Motocross: Canard, Pourcel set fastest laps in qualifying at Unadilla

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The dominant trio in the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship’s 450 Class recently has consisted of Ken Roczen, Ryan Dungey and Eli Tomac. After setting the fastest lap in timed qualifying this morning, Trey Canard is hoping to put his name into that mix today at Unadilla.

Canard topped the charts in both of this morning’s practice sessions – consistently posting times that were a full second quicker than the rest of the field.

Still in search of his first moto win, Canard has shown that he can get up front and lead a few laps but has stuggled to stay there over the course of a full 30+ minute moto. After practice, he noted that the track is shaping up to provide quite a challenge for the riders today.

“The track is gonna be tough today,” Canard said. “It’s really rutty, and it’s been pretty muddy, but I think it’s gonna dry out and get kind of hard and edgy. So I think it’s gonna be fun, I’m looking forward to it. Hopefully we can have a good couple motos.”

In the 250 Class, Christophe Pourcel edged out points leader Jeremy Martin to qualify first. Pourcel has made a habit out of dominating practice this year – he has now posted the fastest lap in eight out of ten races.

Qualifying in first will once again entitle Pourcel to the first gate pick for Moto 1. It’s been working out well for him this year, at least in the sense that he’s been able to use the first gate pick to propel himself to strong starts. Pourcel has won the holeshot in seven out of 18 motos so far this season.

Like Canard, Pourcel’s issue has been holding onto the lead once he gets out front, and he is in search of his first moto win of the season as well. Pourcel is a big fan of Unadilla though and feels plenty optimistic about his odds today.

“This track is the best for me, it’s my favorite track,” Pourcel said. “So I enjoy it. I think they put a little bit too much water [on the track] this morning. But the track’s getting together and they’re fixing corners. So I think it’s gonna be a good day, and it always feels good to go fast.”

450 Class Top Qualifying Times
1. Trey Canard, 2:14.313
2. Eli Tomac, 2:15.538
3. Ryan Dungey, 2:16.146
4. Ken Roczen, 2:16.813
5. Brett Metcalfe, 2:17.385

250 Class Top Qualifying Times
1. Christophe Pourcel, 2:14.349
2. Jeremy Martin, 2:14.424
3. Zach Osborne, 2:16.023
4. Blake Baggett, 2:16.108
5. Marvin Musquin, 2:16.130

Coverage of the Red Bull Unadilla National resumes at 12:15 PM E.T. with the pre-race show, which can be seen online exclusively on NBC Sports Live Extra. First motos in both classes will stream live starting at 1:00 PM E.T., with second motos to follow at 3:00 PM E.T. Click here to access the Live Extra stream.

NBC will also have live television coverage of the second 450 Class moto at 3:00 PM E.T., with coverage shifting over to NBCSN at 4:00 PM E.T. for the second 250 Class moto.

Schmidt Peterson aiming high with Hinchcliffe, Wickens

Photo: IndyCar
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The new Schmidt Peterson Motorsports duo of James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens expressed a high amount of confidence during Wednesday’s confirmation of Hinchcliffe’s return and Wickens’ signing, as the pair looks to return the Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson co-owned team to prominent status within the Verizon IndyCar Series.

“We’re hoping to give Toronto and Ontario and Canadian sports fans in general something to cheer about over the next season,” Hinchcliffe quipped during a teleconference on Wednesday.

Granted, there are likely to be several challenges to overcome, notably for Wickens, who returns to single-seater competition for the first time since 2011, when he was a champion of the Formula Renault 3.5 series and served as test driver for the now defunct Manor Racing (then known as Marussia Virgin Racing).

Having spent every year since then in DTM, where he won a total of six races and finished as high as fourth in the championship (2016), Wickens knows returning to open wheel competition will be an adjustment. However, he explained that the history of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, specifically its Indy Lights history, speaks to their ability to help a driver adapt, and he rates the program they’re putting together very highly.

“I think Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have a fantastic driver development program. They showed that in their multiple Indy Lights championships along the way. I think we will have a strong program in place. I have a feeling that the simulator will be my new best friend,” Wickens said when asked about getting reacquainted with an open-wheel car.

Of course, having an experienced teammate like Hinchcliffe to lean on will undoubtedly help the transition, something Wickens readily admitted.

“I’m very fortunate that I have James as my teammate because he’s so experienced, I can learn off him. Because we already have such a good off-track relationship, I feel like you can just take his word, trust him, kind of move forward with it,” he revealed.

They’ve been teammates before, both in karting where they first met in 2001, and then in the now-defunct A1 Grand Prix series in 2007-2008, a series that pitted nations against each other in spec open-wheel cars. Funnily, that A1GP type of vibe returns as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports now has that with its “Team Canada” mantra while all four of Andretti Autosport’s full-season drivers are American.

For Hinchcliffe, Wickens’ background, even if it hasn’t been in the single-seater realm since 2011, was a big selling point in adding him to the team.

“In Robby, we have a proven winner at a very high level. The level of technical expertise that he comes with from his time in DTM is very impressive,” he said of Wickens’ technical background.

Hinchcliffe added that Wickens’ ability to analyze the car and its setup was evidenced in two outings: one at Sebing International Raceway in March, in part of a “ride swap” between the two longtime friends, and a second at Road America, when he subbed on Friday practice for Mikhail Aleshin.

Wickens sampled Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda earlier this year. Photo: IndyCar

Hinchcliffe revealed that Wickens’ feedback to the team and his ability to quickly adapt to the chassis took everyone somewhat by surprise.

“We did our ride swap. He had two hours in the car, hardly anything even resembling a test day, and his performance was pretty impressive. No doubt the time in Road America helped because that really gave us a better sense of his technical feedback, integrated with the team a little bit more. Everybody was happy to work with him on that day,” said Hinchcliffe.

Further still, Hinchcliffe is firm in his belief that the 2018 aero kit and its reduction in aerodynamic downforce will fall right into Wickens’ wheelhouse, based on Hinchcliffe’s own take after sampling Wickens’ DTM Mercedes earlier this year.

“In all honesty, I was saying earlier today, the 2018 car is probably better suited for him than the 2017 car because of the experience he’s had the last handful of series,” Hinchcliffe asserted.

“The (aero kit) was such high downforce, it would be a big change coming out of DTM. But with the loss of downforce that we’ve seen, the car is moving around a little bit more, brake zones, things like that, it won’t be as big a transition I think. Just based on the experience that I got in our ride swap, I think he’s going to adapt very quickly, be comfortable very quickly, and as a result be competitive very quickly. So it’s going to be exciting.”

As for expectations heading into next year, team co-owner Schmidt did not mince words and expects the team’s performance to resemble what they did in 2012, 2013, and 2014, when they won a total of four races (with driver Simon Pagenaud) and finished in the top five in the championship each year.

“We had a stint in ’12, ’13, ’14 where we finished fifth in the points (or better. I think we want to get back to that level of competition,” Schmidt added. “We felt like we were missing things in having two cars with equal funding and equal drivers and equal capabilities. We think this gets back there.”

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