Photo credit: ProMotocross.com/Matt Rice

Weston Peick enjoying dream season after transitioning from privateer to factory Motocross rider

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Five rounds into the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship, the alliance between Weston Peick and the RCH Racing team has already been paying dividends for both sides.

Peick was signed by the team after RCH Racing was forced to rebuild their stable of riders at the end of the Supercross season – one rider, Broc Tickle, suffered a back injury, and the other, Josh Hill, parted ways with the team. A privateer in the truest sense of the term, Peick was the obvious selection based on his stellar results in limited action last season.

Privateers are the lifeblood of motocross. There are a limited number of factory rides available each year, and the rest of the field is comprised of riders who completely fund their own entry, possibly with the help of a few smaller sponsors. Privateers typically travel across the country in a van, which doubles as their pit setup on race days, buy their own equipment, and serve as their own mechanic.

Last season, Peick lived the privateer life. Only able to race five rounds due to lack of funding, when Peick did show up to a race, he would be pitting out of his van and working on his own bike. Incredibly, against all odds, he turned in numerous top-ten moto finishes.

As a privateer, the cards are stacked against you, and being able to produce like that made many people in the industry take notice, including the factory-backed RCH Racing squad co-owned by Carey Hart and motocross legend Ricky Carmichael.

“I’ve been working really hard the last few years to get to where I am today, and I think everything just fell in place,” Peick said of the deal.

In contrast to privateers, riders on factory teams backed by the leading bike manufacturers have access to world-class training facilities and equipment, their own mechanic and crew, and large trailers that they can cool off in on race day. They also rarely have to pay their own expenses, an important difference that explains why many privateers have such short careers – they just can’t afford to run their own operation.

Having factory support for all 12 rounds this year has not only boosted Peick’s performance, it has also changed his demeanor and his attitude towards racing.

“There’s so many little things that add up, and it just makes it so much easier and you start to actually have fun again when you’re on a factory team,” Peick said during an interview this week at RedBud. “You show up and everything’s ready to go instead of showing up in a van and having to still do everything. It definitely takes a lot of weight off your shoulders and just makes life so much easier.”

The payoff for Peick has been the best results of his career. He had shown flashes of being an upper-tier rider in the past, but now that he’s backed by factory equipment, he’s been able to consistently make it a reality, with three top-five finishes to his credit through the first ten motos of the season. He also has finished inside the top-ten in every moto except for one. For RCH Racing, Peick is the most successful rider the team has had in their short history.

That consistency has elevated Peick to sixth overall in 450 Class points – just ten points back of Brett Metcalfe for fifth. Before the season’s finished, Peick wants to take that position.

What does Peick think he’ll need to do in order to end the season in the top-five? “I think just keep working my way towards the front and start getting into that podium position,” he said. “I think it’ll pay off by the end of the year.”

If there’s been one knock on Peick this season, it has been his starts. He seems to always be working his way through the field from outside the top-ten. It remains to be seen what he’d be capable of with stronger starts, but he’s hopeful that he can snap the streak Saturday at RedBud.

“This weekend I think my goal is to hopefully get better starts and get up in the top-five sooner and try to run with the top four guys [Roczen, Dungey, Stewart, Canard] and just run that pace and get used to it and move up from there,” he said.

Among the riders impressed by Peick’s tenacity has been his RCH Racing teammate, Ivan Tedesco. “Weston’s been riding awesome,” Tedesco said. “He’s been consistent, he’s a bulldog. He hasn’t been getting the greatest starts, and he just powers through. Good shape, rides good, and he’s a good all-around dude. A good teammate.”

Peick continues his quest for the top-five Saturday at RedBud. Watch live coverage of the Red Bull RedBud National starting at 10:30 AM E.T. with the second practice session and pre-race show, exclusively on ProMotocross.com and NBC Sports Live Extra. All four motos stream live online starting at 1 PM E.T.

NBC will also carry live television coverage of the final 450 Class moto at 3 PM E.T. NBCSN will then pick up the action at 4 PM E.T. with the final 250 Class moto.

Vandoorne: No extra pressure at McLaren despite chance of Button comeback

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JULY 13:  Stoffel Vandoorne of Belgium driving the McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team McLaren MP4-31 Honda RA616H Hybrid turbo on track during F1 testing at Silverstone Circuit on July 13, 2016 in Northampton, England.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Stoffel Vandoorne believes that he will face no extra pressure during his debut Formula 1 season despite there being a chance Jenson Button will return to a McLaren seat for 2018.

McLaren announced over the Italian Grand Prix weekend that Vandoorne would be stepping up to a full-time seat for the 2017 season after spending the past year in a reserve role.

The Belgian will partner Fernando Alonso following Jenson Button’s decision to take a year out from F1 in 2017.

However, should both the driver and team be willing, Button is able to return to a McLaren seat for 2018, appearing to put pressure on Vandoorne should he not perform. The 2015 GP2 Series champion does not see it this way, though.

“No, I don’t see that situation as extra pressure. I have a long-term deal with McLaren,” Vandoorne told the official F1 website.

“Hopefully we soon will be able to get back to the competitive level where McLaren used to be.

“In terms of next year, yes it is a special structure, but I think it is one of the best. Myself and Fernando are going to race, and then it is good to keep Jenson as well.

“He is the most experienced driver in F1 now and he will be involved with the team, be it in the simulator or coming to a few races.”

“I am fully thinking about the opportunity that I get – there is no room for non-issues. I want to succeed and am very much looking forward to that.”

Marquez fights back from poor start to win Aragon MotoGP race

ALCANIZ, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 24:  Marc Marquez of Spain and Repsol Honda Team rounds the bend during the qualifying practice during the MotoGP of Spain - Qualifying at Motorland Aragon Circuit on September 24, 2016 in Alcaniz, Spain.  (Photo by Mirco Lazzari gp/Getty Images)
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Honda rider Marc Marquez took a big step towards winning his third MotoGP world title in 2016 after fighting back from a poor start to win the Aragon Grand Prix on Sunday.

Marquez was expected to walk away with the race after dominating practice and qualifying, only for a mistake on lap three to cause the pole-sitter to drop to fifth place.

Suzuki rider Maverick Vinales took up the mantle at the head of the pack with future Yamaha teammate Valentino Rossi in tow as Marquez began his fightback.

The Spaniard deposed Andrea Dovizioso on lap five before picking off title rival Jorge Lorenzo two laps later.

Vinales lost the lead to Rossi on lap nine before slipping past Marquez and Lorenzo one lap later, with the lead finally falling to Marquez on lap 12.

From there, Marquez controlled proceedings at the front of the pack, pulling out an advantage of 2.7 seconds come the checkered flag.

Lorenzo bounced back from a crash in Sunday morning warm-up to finish second, his best result since the Italian Grand Prix in May, while Rossi rounded out the podium positions.

Marquez’s fourth victory of the season sees his lead extend to 52 points over Rossi, meaning he could mathematically wrap up the title at the next race in Japan.

Vinales finished the race fourth for Suzuki ahead of Cal Crutchlow and Dani Pedrosa, while the Espargaro brothers crossed the line seventh and eighth, Aleix ahead of Pol. Alvaro Bautista and Stefan Bradl rounded out the top 10.

Nicky Hayden’s one-off return to MotoGP with the Marc VDS team saw him pick up a solitary point for P15, the American rider standing in for the injured Jack Miller.

MotoGP returns in three weeks’ time at the Twin Ring Motegi in Japan on October 16.

Binder clinches Moto3 world title at Aragon with four races to spare

ALCANIZ, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 24:  Brad Binder of South Africa and Red Bull KTM Ajo heads down a straight during the qualifying practice during the MotoGP of Spain - Qualifying at Motorland Aragon Circuit on September 24, 2016 in Alcaniz, Spain.  (Photo by Mirco Lazzari gp/Getty Images)
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Brad Binder became South Africa’s first motorcycle racing world champion since 1980 by clinching the Moto3 title at Motorland Aragon on Sunday.

Binder, 21, made his debut on the MotoGP ladder back in 2011 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the 125cc class, which became known as Moto3 the following year.

Binder scored his first podium in 2014 with Mahindra, but did not ascend to the top step until this year’s Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez.

The result sparked a run of three straight victories that was bookended by four podiums, vaulting the KTM rider into the championship lead.

Further wins followed at Silverstone and Misano, leaving Binder on the brink of sealing the championship at Motorland Aragon on Sunday.

After qualifying seventh, Binder became embroiled in the battle for victory at the front of the pack, taking the lead on the final lap.

Despite running wide at the final corner and losing out to Jorge Navarro by 0.030 seconds in a sprint to the line, second place was enough to clinch Binder the championship.

Binder becomes South Africa’s first world champion in motorcycle racing since Jon Ekerold in 1980.

Binder will make the move up to Moto2 in 2017 with KTM, and will undoubtedly have his sights on moving up to the premier class of motorcycle racing, MotoGP, not long after that.

‘Fast Jack’ Beckman back to living up to his nickname at Gateway

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“Fast Jack” Beckman came into this weekend’s AAA Insurance Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park in a big predicament.

He didn’t live up to his colorful nickname during last week’s Carolina Nationals, the opening race of the six-race Countdown to the Championship.

Beckman was actually more like “Slow Jack,” as he failed to advance past the first round at Carolina in last Sunday’s eliminations.

He also failed to advance past the first round in the final pre-Countdown qualifying race, the U.S. Nationals, which he won last season.

All those things combined have put even more pressure on Beckman. He left Charlotte eighth in the 10-driver Funny Car Countdown standings.

2016_Jack_Beckman headshot

Being scored 110 points behind Funny Car points leader Ron Capps, Beckman had his work cut out for him heading into this weekend’s race at Gateway, in Madison, Illinois, just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis.

And as he has done numerous times in his career, when the pressure was on him, Beckman responded, qualifying No. 2 on Saturday for Sunday’s eliminations.

Robert Hight earned the No. 1 qualifier position (3.893 seconds at 328.38 mph), but Beckman wasn’t far behind (3.907 seconds at 325.22 mph).

That’s a big start for Beckman, who won at Gateway in 2012 and ended up second in last year’s championship battle that was won by fellow veteran Del Worsham. Beckman will face Dale Creasy Jr. in the first round of eliminations.

Last season, Beckman won seven races in the 24-race NHRA national event schedule. This season has been much different, as he has just one win (Chicago in July).

But that doesn’t mean he still can’t win each of the five remaining Countdown races – which obviously would go a long way towards earning him his second career Funny Car championship (and in five seasons).

Beckman isn’t panicking after Charlotte. He’s finished first, third and second in three of the last four seasons. He knows he and his Infinite Hero Dodge Charger have the capability to make a serious championship run.

In addition to hoping he wins Sunday, Beckman is defending champion of next week’s Dodge Nationals at Maple Grove (Pa.) Raceway.

“Since you can’t control how the leading cars do, really the goal is simple: you just need to win the race,” Beckman said in a media release. “At some point we have to win the race if we have a chance.

“There’s not any other path to a championship. We lost ground we couldn’t afford to lose (at Charlotte) and we can’t afford to lose any more ground. I don’t see those teams not continuing to perform well and the only way we win the championship is to outperform them. It’s imperative we get back to our capabilities.”

A major change for Saturday’s qualifying effort paid off handsomely with his No. 2 spot for Sunday – although admittedly it was a gamble of sorts for Beckman and crew chief Jimmy Prock.

“We’re still running a five-disc clutch and we have one disc on there that when it works it’s great and when it doesn’t it smokes the tires instantly and becomes too aggressive,” Beckman said. “We’re going to take that one out and take our chances with a brand new disc. We’re taking a calculated risk but I think it’s the only choice we have.

“We have to take baby steps but we have to take them quickly or we run out of races. Before we can go quick consistently we have to get back our predictability and we have to do that by the end of (this weekend’s race at) St. Louis.

“All we can control right now is our lane. Because we’re running out of rounds, every single pass becomes more important. But if you dwell on that, there’s a high likelihood you’re not going to do as well as you want.

“As the season winds down, the pressure goes up, but if you let it affect you, you’re not going to be at your best. The only thing you can do is take a positive mindset every time you go up there.”

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