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?

MRTI: Barber Motorsports Park Preview

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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After a month break, the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires is back in action this weekend at Barber Motorsports Park, with two of its series tacking the 2.38-mile road course in Birmingham, Alabama.

Both the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires have double-headers this weekend, with Pro Mazda returning to Barber after not running there last year.

The season-opening weekend in St. Petersburg was a tale of two completely different stories, with two different winners – Pato O’Ward and Santi Urrutia – and more than a fair bit of chaos for Indy Lights, while Pro Mazda saw Rinus Veekay sweep the weekend.

Talking points for both series heading into Barber are below.

Indy Lights

Santi Urrutia heads to Barber leading the Indy Lights championship on the strength of finishes of second and first in St. Petersburg. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • Santi Urrutia displayed great patience at St. Petersburg, finishing second in Race 1 and winning Race 2 after rivals like O’Ward and Colton Herta faltered. However, Barber has not been one of his better tracks, with finishes of 11th, 15th, and 13th in three of his four Indy Lights starts. Yet, he did win Race 2 at Barber 2016, so he has had success there before, and he will be one of the favorites heading into the weekend.
  • Pato O’Ward looks poised to be a title contender in 2018 and will look to avenge a somewhat disappointing outing at St. Petersburg. O’Ward had the speed to sweep the weekend, winning Race 1 handily and dominating Race 2, but a mistake late in the race saw him overshoot Turn 4 and briefly stall before he could rejoin, relegating him to seventh. If O’Ward can show the pace he showed at St. Pete, he might end up being the man to beat.
  • Colton Herta will look to rebound from a St. Pete weekend in which he flashed the speed that caught everyone’s attention last year, but also committed the same mistakes that ultimately prevented him from taking a championship. After finishing third in Race 1, Herta crashed while chasing then leader O’Ward in Race 2. Herta won Race 2 at Barber last year, and getting another win this weekend, along with staying mistake free, would go a long way to erasing his problems from St. Pete.
  • Aaron Telitz is also looking to rebound after a down weekend, as his St. Petersburg weekend lasted all of two corners across both races – he won the Pole for Race 1, but crashed in Race 2 qualifying, and the Belardi Auto Racing team could not repair the car to allow him to race. After the team borrowed a chassis from Carlin for Race 2, Telitz get collected with Juncos Racing’s Victor Franzoni right off the start, and he crashed again, this time in Turn 2. Telitz finished on the podium at Barber in 2016, the year he won the Pro Mazda championship, and he’ll look for more of the same this weekend.

Pro Mazda

Rinus VeeKay swept the Pro Mazda weekend in St. Petersburg. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • Rinus Veekay had a perfect weekend to open the Pro Mazda season. The Juncos Racing driver outdueled Exclusive Autosport’s Parker Thompson for the Race 1 victory, and then ran away with Race 2 to complete the weekend sweep. Veekay was expected to be a title contender after moving up to Pro Mazda in 2018, and if he can repeat his St. Pete performance, then he may leave Barber as the heavy favorite in the championship.
  • Not to be forgotten, Parker Thompson sits second in the Pro Mazda title chase, and looks to avenge losing out to Veekay in St. Pete Race 1, and then fading somewhat to finish fifth in Race 2. Thompson was the only driver to regularly challenge Veekay and Oliver Askew in the 2017 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda season, and he and Exclusive Autosport have adapted nicely to the new Tatuus PM-18. If they can show the same form at Barber, and then finish the job with at least one trip to Victory Lane, then it could set the stage for another titanic Pro Mazda championship fight.
  • Last year’s USF2000 champion Oliver Askew had a quiet weekend in St. Pete, finishing fifth and sixth in the two races. He swept the Barber races in USF2000 last year, and will need a similar performance to vault himself forward from his current place of sixth in the standings.
  • Carlos Cunha and David Malukas head to Barber third and fourth in the championship after solid St. Pete weekends – Cunha had finishes of fourth and third, while Malukas had finishes of seventh and second. Neither was necessarily looked at as a title combatant entering 2018, but repeat performances in Barber could vault them into title contention.

A full weekend schedule, including the Mazda Road to Indy sessions, can be viewed here.

**Note: NBCSN will broadcast Sunday’s Indy Lights race (Race 2 from the weekend) on Monday, April 23.**

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