Vettel closes out practice in Austin quickest; Hulkenberg impressive


Sebastian Vettel has continued to dominate proceedings ahead of qualifying for the United States Grand Prix by finishing quickest in the final practice session at the Circuit of the Americas.

The German driver set a fastest time of 1:36.733 to finish two-tenths ahead of teammate Mark Webber whilst Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg continued his good form to finish the session in fourth place just behind Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton.

The session got underway in far less problematic fashion than first practice had on Friday morning, and Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne were quick to get out on track and set a time, being split by just 0.094 seconds early on. Adrian Sutil soon spoiled the Faentini party by going quickest ahead of Nico Rosberg and Paul di Resta. All of the drivers opted to head out on the hard tire at first in order to evaluate their pace for Q1 before switching to the softer compound later on in the session, but many remained in the pits.

When the front-runners did eventually emerge, Sebastian Vettel set about resuming normal service and went fastest ahead of Romain Grosjean and teammate Mark Webber with around forty minutes remaining. Jenson Button and Esteban Gutierrez both continued their good form to lie well within the top ten after their first runs on the hard tire, but Ferrari and Fernando Alonso struggled for pace despite topping the first practice session on Friday.

Nico Hulkenberg continued to prove his worth by jumping up into second place on the hard tire, three-tenths shy of Vettel’s time. However, the German driver was soon bumped down the standings by Webber and Williams’ Valtteri Bottas, with the Finnish driver’s pace suggesting that the team has made a step forward this weekend.

With ten minutes remaining, the drivers switched to the softer medium tire for one final assault of the circuit ahead of qualifying. Jenson Button was the first driver to post a serious time on the rubber, moving into second place with Sutil jumping up to fouth place. Nico Hulkenberg ended Vettel’s sojourn at the top by going 0.077 seconds quicker than his compatriot. Mark Webber improved yet he could only split the German drivers at the head of the field, but Hulkenberg did not relent and improved further to open up a lead of over one-tenth from Webber and Grosjean, who had now popped up into third place.

However, Vettel eventually found his feet and pulled out a quicker lap with less than one minute remaining, moving half a second ahead of Hulkenberg. Webber cut this gap to just two-tenths, but no-one could deny the four-time world champion from finishing quickest.

All eyes will be on Vettel to see if he can secure a second pole position at the Circuit of the Americas, with qualifying being broadcast live on CNBC from 1pm ET.

Houston Supercross by the numbers: Five riders begin to gap the field


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.

Houston Supercross numbers
Cooper Webb’s ability to close races makes him a Houston favorite. – Feld Motor Sports

Despite an accident in his heat in San Diego that sent him to the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ), Sexton recovered to score a top-five that weekend. His podium finish in Anaheim 1 and overall win last week in Anaheim 2 makes him one of the three riders with a perfect top-five record. He is joined by Cooper Webb, who finished second in the first two rounds and fourth last week, and Ken Roczen, whose consistency in the first three races contributed to him grabbing the top spot in this week’s NBC Supercross Power Rankings.

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 during the inaugural season of 1974 on a 250, which was the premiere class at the time. Houston was one of three races held that year along with events at Daytona International Speedway and the Los Angeles Coliseum. All three venues return in 2023 with the first SuperMotocross championship finale returning to the famed LA Coliseum in September.

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.

Michael Mosiman scored his first 250 win last year in San Diego. – Feld Motor Sports

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.

The other 250 riders with 2022 wins this week are Mosiman, who earned his first Supercross win last year in San Diego, and Nate Thrasher, who became the fifth new class winner at Daytona.

Jeremy Martin will attempt to extend a record this week in Houston. His division leading SuperMotocross podiums number 65. He has 26 wins in the combined sessions, which ranks fourth all time.

Last Five Houston Winners

2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Cooper Webb
2021, Race 2: Eli Tomac
2021, Race 1: Justin Barcia
2020, no race
2019, Cooper Webb
2018, Jason Anderson

2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Colt Nichols
2021, Race 2: Jett Lawrence
2021, Race 1: Christian Craig
2020, no race
2019, Dylan Ferrandis
2018, Aaron Plessinger

By the Numbers

Anaheim 2
San Diego

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