FIA WEC hot laps with Allan McNish are hard to top

McNish (center) flanked by Duval and Kristensen. Photo: Getty Images
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If you’ve seen Truth in 24, you get why there’s probably no one better in the world of sports car racing describing a single lap of a circuit than Allan McNish.

McNish’s vivid, incredibly detailed, yet passionate description of the 8.4-mile Circuit de la Sarthe is one of the film’s highlight moments.

So imagine that scene, except getting a first hand account from the 2013 FIA World Endurance Championship World Champion and three-time Le Mans winner when you’re strapped in the passenger’s seat of an Audi S3 with him behind the wheel.

As he’s driving.

Media rides are something you still have to pinch yourself when you get to do them. And in the past, I’ve had rides with Johnny O’Connell, Alex Figge and Kevin Estre (the latter at Mid-Ohio this year) in the Pirelli World Challenge series, an IndyCar two-seater hot lap earlier this year and McNish’s longtime Audi teammate Dindo Capello last year at Circuit of The Americas in an RS7 last year at COTA.

If you want a description of the track in basic form, I’ll leave you to my words riding with Capello from last year.

But to augment that, I’ll add McNish’s thoughts of describing the track as he was driving on this go around for three ferocious, flying laps, again thanks to the FIA WEC.

McNish notes how Turn 1 offers so many different lines for corner entry.

“Way too many options. You can gain or lose so much time depending on where you apex,” he explains.

Like Capello a year ago, McNish gives the esses – the run out of Turn 2 from Turns 3 through 7 – sincere praise.

The first lap again takes some getting used to, to just feel the change of direction as it’s happening between left, right, left, right and so forth.

“You have to hit this curb (sounding like keehhhh-rb) just at this moment to nail the apex,” McNish says of one of the right-handers in this sequence. “Any further off and you’ve lost it for that lap.”

Turns 8 and 9 are hard, but important ones, before the left-hand Turn 10 kink and the Turn 11 hairpin.

“The grip level through here is just insane!” says McNish at the hairpin, noting the rubber buildup on apex entry.

A run down the backstraight follows and McNish notes how important track limits will be at the 3.427-mile, 20-turn circuit. In the technical Turn 12-15 section, drivers in the FIA WEC have to be careful to ensure not to run wide on corner exit. The FIA WEC race enforced track limits at the runoff areas, while IMSA did not.

McNish wasn’t as over-steery as Capello through the carousel, Turns 16-18, but he did note how bad the lighting would be from about 6:45 to 7:15 p.m. or so on the back half of the track with the sunset pretty much in the drivers’ eyes.

The highlights of the ride actually came on the second and third laps. Lap two saw a tire pressure sensor light come on… which didn’t faze either of us. McNish was just extracting the maximum of the car.

And then on the third lap, McNish took the time on the back straight to reflect on the fact COTA marked his final win in sports car racing before his retirement at the end of the 2013 season.

“We’d survived a challenge from the Toyotas and the other Audi, and Loic (Duval) and Tom (Kristensen) had been great in their stints,” McNish said.

“It also vaulted us into the lead in the World Championship, and we never looked back.”

Nor did I after this run, another thrill and a highlight of the weekend. My hair wasn’t long for the ride, either (photos here and here).

Might “Mr. Le Mans” be an option next year to cap off the trio of lap following Dindo and “Nishy?”

Sincere thanks to Fiona Miller from FIA WEC and Teresa Pass from Audi for the opportunity.

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