Track the “X-factor” for Indy Lights title rivals Karam, Chaves

Sage Karam leads Gabby Chaves at Pocono (IndyCar photo)
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Firestone Indy Lights Series title protagonists Sage Karam and Gabby Chaves are series rookies, but comfortable battling each other. The two fought for the Pro Mazda, then-called Star Mazda title, a year ago before both graduated to Lights with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

Now, the teammates head to a rare unknown for them – a 2.0-mile oval at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. – a type of oval completely different to the short ovals and flat 2.5-milers they’ve run this year.

“I think the biggest thing for me and Gabby right now is the track is the X‑factor,” said Karam, who leads Chaves by 16 points (425-409) entering the weekend. “If he’s nervous, if I’m nervous, it’s because we don’t know about the track. The only thing we’ve ever seen is data and on‑board video.”

Added Chaves, “When you go to a track that you’ve been to, you know what you’re expecting, and you can kind of play your cards based on that. But here none of us have been there, so we don’t know what to expect.  We don’t have very much practice time.  I believe we got one practice and then we go straight into qualifying.  So it’s going to be difficult, obviously, but I have so much confidence in my team.”

Karam has three wins and Chaves one in this 2013 season. It’s been difficult for the title contenders – these two plus presumptive preseason favorites Jack Hawksworth and Carlos Munoz – to be appreciated for their efforts while the series has faced scrutiny over low car counts and been sold to Andersen Promotions during the year.

They’ll each have to put in a strong effort over the 50-lap, 100-mile race. The last race with Firestones will likely see a more substantial dropoff in performance compared to a road or street course race. Karam explained how he thinks he’ll manage it.

“The tire degradation does play a key role in this, so it’s going to be on Friday, figure out how we’re going to plan out our race, if we’re going to go out hard and hope the tires hang on or if we’re going to go out kind of slower and then be faster at the end,” he said. “I guess it all depends really where we’re starting and how our pace is in practice when we’re running race runs.”

Chaves feels the two are evenly matched in terms of experience level for this type of circuit. While he needs to win and have Karam finish lower than fourth to take the title as his best-case, title-winning scenario, he holds his head high heading into the weekend.

“In Indy and Pocono we’re very evenly matched, so I’m expecting a bit more of that into Fontana, and for sure it’s going to be a great showdown until the last lap,” he said.

The Firestone Indy Lights season finale airs at 7 p.m. ET, Saturday, on NBCSN.

Eli Tomac wins Houston Supercross: Hunter Lawrence takes early 250 East lead

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With his 47th career victory and third of the 2023 season in Houston, Eli Tomac closed to within one win of tying Ricky Carmichael for third on the all-time Monster Energy Supercross list.

Tomac rebounded from last week’s crash by earning the holeshot in both his heat and the Main. At the start of the big show, he couldn’t shake Aaron Plessinger in the first four minutes and actually was in the process of losing the lead as a red flag waved for a crash involving Tomac’s teammate Dylan Ferrandis when he overjumped an obstacle and landed on Ken Roczen’s back fender as they raced for eighth.

“That was a tough race,” Tomac told NBC Sports’ Will Christien, referencing his loss to Chase Sexton in the heat. “And honestly, I was just beat down after that heat race and was searching quite a bit and was basically losing speed everywhere. I just rode better, straight up in the Main. I felt better.”

In their heat, Sexton passed Tomac at the two-minute mark and then simply rode away from the field. At the end, he had an almost eight-second gap on Tomac.

“It wasn’t great by any means,” Sexton told Jason Thomas. “I feel like the strengths I had all day, I really lagged in the Main event between the whoop and the sand section. I think I could have walked through it faster. It was still a good ride; it wasn’t great. I expected after the heat race he would be fired up.”

RESULTS: How they finished for the 450 Main in Anaheim 2

Jason Anderson scored his second consecutive pole, but he was not happy to finish third behind the two points’ leaders.

“We should be thankful every time we get to be up here,” Anderson said. “They’re making it tough on me, but all I can do is give my best.”

Tomac had to withstand a red flag and the distant second place finish in his heat to win the Houston Supercross race. In the post-race conference, he indicated that he did not make any changes to the bike and simply rode better.

Aaron Plessinger and Cooper Webb rounded out the top five.

Ferrandis was fitted with a neck brace, but still able to walk to the medical cart. He was still being evaluated by the medical staff as the night came to a close.


In 250s Hunter Lawrence entered the 250 East opener as the consensus favorite to win the championship this year with Christian Craig making the move into 450s and his brother Jett Lawrence in the West division. He answered quickly with a huge lead in Heat 1, but it almost went awry in the Main.

Lawrence got a good start, but he was passed early in the race by two-time MXGP champion (2020, 2022) Tom Vialle, who was making his Supercross debut this week. Vialle passed Lawrence on the first lap. When Lawrence tried to pass him back, Vialle scrubbed speed off a jump and pushed Lawrence wide, over the Tuff Blox.

Championships are made out of Lawrence’s response. He kept his composure and did not overcorrect before methodically working his way to the front.

“We had a little off track excursion. I wasn’t sure how hard across Tom was coming so I thought I’ll just go left, but then saw that was the side of the track. Thankfully I didn’t hit the Tuff Blox and got back on track safely. … Good start; put myself in position.”

Click here for full 250 East Main Results

Making a move from the 450 class to 250s, Max Anstie had immediate success. He finished second in his heat behind Jordon Smith and lined up with a great gate pick. He had to overtake Vialle in the opening laps and lost ground on Lawrence, that cost enough time to keep him from pressing Lawrence. This is Anstie’s first podium in the United States

“Honestly, I’ve dreamed of this for a long time to come up on these steps and man it’s a great feeling. I’ve really enjoyed the day and being on this 250, I feel like an 18-year-old kid. Everyday I’m learning.”

Smith backed up his heat win with a podium finish.

“It feels good to be back up here again,” Smith said. “It’s been a long time; a lot of injuries.”

Haiden Deegan proved the hype surrounding his debut in the 250 class was not unfounded. He finished fourth in his heat to advance to directly into the Main. During the early laps, he was circling the track in a podium position until a minor mistake sent him off the box. In the closing laps, he narrowly made an aggressive pass on Jeremy Martin and narrowly missed the podium with a fourth-place finish.

Martin held on to round out the top five.

Vialle was running in a podium position when went down with a 1:30 left on the clock. He ended his night seventh.

Chance Hymas was also making his 250 debut and scored a top-10 in eighth.

2023 Race Recaps

Anaheim 2: Triple Crown produces new winners Chase Sexton, Levi Kitchen
San Diego: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence double down
Anaheim 1: Tomac wins opener for the first time

Houston coverage

Houston by the numbers
Supercross unveils 16th edition of a Ricky Carmichael designed Daytona track
Power Rankings after week 3
Malcom Stewart out for “extended duration” after knee surgery
Haiden Deegan makes Supercross debut in Houston, Justin Cooper to 450s
Talon Hawkins set to relieve injured Jalek Swoll in Houston
Jalek Swoll out for an indefinite period with broken arm
Ken Roczen urgently needed a change
Chris Blose joins Pro Circuit Kawasaki in 250 East opener
Seth Hammaker to miss Houston with wrist injury
Jo Shimoda joins Seth Hammaker, Austin Forkner on injured list