After up-and-down qualifying efforts in the first four races, Lotus came through with better “Q” form on Saturday at Circuit de Catalunya as Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean — who both hit the podium last time out in Bahrain — placed fourth and sixth respectively on the grid for tomorrow’s Spanish Grand Prix (7:30 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Network/NBC Sports Live Extra).
Naturally, Raikkonen (pictured), who comes to Barcelona 10 points back of championship leader Sebastian Vettel, isn’t letting himself get hyped up about the performance on Saturday. But he wonders if the Mercedes front row of pole sitter Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton will be able to finally turn their one-lap mastery into something more.
If they can’t, the Finn and his other main rivals may be in prime position on Sunday.
“You can’t really say on Saturday what will happen; you just have to make a good start and then see what you can do,” Raikkonen said. “We’ve got two fast Mercedes ahead of us and we’ll have to see how strong they are over a full distance. I’m sure the Ferrari and Red Bull will be competitive, so like any race we’ll just do our best and see where we end up.”
A mistake on his flying lap in Q3 caused Grosjean to originally qualify seventh this morning, but he was elevated to sixth following a grid penalty for Ferrari’s Felipe Massa. Lotus has done well in taking care of their tires this season, and the Frenchman is banking on that to help him get another solid result.
“We saw a lot of degradation during Friday’s [practice] sessions and today, it was a bit warmer, so with the changing conditions tyre management will again be key,” he said. “Our car is quite good in this aspect; it has been well designed and prepared by our engineers to preserve the tires, so we’ll see what happens and hope to find the best possible strategy.”
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.