The defining characteristic of the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway, site of tonight’s IZOD IndyCar Series season finale, the MAVTV 500 (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra) are the seams in the race track.
The Fontana oval is far from billiard-table smooth and the seams are slight bumps in the road – particularly in the corners – that can upset the car’s balance. When Will Power crashed out in last year’s race, it was because he’d hit a seam in-between Turns 1 and 2, lost control of his car and smacked the wall.
Drivers throughout the 25-car field described the challenge of the seams here.
Oriol Servia of Panther Racing is one of the most experienced drivers at Fontana, having competed in the CART races here in 2000 through 2002, last year’s INDYCAR-sanctioned race, and Indy Lights races there in the 1990s.
“They’re bad, but to be honest it’s not the seams, it’s the paint used to cover the seams,” he explained. “It was different 5 or 6 years ago. If the paint wasn’t there it would be different. Yeah, the seams were always there but not the paint between them.”
Defending series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay – in his last ride with the No. 1 car this season for Andretti Autosport – added that the paint or tar is more what upsets the car than the seams.
“They were treacherous last year and are again now,” he said. “As stiffly sprung as these cars are, there’s not much suspension movement. I drove a Chevy Corvette pace car earlier in the week and those things looked like canyons. It’s a rough ride and car placement is a big deal.”
Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing’s Charlie Kimball said if drivers “straddle” the seams, it can upset the car.
“If you straddle them, it’s just like a vacuum cleaner, it throws a dust cloud up and a lot of sand, so it can kill the radiators,” he said. “You deal with it more in the heat though and the cooler temperatures this year should help.”
Hunter-Reay’s Andretti Autosport teammate James Hinchcliffe called the seams “unique,” while Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing sophomore Josef Newgarden and Dragon Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais thought it depends more on car setup.
Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports’ Simon Pagenaud didn’t sell the seams short, but said the concern about them is negated if the car is setup just right.
“We have a really good race car so it’s not an issue for us. Ultimate pace isn’t tremendous but we’re consistent over the long stints, which is what you need here,” he said.
This formula rewards riders who compete at the front of the pack at the end of the Mains, in their heats, or in last week’s case, the three motos that make up the Triple Crown. Roczen has improved his overall performance each week with a fifth in Anaheim 1, a fourth in San Diego and his first podium of 2023 in Anaheim 2. Can he keep the trend alive with a first- or second-place finish in Houston?
A fall is all it takes sometimes. Last week, Eli Tomac tumbled hard when he pushed wide on the exit of a turn and jumped on top of a Tuff Blox. He remounted after that incident in Race 3 of the Triple Crown, but could only manage a 13th-place result in the moto. It could have been much worse and resulted in an injury, but coupled with a sixth in the overall standings at Anaheim 2, it pushed him down a spot in the SuperMotocross Ranking.
Along with Roczen (and Chase Sexton), Cooper Webb swept the top five in Supercross’ first three rounds. He is knocking on the door of a win and it won’t take long for him to ascend to the top of the box. Webb has two victories in Houston and each of them came during a championship season.
If there is a more determined rider than Jason Anderson, get out of his way. His path to the front of the pack is not always lined with primroses since he often has to pass multiple riders with whom he has had a run-in during his path, but the SuperMotocross Power Rankings are concerned only with raw results – not intention – and Anaheim 2 was Anderson’s best race of the season. He earned his first top-five and first podium with a second-place finish that was aided by a moto win.
Dylan Ferrandis has also been a model of consistency. Last week his Triple Crown effort of 4-6-5 gave him an overall finish of fifth. That came on the heels of a fourth-place result in the season opener and a sixth in San Diego. With no result worse than sixth this season, the numbers add up quite well.
Sexton’s position just outside the top five this week is entirely attributable to his last-place result in the San Diego heat. The SuperMotocross Rankings looks at the past 45 days, so that will affect him for a while, but if he continues to ride like he did in Anaheim 2, he’s going to climb quickly despite that albatross around his neck.
The 250 West riders get a couple of weeks off before heading to Oakland for the rescheduled Round 2 and several of them need the rest. Tough weeks for Cameron McAdoo and RJ Hampshire forced them to lose ground in the SuperMotocross points to Jett Lawrence at a time that could prove to play mental games.
Lawrence also had his share of issues at Anaheim 2, but overcame early falls in the first two motos and finished no worse than sixth. Considering that he dropped to the tail of the field in Race 2, that was a remarkable accomplishment and he entered the final race with a shot at the overall win. He narrowly missed that mark, but still has not finished worse than second in three rounds. His lead in the SuperMotocross Power Rankings is safe.
McAdoo said it best in an Instagram post this week: “Woke up feeling grateful that I’m relatively healthy after my big mistake during qualifying yesterday. We made the decision that it would be safe for me to race so I did everything I possibly could to get through the night ending up [sixth overall]. We will work on getting healed up in these few weeks off to come back strong for Oakland!”
With results of 8-7-5 in the Triple Crown and his combined sixth-place result, McAdoo lost significant ground to Lawrence in both the points’ standings and our Power formula. The Oakland race is going to be critical if he wants to stay in the championship hunt because the series will have a long break before returning in Seattle for Round 11. No one wants to sit with negative feelings for that long.
Mitchell Oldenburg has quietly amassed some impressive numbers. His name has not been called a lot during broadcasts, but he has not finished worse than seventh in any of the first three rounds. Themes develop during a season and weekend – and for the moment, this one revolves around reliability. Oldenburg finished 5-4-6 in Anaheim 2 which means he has consistently amassed SuperMotocross Power Rankings points.
Stilez Robertson won his first race of the season in Moto 2 of the Triple Crown. Coupled with a third-place finish in the final race, he leapfrogged Hampshire and Enzo Lopes, both of whom had disappointing outings. He stands fifth in the points’ standing mostly due to a ninth-place finish in the season opener, but each race has been progressively better and that is a good sign.
Sometimes, all it takes is a taste of success. Prior to Anaheim 2, Levi Kitchen’s best Supercross finish was a seventh earned in this year’s season opener. He scored a ninth at Minneapolis last year, but that was not enough to put him on the radar. This early in the season, one strong run can sway the SuperMotocross Power Ranking significantly, but Robertson has earned his way into the top five. More importantly, he’s going to be the object of interest when the West series returns to Oakland.
Next week the 250 East riders mount up in Houston, Texas before they head to Tampa, Florida. The Power Rankings will combine the two divisions, so the riders below are likely to shift dramatically.
Jett Lawrence – W
[2 Main; 2 Heat wins]
Cameron McAdoo – W
[1 Heat Win]
Mitchell Oldenburg – W
Stilez Robertson – W
[1 Heat win]
Levi Kitchen – W
[1 Main win]
RJ Hampshire – W
[3 Heat wins]
Max Vohland – W
Derek Kelley – W
Enzo Lopes – W
Pierce Brown – W
Phil Nicoletti – W
Dylan Walsh – W
Cole Thompson – W
Robbie Wageman – W
Anthony Rodriguez – W
Ty Masterpool – W
Kaeden Amerine – W
Dominique Thury – W
Austin Forkner – W
Derek Drake – W
* The NBC Power Rankings assign 100 points to a Main event winner and 90 points for each Heat and Triple Crown win, (Triple Crown wins are included with heat wins below the rider’s name). The points decrement by a percentage equal to the number of riders in the field until the last place rider in each event receives five points. The Power Ranking is the average of these percentage points over the past 45 days.