DiZinno: St. Pete provides solid 2015 season kickoff, but issues some warning signs


The upside going into Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, regardless of the race outcome, was that for the first time in seven months, the Verizon IndyCar Series would be racing again.

The offseason seemed an eternity, and despite moments of news interruptions, it was a generally quiet seven-month period on the whole.

Judging by the on-the-ground atmosphere at one of North America’s best street race venues, the anticipation for racing to finally commence was palpable.

The grounds were packed, with perfect Florida weather (except on Friday, with rain) welcoming the series back to life. Per CBS affiliate WTSP in Tampa/St. Petersburg, the weekend attendance topped 150,000.

The action on-track was nonstop, with the three Mazda Road to Indy divisions all kicking off their seasons – and in Indy Lights’ case, another new era of cars with the all-around attractive Dallara IL15 Mazda making its debut.

Pirelli World Challenge added in four total GT/GTS showcases, albeit caution-strewn in GT, while Robby Gordon’s Stadium Super Trucks series wowed fans and media onlookers alike with two entertaining tilts.

In IndyCar, though, the story was always going to focus on two elements: Team Penske’s fearsome foursome, and the introduction of manufacturer aero kits.

Team Penske’s intra-team battle wrote its first chapter of 2015. Will Power won the pole and dominated the race, before the Australian lost the lead on the final pit stop sequence and Juan Pablo Montoya took advantage.

Montoya ratcheted up his game, hounding Power on the theoretically slower Firestone blacks (primary) in the middle stint and then emerging ahead after his final stop. He then defended and held off Power’s two attacks, one that was stymied by contact and the other by ill-placed lapped traffic, en route to a popular win.

Meanwhile the aero kits – or as Power so humorously called some aero pieces “rabbit ears” – played a role throughout the race as bits, bobs, pieces, winglets, nuggets and elements of carbon fiber were littered around the 1.8-mile St. Petersburg street circuit like beer cans at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Carb Day.

The positives of Team Penske’s battle and the aero kits were there to be seen, although both offered warning signs heading into the rest of the year.

Penske Chevrolets went 1-2-3 in each of the first two practice sessions, before going 1-2-3-4 in qualifying and ending 1-2-4-5 in the race, in what was an utterly dominant weekend that lived up to all the preseason hype and sent shivers down the spines of the competition.

Montoya and Power downplayed the achievement, but third-placed Tony Kanaan reflected on how he had “done his job” to break up the quartet and prevent them from matching the Andretti Green Racing achievement of a top-four race sweep in St. Pete 10 years earlier.

Judging by this weekend though, it seems a question of when, not if, Penske will match that achievement in a race.

The more worrying part of the weekend came with the aero kit debut, with St. Pete essentially serving as a trial run for the rest of the season, and the first opportunity the 24 drivers had to really go at it after taking it easier in testing, practice and qualifying.

There was passing – particularly on restarts – but the consensus post-race seemed to be that the dirty air caused in traffic limited prolonged passing opportunities.

There was a substantial amount of contact on the day. Sometimes it came from ill-judged moves, and at other points it came by accident when pulling out to pass and accidentally clipping the cars’  rear wheel guards (Marco Andretti on Gabby Chaves, Simon Pagenaud on Charlie Kimball were the two notable examples of the latter).

St. Petersburg’s streets occasionally looked like a war zone with all the carbon fiber littered everywhere, and at times it seemed the street sweeper was the best running vehicle on the racetrack.

Undoubtedly the worst moment of the race came outside the track, when one piece of debris launched and cleared the fence at Turn 10, and struck a spectator in the head.

She’s in stable condition, which is good, but beyond the point – when you’re a fan, you’re not signing up to become part of the in-race action and take on that risk.

The aero kits are expensive engineering exercises, for sure, and will undoubtedly produce further cautions throughout the season. As a point of reference, St. Pete’s caution/laps number jumped from 2/10 last year to 5/22 this year.

Is one race far too early to draw any major conclusions? Of course it is.

But the concerning elements gleaned from the weekend are that the racing itself overall, save for a few moments of brilliance, didn’t pack the same level of excitement as it has the last three years. The diversity of teams wasn’t evident at the front, yet. It was, at best, a C+ or B- race to kick off the year.

More worryingly, we saw what can happen when the debris from aero kits goes flying and hits someone or something it shouldn’t.

That’s something that must be monitored by the sanctioning body, and heeded by the competitors, as the year goes on.

Saturday’s Motocross Round 3 at Thunder Valley: How to watch, start times, schedules, streams

Watch Motocross Thunder Valley
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The Pro Motocross series heads to Thunder Valley in Lakewood, Colorado for the 19th consecutive year with no active winners in the 450 division but with plenty of storylines to watch.

Jett Lawrence has set a blistering pace in the first two rounds of the season by winning all four motos and as the most recent winner in the 250 class on this track, Thunder Valley has been incredibly kind. In fact, this week’s Hangtown by the numbers points out this is his fifth-best track.

Chase Sexton will sit out another round as he battles a concussion and illness, which gives Cooper Webb an opportunity to grab the No. 1 seed in the SuperMotocross World Championship that debuts this September. Last week, Webb made up 40 of the 68 points needed for the top spot after missing two rounds at the end of the Supercross season with a head injury suffered at Nashville.

JETTING TO THE LEAD: Jett Lawrence wins second Pro Motocross race in second try

The 250 class continues to be dominated by Hunter Lawrence. He has swept the podium in moto finishes and won both overall races of the season. Last year, he was second in the 250 Motocross race at Thunder Valley and will be a fun rider to watch.

Here are the pertinent details for watching Round 3 of the 2023 Motocross season at Thunder Valley in Lakewood, Colorado:

(All times are ET)

BROADCAST/STREAMING SCHEDULE: TV coverage of Round 3 will begin Saturday at 12 p.m. ET streaming on Peacock with an encore presentation Monday at 2 a.m. ET on CNBC. The Race Day Live show (including practice) will begin on Peacock at 12 p.m. ET Saturday.

NBC Sports will have exclusive live coverage of races, qualifiers and heats for the record 31 events in SuperMotocross. The main events will be presented on Peacock, NBC, USA Network, CNBC, and NBC Sports digital platforms.

Peacock will become the home of the SuperMotocross World Championship series in 2023 with live coverage of all races, qualifying, and heats from January to October. There will be 23 races livestreamed exclusively on Peacock, including a SuperMotocross World Championship Playoff event. The platform also will provide on-demand replays of every race. Click here for the full schedule.


Track Map

ENTRY LISTS: 450 division l 250 division

EVENT SCHEDULE (all times ET): 

Here are the start times for Saturday’s Motocross Round 3 at Thunder Valley in Lakewood, Colorado, according to the Monster Energy Supercross schedule from the AMA:

9:15 a.m.: Riders Meeting at AMA Semi
9:20 a.m.: Chapel Service at AMA Semi
10:00 a.m.: 250 Class Practice Grp B- 15 minutes (1 Lap Free)
10:20 a.m.: 250 Class Practice Grp A- 15 minutes (1 Lap Free)
10:50 a.m.: 450 Class Practice Grp A- 15 minutes (1 Lap Free)
11:10 a.m.: 450 Class Practice Grp B- 15 minutes (1 Lap Free)
11:40 a.m.: 250 Class Grp B Start Practice (Off Gate) 5 minutes
11:45 a.m.: 250 Class Practice Grp B- 15 minutes – Timed
12:05 p.m.: 250 Class Grp A Start Practice (Off Gate) 5 minutes
12:10 p.m.: 250 Class Practice Grp A- 15 minutes – Timed
12:30 p.m.: 450 Class Grp A Start Practice (Off Gate) 5 minutes
12:35 p.m.: 450 Class Practice Grp A- 15 minutes – Timed
12:55 p.m.: 450 Class Grp B Start Practice (Off Gate) 5 minutes
1:00 p.m.: 450 Class Practice Grp B- 15 minutes – Timed
1:45 p.m.: 250 Consolation Race
2:00 p.m.: 450 Consolation Race
3:00 p.m. 250 Class Sight Lap
3:10 p.m.: 250 Class Moto #1
4:00 p.m.: 450 Class Sight Lap
4:10 p.m.: 450 Class Moto #1
4:50 p.m.: Halftime
5:15 p.m.: 250 Class Sight Lap
5:23 p.m.: 250 Class Moto #2
6:00 p.m.: 250 Winners Circle
6:16 p.m.: 450 Class Sight Lap
6:24 p.m.: 450 Class Moto #2

MOTOCROSS 2023 STANDINGS: 450 points standings | 250 points standings


ROUND 1: Jett Lawrence wins in first 450 start at Pala
ROUND 2: Jett Lawrence remains perfect at Hangtown


ROUND 1: Eli Tomac opens title defense with victory
ROUND 2: Eli Tomac ties Ricky Carmichael on Supercross wins list
ROUND 3: Eli Tomac holds off Cooper Webb again
ROUND 4: Chase Sexton wins Anaheim Triple Crown
ROUND 5: Eli Tomac leads wire to wire in Houston
ROUND 6: Cooper Webb breaks through in Tampa
ROUND 7: Cooper Webb wins again in Arlington
ROUND 8: Eli Tomac wins Daytona for the seventh time
ROUND 9: Ken Roczen scores first victory since 2022
ROUND 10: Chase Sexton inherits Detroit victory but docked points
ROUND 11: Eli Tomac wins in Seattle, ties Cooper Webb for points lead
ROUND 12: Eli Tomac earns 51st career victory to break tie with James Stewart
ROUND 13: Chase Sexton dominates Atlanta to continue surge
ROUND 14: Justin Barcia triumphs in the New Jersey mud
ROUND 15: Chase Sexton wins as Cooper Webb is injured
ROUND 16: Eli Tomac sidelined by injury as Sexton wins
ROUND 17: Chase Sexton caps off championship with finale win


Thunder Valley by the numbers
Beta Motorcycles joins SuperMotocross
Jeremy Martin injury update
Power Rankings after Hangtown
Results and points after Hangtown
Jett Lawrence wins second consecutive at Hangtown
Enzo Lopes re-signs with ClubMX

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