Felipe Massa’s first season at Williams has not gone all that well, but his long-time engineer, Rob Smedley, believes that the recent test in Barcelona following the Spanish Grand Prix will help the Brazilian veteran catch up with teammate Valtteri Bottas.
Bottas sits seventh in the Driver’s Championship as one of a handful of drivers that have scored points in all five Grand Prix so far.
But Massa is a middling 12th on the strength of two seventh-place finishes, and will try to avoid a third straight finish outside of the points in this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix.
However, Smedley, now Williams’ Head of Vehicle Performance, thinks that improvements borne from the Barcelona test are set to work in their favor.
“So we have come up with some very, very good analysis in a very short space of time. Luckily, there was the test after the race in Barcelona so we were able to test some things could there, which worked.
“That just gives us all a great deal of confidence in our analysis methods and then going to test those methods in the track, it gives Felipe confidence that ‘I had a problem in the last two races, the guys have got stuck in and they’ve come out with a bunch of things, we’ve tested that all in Spain and it’s all worked’.”
Massa’s Monaco weekend last year for Ferrari was a disaster, as he crashed in Saturday practice at the Sainte-Devote corner and then wrecked there again during the race. Surely, he’s hoping for much better in his first run at Monte Carlo for Williams.
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.
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.