DiZinno: Austin, USGP comes back on Sunday after diabolical start to weekend

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AUSTIN, Texas – Austin, United States Grand Prix, year four: It was a weekend that seemed nearly cursed from the start.

Then, like nearly everything else in Texas, the comeback proved bigger and better than could have even been expected come Sunday.

It seemed befitting that a country whose relationship with F1 – or perhaps more accurately, F1’s with the U.S. – endured the usual awkward roller coaster of emotions and conditions to make things miserable at times before they got better.

It hadn’t rained in Austin in three months. Then, lo and behold, two drivers and cars of every team showed up – as did at least two of the most responsible media members who’ve created their own set of running jokes for how frequently it rains at events they attend (USA Today Sports’ Brant James and myself) – and we were staring straight down the barrel of the first ever Noah’s Ark Grand Prix.

And that really served as the primary storyline on the ground to shift focus away from a potential title clinch by Mercedes AMG Petronas driver Lewis Hamilton early in the weekend, until Sunday happened.

Thursday went roughly to plan with the usual set of at-track and off-track moments of glory. Hamilton won the driver press conference with his shades and gold chain, Kimi Raikkonen and Valtteri Bottas more or less said their contact in Russia sucked for both of them, Daniel Ricciardo smiled, and Alexander Rossi spoke for the umpteenth time during the week of his getting to race in America. Marcus Ericsson… well, he was at least there.

The fourth annual Buxton Big Time Bash went off without a hitch later in the evening, and if the worst issue of the night was that the lines to get in were long, that proved a damn good problem to have.

And then… Friday happened. The question became how the rain would impact things and contrary to plan, it was FP1 that saw the bulk of running, while FP2 got axed. Lotus announced Jolyon Palmer for 2016 and the team principals in the team press conference discussed engine scenarios. No, Red Bull still doesn’t have a solution as yet.

It got significantly worse on Saturday, with the fan lockout during FP3 happening and then the on-track washout happening during what should have been qualifying… which I’m hearing just got delayed another 30 minutes, actually.

It was a diabolical mess.

Things came good, though, on what was a mess of a day. The tidal wave of humanity washed away the sea of doubt and despair that had previously engulfed the Circuit of The Americas – even if the rain still didn’t let up.

Between the Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat Red Bull tango, the boat races from Sauber and Force India, the “take your dad to work day” down at Toro Rosso, and the Williams pit crew rowing team debut, there was enough to keep the fans entertained. It got even better once F1 and the track opened the pit lane, thus making the days of the tens of thousands of hearty fans that had somehow opted to stick around. My colleague Luke and I offered our own thoughts on the proceedings.

As for Sunday, what can you say. The paddock had had experience of the qualifying/race in the same day routine before – most recently at the 2013 Australian Grand Prix, albeit on a later timetable – but nothing could have prepared us for what we would see later in the day.

The resolve of the fans that had been evident earlier in the weekend continued through to Sunday. A quick tour of the grounds via one of the shuttles about an hour and a half before the race saw most of the sections filling in nicely.

It may have been cold and damp, and while undoubtedly down from last year’s reported 107,778 there were probably a fair 65,000 to 70,000 fans on site just day of race. Unsurprisingly, as of late Monday night, COTA was yet to release full weekend numbers as the miserable, torrential rain conditions all but killed the Friday and Saturday totals.

Nevertheless, the fans who did get to see the race on site got a doozy. The key ingredients to the recipe? Just add water and Red Bull.

With the track starting off wet but without rain, it meant all cars started on intermediates and as such, it jumbled the equation a little bit. About two years ago you’d have looked at Red Bull Racing in the third and fourth positions and thought they were having an off day. In 2015, it was a case of, “HOLY WINGS, BATMAN! Red Bull’s actually third and fourth on merit!”

And so it was that Ricciardo hassled the Mercedes pair – that Kvyat was also impressive early before succumbing to pressure later and crashing out – and that the race evolved as the track dried out to produce what was easily the best of the four Grands Prix held at Austin. Yes, it had a predictable result, but not a predictable path to get there… after all, that’s why you watch the bloody race.

The joy differential, meanwhile, between the Merc teammates could not have been wider. Hamilton had won and Nico Rosberg was defeated yet again. Rosberg didn’t appreciate Hamilton pretty much ram-rodding him off the road at Turn 1 off the start, although his chance at redemption ended when he ran wide on his own after apparent wheel spin exiting Turn 15. Granted, it seemed by Sunday night Rosberg was back to jovial good teammate, good bloke form, out singing and partying with Hamilton (more here and here).

It was poetic, and fitting, that Hamilton captured the title on U.S. soil. We wrote quite a bit this week about Hamilton’s affinity for this country and in winning the title here, he’s given a race – and a country – that hasn’t really had a marquee moment in F1 lore in decades, a needed shot in the arm.

If Hamilton’s first World Championship, achieved in 2008 in Brazil, was the most dramatic of the three, this one was the most poignant. This third one tied him with the late Ayrton Senna, and leveled him with countryman Sir Jackie Stewart, who he saw in an emotional moment of embrace after the post-race press conference (forgive a brief personal indulgence… for me, being a fan starting in the mid-1990s, having a chance to not only cover but sit in, then ask a question, of the new World Champion in the presser was a definite pinch-me moment).

Additionally, he’s not likely ever going to have a chance to clinch on home soil at Silverstone, barring an early season runaway or Silverstone losing its traditional early July date, so doing so in a country he’s more or less adopted serves as a needed balance.

As for COTA, frankly, it needed a marquee race of sorts with the pressure on the track. Next week, F1 returns to Mexico, a country where the fever pitch is high with Sergio Perez on a roll of late and with a second driver, Esteban Gutierrez, due to be officially confirmed to the Haas F1 Team.

More importantly, it needed to show fans it was still a place worth coming. A regret for me on the weekend is a chance to not have done my usual track walk during FP2, talking to fans around the facility to gauge their take on the proceedings (my 2013, 2014 post-weekend columns here). Blame it on the rain. The Mexican fans made COTA their home for three years but as of next week, they have a much closer – and I would have to guess cheaper – option.

The FP3 lockout is, of course, the fan misstep of the weekend and not something that will be easily forgotten, or perhaps forgiven. But the steps taken afterwards – opening pit lane, providing the post-race fan invasion and then the Sir Elton John concert on the backstraight – were all signs of a proper course correction.

It was a weekend that started poorly, grew worse after the debacle that was Saturday, but ended on a needed high note, something that the U.S. deserves whenever it hosts a Grand Prix.

2023 SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Houston: Eli Tomac retakes 450 lead, Hunter Lawrence tops 250s

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After his Anaheim 2 crash, Eli Tomac was surprised he was not injured, but despite getting knocked down momentarily, he picked himself up, rode to last week’s win and reascended to the top of the SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Houston. This is the third time in three weeks Tomac has topped the rankings.

SuperMotocross Power Rankings Houston
Jason Anderson has back-to-back podiums to his credit and sits second in the Power Rankings. – Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

Last week, Tomac finished second in his heat before winning the Main – and that translated to near-perfect points in the Power Rankings, which award 100 for a win in the feature and 90 for a heat victory. Tomac’s average was marred by the Houston accident when he finished 13th in that heat before settling just outside the top five in overall standings. Racing is about bouncing back and last year’s Supercross and Motocross champion Tomac did just that as he chases a third consecutive title.

Jason Anderson earned his second consecutive podium finish with a third at Houston. He momentarily rolled past Aaron Plessinger into second during a restart following an accident involving Dylan Ferrandis and held that position for four trips around the track until he was tracked down by Chase Sexton. Afterward Anderson faded and finished 12 seconds off the pace, but along with a heat win, he easily leapfrogged Ken Roczen and Cooper Webb, who struggled in the fourth race of the season.

MORE: Eli Tomac rebounds from Anaheim 2 crash with Houston win

Webb held his position by passing Roczen in NBC’s SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Houston. Webb has been solid in 2023 with a worst moto result of seventh in the first Triple Crown race at Anaheim 2, but in order to be considered a solid challenger to Tomac he needs to win either a heat or main this week in Tampa.

Roczen was involved in the incident that sidelined Ferrandis in Houston. Racing for eighth at the time, his bike may have sustained some damage when Ferrandis landed on his back tire, but he was not overly impressive in his heat either with a fifth-place finish. That was enough to drop him three positions in the standings, but he still has Tomac in sight.

After his disappointing heat in San Diego when he crashed and sustained enough damage to place him last, Sexton has roared back. He won the overall in Anaheim 2’s Triple Crown format and narrowed the points’ gap slightly on Tomac. Last week he yarded the field in his heat race and won by a wide margin. A modest start in the Main kept him from getting to Tomac’s back wheel early in the Houston round, and he lost a little ground in the championship.

450 Rankings

This
Week
Rider Power
Avg.
Last
Week
Diff.
1 Eli Tomac
[3 Main; 3 Heats Wins]
85.20 2 1
2 Jason Anderson
[2 Heat Wins]
82.60 4 2
3 Cooper Webb 82.10 3 0
4 Ken Roczen 81.70 1 -3
5 Chase Sexton
[1 Main; 3 Heat Wins]
80.70 6 1
6 Dylan Ferrandis 71.60 5 -1
7 Aaron Plessinger 71.30 8 1
8 Justin Barcia 70.10 7 -1
9 Justin Cooper 68.00 NA
10 Adam Cianciarulo 67.40 9 -1
11 Joey Savatgy 61.20 10 -1
12 Marvin Musquin 61.00 10 -2
13 Malcolm Stewart
[1 Heat Win]
58.75 11 -2
14 Christian Craig 57.20 13 -1
15 Colt Nichols 56.50 14 -1
16 Dean Wilson 49.30 15 -1
17 Justin Hill 39.67 18 1
18 Shane McElrath 36.33 22 4
19 Brandon Scharer 34.00 21 2
20 Logan Karnow 33.33 19 -1

Supercross 450 Points


The 250 East division debuted in Houston and with only one race – and therefore no chance yet to stumble – three of their riders jumped to the top of the chart.

Hunter Lawrence had a perfect week with wins in both his main and heat. It wasn’t without drama, however, as he was forced to jump wide early in the feature to avoid contact with Tom Vialle, who was making his Supercross debut. Without a former 250 champion in the field, it is guaranteed someone new will grace the top of the box at Salt Lake City after the season-ender and it looks like it’s going to be Lawrence’s to lose.

SuperMotocross Power Rankings Houston
Jordon Smith’s last podium before Houston came four years ago in Detroit. – Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

It was more than four years ago that Jordon Smith scored his last Supercross podium in Detroit. Despite finishing second that afternoon, he was battling a wrist injury that eventually sidelined him. More injuries have followed, but Smith was a favorite to win the title in 2019 and he’s shown how well he can ride when he’s healthy.

Debuting third in the Houston SuperMotocross Power Rankings, Max Anstie moved from the 450 class last year to 250s in 2023 and the change has gone better than he anticipated. Finishing second in both his heat and main, Anstie was edged by Smith because he finished second behind that rider in their heat. That is Anstie’s first top-10 since finishing sixth at Southwick, Massachusetts last year on his 450. In that race, he scored fifth-place results in both motos.

Supercross 250 Points

Haiden Deegan proved the hype surrounding his graduation into the 250 class was well deserved and he landed fourth in his division and fifth overall in the SuperMotocross Power Rankings. In his first professional Supercross race, he finished fourth in his heat. In a field with twice the talent, he finished fourth again in the main. At Houston, he balanced aggression with patience. Now that he has a taste of that success, everyone will be watching him closely at Tampa to see if he can continue tiptoeing on the line.

Michael Mosiman, Jeremy Martin, and Vialle are tied for fifth in the 250 East division and seventh overall.

Vialle is the most notable of these three because he challenged for a podium position during the Main before making a mistake and falling in a turn. Significantly, this was not only his 250 debut, but his first time in Supercross. As with Deegan, he has generated a lot of attention for the coming weeks.

250 Rankings

This
Week
Rider Power
Avg.
Last
Week
Diff.
1 Hunter Lawrence – E
[1 Main; 1 Heat Win]
95.00 NA
2 Jordon Smith – E
[1 Heat Win]
90.50 NA
2 Max Anstie – E 90.50 NA
4 Jett Lawrence – W
[2 Main; 2 Heat Wins]
89.13 1 -3
5 Haiden Deegan – E 81.50 NA
6 Cameron McAdoo – W
[1 Heat Win]
77.63 2 -4
7 Mitchell Oldenburg – W 77.00 3 -4
7 Michael Mosiman – E 77.00 NA
7 Jeremy Martin – E 77.00 NA
7 Tom Vialle – E 77.00 NA
11 Stilez Robertson – W
[1 Heat Win]
76.75 4 -7
12 Chance Hymas – E 74.50 -12
13 Levi Kitchen – W
[1 Main Win]
73.75 5 -8
14 RJ Hampshire – W
[3 Heat Wins]
70.00 6 -8
15 Max Vohland – W 69.29 7 -8
16 Cullin Park – E 66.00 NA
17 Chris Blose – E 65.50 NA
18 Derek Kelley – W 63.75 8 -10
19 Enzo Lopes – W 63.25 9 -10
20 Pierce Brown – W 61.29 10 -10

* The NBC Power Rankings assign 100 points to a Main event winner and 90 points for each Heat and Triple Crown win, (Triple Crown wins are included with heat wins below the rider’s name). The points decrement by a percentage equal to the number of riders in the field until the last place rider in each event receives five points. The Power Ranking is the average of these percentage points over the past 45 days.

POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 3 AT ANAHEIM 2: Consistency makes Ken Roczen king
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 2 AT SAN DIEGO: Roczen moves up, Chase Sexton falls
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 1 AT ANAHEIM 1: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence gain an early advantage