Austin year three sees F1 rise to some challenges, face new ones for future


AUSTIN – Despite having two very successful cracks at its first two United States Grands Prix, the third edition of the race at Circuit of the Americas almost felt as though it had something to prove by comparison.

Leaving the track Sunday night, it felt as though the circuit and Formula One had delivered – in spite of some challenges and obstacles that threatened to upend the weekend.

The first obstacle to overcome was the noise. Say what you will, but it was hard for some – this writer included – to get over the reduction of noise from the ear-splitting, hair-raising V8s to the softer, calmer and less melodic V6s for the first time. But there was enough positive feedback from those on the ground to make me feel as though this wasn’t a catastrophic blow to the fans in attendance. They come for the spectacle, and the noise is a part of the spectacle … not the only part.

The second was a greater obstacle – the team reduction and possible boycott threat. Perhaps the greatest and most discussed talking point entering the weekend was about the drawdown of Marussia and Caterham, who by no means were favorites but have grown to the “plucky underdog” status as the tail-enders.

It seemed to bother the fans more than the paddock at large that they were each suffering their plight at the same time; particularly in the case of Marussia, who were due to have American Alexander Rossi make a popular, and overdue, Grand Prix race debut after running only in a handful of first free practice sessions the last couple years. Rossi, for his part, at least served as an excellent ambassador for the race all weekend and thanked the Americans for their support.

The boycott threat was just noise. It seemed to only emanate from Force India’s deputy team principal Bob Fernley, who either spoke out of turn or was playing some media, who made it out to be more than it was. Perhaps it was no small coincidence then when both Force Indias retired from the race, including Sergio Perez making a daft first lap move and taking out the hapless, luckless Adrian Sutil in his Sauber.

A boycott could have made for an untenable future for F1 in the U.S., given the 2005 race doubled as a six-car Bridgestone tire test session, so it was good that sanity prevailed. Perhaps just the talk of a boycott did the other bit of business it was setting out to accomplish: getting F1 to look in the mirror and acknowledge that there is a budget problem in the paddock, it is real, and it needs to be addressed. F1 desperately needs leadership on this issue as it sorts through ensuring the grid doesn’t lose any more bottom-feeders, and figures out a better distribution of dollars from the commercial holder among all the teams.

The third obstacle was making a better race itself. The first year in 2012 had all the added hoopla of it being an inaugural race, coupled with an intense championship battle and Lewis Hamilton making a pass for the lead. Last year you didn’t have any of those elements, plus you had Pirelli’s medium and hard tire compounds making for a largely processional one-stop race. And you had Sebastian Vettel’s singular dominance, which while impressive did not do the U.S. any favors in terms of witnessing a great show.

But the ingredients needed to improve were fixed for 2014. On top of the new cars themselves, Pirelli’s soft and medium tire strategy was brilliant as strategy re-entered the form of two-stop races. Then you had the drama of a championship battle returning – in this case, the inter-team Hamilton/Nico Rosberg battle at Mercedes instead of the Vettel (Red Bull)/Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) showdown two years ago. The fact the pass for the lead this year had direct title implications – Hamilton’s Lap 24 pass of Rosberg made for a 14-point swing – only enhanced the action.

Beyond the leaders, there was some great racing down in the pack, as Alonso and Jenson Button put off their potential end dates on the grid with a several-lap scrap over eighth, while Lotus’ pair of Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado mixed it up with the Toro Rossos of Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniil Kvyat. Kvyat made mincemeat of Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari in the final stages of the race, and you almost wondered if this was real life – it certainly was intriguing to watch. The race wasn’t a classic, but it was certainly better than some other F1 races this year.

The fourth, and perhaps most critical issue from an event standpoint, was the attendance. This was a weekend where I figured the race could suffer a 15 to 20 percent attendance drop-off year-on-year, and potentially not even be north of 200,000 for the weekend. Fears were exacerbated when I found out Friday one grandstand at the outside of Turn 11 had been dropped, vendors down, and attendance figures were not released either of Friday or Saturday, as they had been last year.

So when the circuit released attendance figures on Sunday, and a number north of 237,000 was revealed, I was both pleasantly surprised and relieved. This was a weekend where F1 was up against NASCAR Sprint Cup in the same state – and Eddie Gossage of Texas Motor Speedway made noise all weekend posturing against COTA, saying he didn’t want NASCAR or IndyCar to race here for fears it would take away from his race.

But he got his crowd – NASCAR doesn’t release attendance figures but an estimate of about 75 to 80,000 there wouldn’t be far fetched – and COTA got its crowd. NASCAR and F1 are as disparate as beer and champagne, but they both are still a draw, and they both still were a draw even though there was the direct head-to-head conflict.

For F1, which generally gets big attendance numbers but has struggled in some of the traditional European markets – Hockenheim most notably this year – it was critical to have a major number for year three in the U.S. A drop-off from north of 250,000 to 237,000 is an acceptable one; it is not ideal, but it is not bad, either.

Other U.S. races of late have struggled in year three, either attendance-wise or otherwise. Indianapolis’ third year in 2002 was marred by the Michael Schumacher/Rubens Barrichello photo finish fail when Barrichello edged ahead by accident to win. Phoenix’s third year in 1991 saw the race outdrawn, and I’m not making this up, by a local ostrich festival. Las Vegas didn’t even make it to a third year in 1983 after two years at the regrettable car park circuit that was Caesar’s Palace.

So COTA has three years worth of races, data and fans in the book that it can be proud of. And in the city of Austin, it has an amazing hot spot for local festivities that add to the fan and visitor experience.

The question I wondered 12 months ago was whether F1 could get its house of cards in order to better serve this market. It has done that.

The question I ponder now is whether F1 can shape up its own house to avoid further team reductions and all-out chaos within the paddock. It seems to need more visible leadership from FIA President Jean Todt and along with the commercial rights holder, a better figuring of how to spread the dollars.

To play off a quote from George Costanza, an F1 divided against itself cannot stand. Or else it may ultimately cease to exist in the same fashion as it does today.

Chase Sexton wins Triple Crown Anaheim 2 Supercross: Levi Kitchen unseats Jett Lawrence in 250s

Supercross Anaheim 2
Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

Chase Sexton won two of the three races in the Monster Energy Supercross Anaheim 2 Triple Crown, which was enough to overcome a fifth-place finish in Race 2 and give him the overall victory. It was the second Supercross win of his career.

“Super big night for me,” Sexton told NBC Sports’ Will Christien. “After last weekend with that being a struggle, I just need to come out here and stop the bleeding a little bit and I did that tonight.”

Sexton suffered a crash on Lap 1 of his heat, sending him into Last Chance Qualifier. The bad gate pick put him in a difficult position to start the race and he was able to climb to only fifth at the checkers.

At Anaheim 2, three riders entered the final race of the Triple Crown in a winner-take-all scenario. Sexton, Jason Anderson and Eli Tomac each had a shot at victory. It raised the intensity level for all riders in an evening that featured a lot of comers and goers.

Jason Anderson took the early lead in Race 3, which set him up for the overall victory. Sexton stalked and passed him midway through the race and then a minor mistake late allowed Webb to slip around as well. Anderson’s 5-1-3 gave him second overall.

“I had a tough couple of rounds, getting off that Anaheim 1 crash and then last week weekend I fumbled a little bit, but I’m excited to get back on the box and start moving forward,” Anderson told Jason Thomas.

Anderson finished seventh in the first two rounds of 2023.

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

Ken Roczen was the model of consistency in the opening rounds and at Anaheim 2. In three races so far this year, he’s gotten progressively better each time with a fifth in A1, a fourth last week in San Deigo and a third this week.

With results of 2-3-4, he earned his first podium of the season, which lands him fourth in the standings.

“This was hard earned,” Roczen said after the race. “I completely botched the start and then to have to work my way up. I only happen on the very last lap to step up here on the podium.”

Webb’s solid second-place finish in the third race allowed him to leapfrog several riders and finish fourth overall, but a seventh in Race 1 kept him off the podium. He improved in each race in Anaheim, however, with a 7-4-2.

With a 4-6-5, Dylan Ferrandis rounded out the top five.

The intensity of the race was a little too much for Tomac.

While battling side-by-side with Webb in Race 3 at the one-third mark, Tomac jumped wide and crashed hard. He fell to 14th, doing some damage to his bike in the process. He advanced only one position in that race to 13th. His first two races, a third and second, were strong enough to give him sixth overall. He retains the points lead, but it has shrunk to a gap of only four over Sexton and Webb.

Malcolm Stewart injured late in the week and was not able to mount.

Levi Kitchen became the first rider to unseat Jett Lawrence in the Triple Crown format at Anaheim 2 and won the overall with consistency. In his three races, Kitchen finished 4-2-2 to narrowly edge the winner of the first two races.

“This whole day; this is unbelievable. I took a few good slams in practice and I was down on myself,” Kitchen told NBC Sports Jason Thomas afterward. “The first moto I got a good start and got shuffled back, then I knew I just needed to be consistent.”

Jett Lawrence saved his best for last – which wasn’t hard given the struggles he experienced in the first two races.

Despite those problems, he entered Race 3 of the Triple Crown three points behind Kitchen after suffering a pair of disappointing races by his personal measuring stick. In the first and second 250 races of the night, Lawrence hit the ground. He dropped to the final rider in the running order in Race 2 with a Lap 1 fall. But in both races, he was able to overcome his mistake and close the gap so that he had a chance to take his first Triple Crown win of his career.

Click here for full 250 West Main Results

Lawrence rode to third in Race 1 and sixth in Race 2. In the final race of the night, Lawrence did all he could. He earned the holeshot, but when Kitchen fell in behind him, Lawrence’s fate was sealed. His 3-6-1 tied him in points with Stilez Robertson, but the tiebreaker goes to the final round and his win secured second-place.

“I can definitely say Triple Crowns are not my thing,” Lawrence told NBC Sports Will Christien. “We have one more to try and fix this, so hopefully we can get that done.”

Lawrence will move into the 450 class for the Lucas Oil Motocross outdoor season and his 250 record book will be closed.

The best news for Lawrence is the other riders who entered this round in the top three had a worse night, so Lawrence leaves Anaheim with a 16-point gap on Cameron McAdoo and 17 over RJ Hampshire.

Roberston finished 6-1-3 to take the final step of the podium.

“Getting that win in the second Main meant a lot,” Roberston told Thomas. “I wish I could have done a little better in the third one, but we’re still up here on the box.”

Mitchell Oldenburg used consistency to earn fourth in the overall. He finished 5-4-6.

After missing the Main last week in San Diego, Max Vohland finished 7-8-4 to round out the top five.

RJ Hampshire set himself up as the early favorite with his Race 1 win. In Race 2, it all fell apart. He fell in the sand section and damaged his bike, finishing last in that race. The final event of the night for the 250s provided only a 13th-place finish, leaving Hampshire deep in the points.

Cameron McAdoo hard crash in qualification, which was scary news for a team that has seen three of their riders sidelined with injury. McAdoo was never quite able to get his rhythm with an 8-7-5.

2023 Race Recaps

San Diego: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence double down
Anaheim 1: Tomac wins opener for the first time

Anaheim 2 coverage

Power Rankings Week 2
SuperMotocross tightens playoff schedule
Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence go two-for-two in San Diego
Results and points after San Diego
Seth Hammaker to miss 250 E season opener with wrist injury
Jo Shimoda joins Seth Hammaker, Austin Forkner with injury
Injury sidelines Austin Forkner for remainder of 2023 SX