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.

F1 Paddock Pass: Azerbaijan Grand Prix (VIDEO)

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Formula 1 returns to Europe this weekend with the renamed Azerbaijan Grand Prix from the Baku City Circuit. The track is the second longest on the schedule and the race is renamed after being called the European Grand Prix last year (all times for the weekend via NBCSN or CNBC here).

Here with the latest from the paddock in Baku is the latest edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass, with F1 pit reporter and insider Will Buxton joined by producer Jason Swales.

Swales celebrates his 300th Grand Prix on site this weekend, a major milestone after his 250th was celebrated a couple seasons ago at the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas. As you can see below, McLaren Honda’s Fernando Alonso has joined in the festivities.

There’s plenty of fun to recap and plenty of important angles to preview in this week’s show, which you can see below in three parts.

 

Raikkonen prepared to sacrifice himself to help Vettel

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BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) Kimi Raikkonen is prepared to sacrifice himself in order to help Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel win a fifth Formula One title.

Vettel leads the championship by 12 points ahead of Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton after seven races. Raikkonen is fourth and already trails Vettel by 68 points.

“When I don’t have a chance mathematically to fight for the championship, for sure I will help him. I have no issues with that,” Raikkonen said Thursday. “It’s about the team and the first thing is to try and make sure we are at the top with Ferrari.”

Ferrari is chasing its first drivers’ title since Raikkonen won his only title in 2007 and its first constructors’ title since 2008.

In the constructors’ battle, Ferrari trails Mercedes by eight points heading into this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

“We have a good car everywhere. Hopefully we’ll be at the front again,” Raikkonen said. “It’s been close every race this year.”

Although the Finnish driver looked set for victory at the Monaco Grand Prix last month, his hopes were ended when his team brought him into the pits for a tire change earlier than he wanted. That left Vettel in the clear to race away to victory, with Raikkonen finishing second.

Even though Raikkonen was disappointed in the aftermath of that race, and made his frustration known, he now appears fully committed to helping Vettel when the time comes.

“I think we have very clear rules in the team and what the team wants us to do. It goes by those rules,” Raikkonen said. “Nothing has changed and we know exactly when things will go either way. That’s fine.”

The 37-year-old Raikkonen acknowledged that Vettel’s consistency makes him the obvious choice as the team’s No. 1 driver.

“Seb has done very good races so far and has been strong everywhere,” Raikkonen said. “I was not starting very well the first races. I was not where I wanted to be.”

Kanaan finding IndyCar ‘more competitive than ever’

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Chip Ganassi Racing’s Tony Kanaan believes that the Verizon IndyCar Series is becoming “more competitive than ever” as the championship’s plans for the future begin to become clear.

INDYCAR bosses have outlined a five-year plan for the series moving forward, with a universal aero kit in 2018 and a push for a third manufacturer to join Chevrolet and Honda in the future on the agenda.

The 2017 season has kicked off in an unpredictable fashion as seven drivers have shared the opening nine race wins, with Will Power and Graham Rahal being the only repeat winners.

Kanaan feels that the series is only becoming more and more competitive, with the introduction of the universal aero kit poised to aid that from next year.

“I think it is going to be more competitive than ever as we still have different aero kits that can make a difference. Next year is going to be even tougher,” Kanaan said.

“At the last race [in Texas] we had 15 cars and two-tenths of a second. I think it is the right direction, and they are also trying to keep the costs down which is the biggest challenge in racing all over the world, to get the teams to afford to be there.

“The way they are doing the kits, trying to get more teams and new teams into the series, and it is working. We had three new teams at Indy 500 and they are looking forward to coming back. We should try to add more teams and not lose cars.”

Kanaan added that a third manufacturer would be “a big help” for IndyCar, saying: “They are in talks with two others but I don’t know who they are but more people, cars, manufacturers, teams will always help.”

Having made his debut in American single-seaters back in 1998, Kanaan has raced through many different eras, but does not believe the series has ever been more competitive.

“It doesn’t get any easier and I don’t get any younger. It goes the opposite way!” Kanaan chuckled.

“It is amazing as you cannot afford to have one little problem or one little hiccup in a race. Before if you did that you would finish third or fourth but now you will finish 15th.

“You have 22 cars and in some races 21 of them on the lead lap and five seconds from one another. It raised the game for the mechanics too with the importance of pit stops.”

Sauber driver Ericsson dismisses talk of favoritism in team

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BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) Formula One driver Marcus Ericsson has dismissed talk of favoritism within Sauber following the unexpected departure of team principal Monisha Kaltenborn.

Kaltenborn, who was also Sauber’s chief executive officer, left Wednesday by mutual consent. The news came shortly after another team statement denying reports of unfair treatment between the Swedish driver and German teammate Pascal Wehrlein.

“There were a lot of stories in the press about this unfair advantage for one driver. It was upsetting, disrespectful, it’s false and untrue,” Ericsson said Thursday ahead of this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix. “For me and Pascal, it’s been very clear that’s not the case. We’ve both been given equal equipment.”

Ericsson has yet to score a point after seven races, while Wehrlein has four points after an eighth-place finish at the Spanish GP in May.

“We’re not going to go on holiday together, but as teammates goes we’ve been working really good together so far,” Ericsson said. “When we try different things across the cars, we discuss things.”

Sauber’s statement said Kaltenborn left “due to diverging views of the future of the company.” Her successor has not been announced.

The 46-year-old Kaltenborn joined Sauber in 2000 as head of its legal department and later became chief executive officer.

“We have to trust the owners that they know what they’re doing, and that they have a good plan for the future,” Ericsson said. “I have a lot to thank Monisha for. She was the one who gave me the chance to come here after my year in Caterham.”

Wehrlein also praised Kaltenborn for standing by him. He missed the first two races of the season after injuring his back in a crash at the Race of Champions in Miami in January, sustaining hairline cracks in vertebrae and compressing some of his intervertebral discs.

“Monisha was very close to me at one of my toughest times in my career so far,” Wehrlein said. “I am very thankful for that, and this is something that I will never forget.”