competitors. Some more intriguing elements from that should be revealed at a later date.