After a one-month break, the Pirelli World Challenge is back in action on the streets of Long Beach, Calif. this weekend. It marks the second time it will share the schedule with the IZOD IndyCar Series.
Sunday’s race starts at 4:30 p.m. PT, after the IndyCar race. It will air on the NBC Sports Network Sunday, May 5, at 2 p.m. ET.
Some of the key storylines to follow are below:
Long Beach marks a home race for a handful of drivers, including GT class points leader and St. Petersburg race two winner James Sofronas. Sofronas’ Global Motorsports Group, or GMG squad (pictured), is based in nearby Santa Ana, Calif. Sofronas’ Audi R8 will be back in action along with sister Audis driven by other California natives Duncan Ende (Los Angeles) and Bret Curtis (Westlake Village), and Colorado native Alex Welch. Sofronas also has a Porsche entered for Brent Holden in GT, and a Pontiac Solstice for Bill Ziegler in GTS.
Other California natives in the field include Tomy Drissi (Los Angeles, LG Corvette, GT), Tim Bell (Los Altos, CRP Nissan GT-R, GT), Kyle Kelly (Huntington Beach, Viper, GT), Craig Stanton (Long Beach, Porsche, GT), Brandon Davis (Huntington Beach, TRG Aston Martin, GTS), Nick Esayian (San Diego, RealTime Acura, GTS) and Erik Davis (Burbank, Ford Mustang, GTS).
REPEATS ON TAP?
A year ago in Long Beach, experience won out in the form of Andy Pilgrim’s Cadillac in GT and Jack Baldwin’s Porsche Cayman in GTS.
Pilgrim will seek to bring Cadillac back to the top after a difficult opening weekend for he and teammate Johnny O’Connell in St. Pete. Pilgrim’s win a year ago included a great pass of Randy Pobst’s K-PAX Racing Volvo S60.
Meanwhile Baldwin swept the St. Pete opener, also in a Cayman, and looks for three-in-a-row to start the season if he secures another triumph in Southern California.
NO DALZIEL, BUT STILL PLENTY OF STAR POWER
One of the stars of the St. Pete weekend, Ryan Dalziel, won’t be making the trip to Long Beach. Dalziel’s sponsors at the TruSpeed Porsche squad pulled out after a technical infraction in St. Pete, and the Scotsman is racing in another sports car event in Atlanta this Saturday. There’s still two Porsches in the GT class, competing against the might from Cadillac, Volvo, Nissan, Viper, Audi and Mercedes.
Chase Sexton stumbled in San Diego and Eli Tomac had a hard fall in Anaheim 2, but the Monster Energy Supercross numbers for Houston suggest they will continue to be the ones to beat in Houston. To do so, they will have to turn back challenges from another pair of riders who have swept the top five in the first three rounds and another with a worst finish of sixth.
There are reasons to believe Webb and Roczen can keep those streaks alive.
Webb is the only multiple winner at Supercross’ current Houston stadium. His pair of wins came in 2019 and 2021, the same year he won his two 450 championships.
Clinton Fowler points out this week, that Webb has carried that strength into 2023. Webb had a late surge in Anaheim 1, advancing from fifth to second in the final six laps. In San Diego, he set his ninth fastest lap with two to go and his eighth fastest on the final lap. He posted his fastest lap of Anaheim 2 on Lap 12 while the rest of the field did so on Lap 6 on average.
By comparison, Tomac set his 14th fastest lap on the final circuit in route to winning the Main at San Diego while he was trying to keep Webb at bay.
With a sixth at San Diego, Dylan Ferrandis barely missed sweeping the top five in his first three races as did Tomac with a sixth last week at Anaheim 2.
This will be the 46th year Supercross has visited Houston and with 55 races the city is tied for the second-most with Detroit. Jim Pomeroy won the first race in the Astrodome in 1974. Webb won most recently in 2021 in the final race of three held there that year as the series executed a strategy of racing in residencies to limit travel during height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomac and Justin Barcia also won in Houston in 2021.
Two privateers have started the season on a high note.
Joshua Cartwright and Joshua Varize have each made the last two Mains. Cartwright finished 18th in San Diego and 21st last week in Anaheim 2 – all while working fulltime as a Business Intelligence Analyst at the University of Texas, Dallas. Varize earned a top-15 (12th) in San Diego and was 21st in Anaheim 2 in his third season on a 450.
The numbers show none of the active 250 Supercross East riders have won in Houston, so no matter who steps on top of the box, there is going to be a fresh face. That is not surprising since most of the top competitors have not raced at this venue yet.
Michael Mosiman has a pair of top-fives there, however. His best finish was a second in the second 2021 race. Garrett Marchbanks scored a top-10 in his rookie season of 2019 in Houston.
In the 250 East division, Hunter Lawrence is one of the favorites to win the title now that Christian Craig has moved to 450s. Last year he had four wins and nine podiums, but failed to set a fast lap in a race.