Verizon IndyCar Notes & Quotes: St. Petersburg Saturday

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ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. – Saturday for the Verizon IndyCar Series – and the rest of the series in action on the streets of St. Petersburg – was a weird one thanks to the weather interruptions. Although you could say the same of Martinsville for NASCAR and Malaysia for Formula One as well.

Alas, some news and notes to follow from the day:

  • Wrecks for both Graham Rahal and James Hinchcliffe eliminated two of the practice pace-setters, but the pair of past St. Pete winners should be fine for a comeback on Sunday. Said “Hinch,” “Conditions were obviously tricky, but I just lost it. It’s a real shame because the guys have done such a good job, we were quick in the dry, quick in the wet until my spin, the United Fiber & Data Honda deserved to be higher up today.”
  • Rookies Carlos Munoz (Andretti Autosport) and Jack Hawksworth (Bryan Herta Autosport) starred in their inaugural IndyCar road/street course qualifying efforts, and will start seventh and eighth on Sunday. Munoz called it a “fine, fine effort” while Hawksworth said a minor mistake cost him a debut Firestone Fast Six appearance. Interestingly this is not Munoz’s best career start, as he qualified second for his series debut at the 2013 Indianapolis 500.
  • Ganassi’s Ryan Briscoe ended a disappointing ninth despite being the best of the quartet in practice. “My tires kind of dropped off there at the end and we didn’t have the speed when the track was at its best,” said the driver of the No. 8 NTT Data Chevrolet.
  • Simon Pagenaud missed transferring into Q2 by just seven hundredths of a second, and will start 15th behind rookie teammate Mikhail Aleshin. “We weren’t expecting the conditions to change that fast, so in the end we couldn’t improve our lap time even though the track was drying,” said the Frenchman.
  • Countryman Sebastien Bourdais, a St. Pete resident, starts an unlucky 13th in the striking No. 11 Hydroxycut KVSH Racing Chevrolet. “When we went back out I got one lap at speed before the second red flag. We were too conservative and I feel bad for the crew,” said the four-time Champ Car champion.
  • Row 9 is all-Colombian, with rookie Carlos Huertas next to series returnee Juan Pablo Montoya. And no, I never thought I’d ever be writing that sentence because we went from one full-time Colombian (Sebastian Saavedra) in the series to four, and I never thought JPM would be coming back to IndyCar, either. Saavedra, for what it’s worth, starts 11th for KV/AFS Racing.
  • In 2011, it was “planking” at Indianapolis. Today, it was the “IndyCar selfie” to kill some time during the rain delay. More from my MST colleague Chris Estrada here.
  • In the Mazda Road to Indy, Gabby Chaves will have the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires pole after qualifying was canceled due to the weather. Chaves, driving for Belardi Auto Racing, had the fastest practice times. Victor Franzoni of Afterburner Autosport (Cooper Tires USF2000 National Championship) and Spencer Pigot of Juncos Racing (Pro Mazda Presented by Cooper Tires) took Race 1 victories on the weekend.
  • The non-open-wheelers got one race in, one race not. The Pirelli World Challenge first race was canceled due to weather and limited remaining track time; meanwhile Robby Gordon’s Stadium Super Trucks series were the rain “guinea pigs” after the afternoon delay and fittingly, Gordon won the race.

Past 3 p.m. EDT on Sunday, the season begins.

Eli Tomac, Ken Roczen’s two-man battle in Motocross provides surprises

Rich Shepherd, ProMotocross
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The 2019 Motocross season is one-third in the books and the title battle may have already come down to a two-man contest, while the pair of contenders might just be a little surprising in their own way.

Strictly by the numbers, no one can count Eli Tomac’s early season charge of first- and second-place finishes shocking, but threepeating in Motocross is such an incredibly difficult feat that no one would have been surprised to see him struggle out of the gates either. And in fact, that is precisely what happened.

Tomac came out of the gates slow in Round 1 and was seventh by the end of Lap 1 of Moto 1 – hardly the auspicious start he hoped for. He rebounded only as far as fourth and that ultimately cost him a chance to win the overall. Tomac won Moto 2 to claim second overall.

In Round 2, Tomac found his rhythm and won both Motos and grabbed the red plate. For the moment, he had the momentum with three consecutive Moto wins.

Tomac stumbled again in Round 3 – this time finishing only fifth in Moto 1 and earning only 16 points to dig a deep hole that eventually surrendered the red plate to Ken Roczen.

It was at Thunder Valley in Round 3 that a pattern emerged. Tomac would not make it easy on himself early in the day, but was more than capable of winning the second Motos to overcome his deficit.

That Roczen has won this season is also not a surprise in itself. Many believed his ascent to the top step of the podium was way overdue.

That he has run so well, however, was not entirely expected at the start of the season. Since injuring both arms in a pair of accidents, Roczen came tantalizingly close to snapping his winless streak a dozen times. He won heat races during the Supercross season and finished second at Anaheim I, Minneapolis, Dallas, and Seattle earlier this year.

He just couldn’t secure the overall win.

Roczen’s Moto 1 victory at Hangtown might have been the precursor to another disappointing weekend, but once Tomac got into the lead, Roczen zeroed in on the Kawasaki’s back tire and finished second in route to the overall victory.

Roczen lost the overall and the red plate to Tomac in Round 2 at Pala, but he stood on the podium in both Motos. Roczen podiumed twice again in Round 3 while taking that overall victory to regain the red plate in what has become a seesaw affair in the early part of the 2019 season.

Last week, Roczen looked more like Tomac with his desperate struggle in Moto 1 and sixth-place finish. That was the first (and so far only) time this season that he failed to stand on the podium.

Roczen’s Moto 2 win last week was just enough to put him second overall with barely enough points to force a tie at the top of the leaderboard with 176 points apiece.

Meanwhile, Tomac failed to win either Moto with a third in the first race and runner-up finish in the second.

The moral victory and advantage may shift to Roczen this week.

As they have swapped the victory in the first four rounds with Roczen winning the odd-numbered events, he sees this weekend’s Round 5 as an opportunity.

“I’m looking forward to next weekend’s race,” Roczen said in a team press release. “The track is sandy. It’s very similar—actually almost identical—to what I ride on a regular basis at home.”

Tomac and Roczen enter Round 5 with a 32-point advantage over two riders tied for third in the standings.

So far Zach Osborne and Jason Anderson have not been in the same league as the leaders, but it only takes one slip of the wheel to fall out of the points in in a race and allow these racers to close the gap.

Season passes can be purchased at NBC Sports Gold.

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