Spanish GP Paddock Notebook – Saturday

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MONTMELO – Just when you thought Nico Rosberg was out of form and perhaps already out of the title fight, he has pulled himself right back in by claiming his first pole position of the season in Spain on Saturday.

Naturally, points are won on Sunday, and Lewis Hamilton’s starts have been particularly strong in 2015. However, the Briton was clearly second best in qualifying at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, even admitting himself that he simply lacked the pace to beat his teammate to pole position.

Qualifying went largely as expected, with those lacking updates – Force India and Sauber – struggling whilst the top five teams managed to pull away and gap the rest of the field. Once again though, it was Mercedes who ruled the roost, locking out the front row and claiming its 17th consecutive pole position.

Rounding up all of the news and action from Barcelona on Saturday, here is the Paddock Notebook.

SESSION REPORTS

PADDOCK NEWS

THOUGHTS FROM THE TRACK

Right place, right time for Nico

Nico Rosberg’s charge to pole position in Spain on Saturday could not have come at a better time. The German driver has looked weak for much of the opening part of the 2015 season, and despite showing some flickers of a revival in Bahrain, few would have seriously tipped him to take pole in Spain. However, he controlled qualifying, getting into a rhythm in Q2 before finding his sweet spot in the final part of qualifying, posting two lap times that would have been good enough for pole. On Saturday, Hamilton was second best. Rosberg’s big strength in 2014 was his qualifying form. If he can kick-start from here, then the title fight may be back on.

Different directions at Ferrari

Kimi Raikkonen’s weekend has been a difficult one. After running with a number of new parts on Friday, the Finn opted to revert to the Bahrain-specification SF15-T on Saturday, only to finish seventh in qualifying and one second down on teammate Sebastian Vettel. Kimi remained unflustered though, saying “it is what it is” and focusing on the race. Vettel was surprised by the size of the gap to Mercedes – half a second – and it will be interesting to see just how serious a threat he can pose to the Silver Arrows on Sunday. Like Malaysia, it all depends on his strategy.

Toro Rosso’s Saturday surprise

When Max Verstappen told me on Friday that he thought he could fight with Williams and qualify on the second row, I thought he was being way too ambitious. Like he has with many people in 2015 though, he proved me wrong. Toro Rosso enjoyed its best qualifying of the season in Spain, and will line up fifth and sixth on the grid tomorrow with Carlos Sainz Jr ahead of Verstappen. The STR10 car is low on updates, but is particularly strong here. Points are most certainly on the cards, and taking down both Williams and parent team Red Bull would be a huge victory for the rookies.

McLaren targets points, but needs some luck

Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button had differing views on McLaren’s chances of points in Barcelona following qualifying. Alonso said a top ten finish was possible, whilst Button was less optimistic. P13 and P14 on the grid will mark the team’s highest starts of the season, and although progress has been made, the big gap between the top ten and the rest is a cause for concern. A few retirements could give Button and/or Alonso points, but McLaren needs a few more weeks before being there on merit.

A lack of upgrades hits Force India and Sauber hard

Heading into this weekend, Force India and Sauber both wanted to keep the other midfield teams within their reach despite not bringing a sizeable upgrade package to Spain. Despite suggesting that they just might during practice, this optimism soon faded. Sauber fill out positions 15 and 16, Force India is 17th and 18th with only Manor behind them. Points are out of the question for both teams, and the alarm bells regarding the next few races may well be ringing.

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That’s all for Saturday in the paddock. Be sure to join us on NBCSN and Live Extra from 7:30am ET on Sunday for the Spanish Grand Prix.

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

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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

450s
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

250s
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

More SuperMotocross coverage

Supercross unveils 16th edition of a Ricky Carmichael designed Daytona track
Power Rankings after week 3
Malcom Stewart out for “extended duration” after knee surgery
Haiden Deegan makes Supercross debut in Houston, Justin Cooper to 450s
Talon Hawkins set to relieve injured Jalek Swoll in Houston
Jalek Swoll out for an indefinite period with broken arm
Ken Roczen urgently needed a change
Chris Blose joins Pro Circuit Kawasaki in 250 East opener
Seth Hammaker to miss Houston with wrist injury
Jo Shimoda joins Seth Hammaker, Austin Forkner on injured list
Injury sidelines Austin Forkner for remainder of 2023 SX
Chase Sexton wins Anaheim 2 in 450s; Levi Kitchen takes 250s
Results and points from Anaheim 2