That elusive podium failed to materialize for Nico Hulkenberg once again in 2015. The German driver has long been tipped as one of the most underrated drivers in Formula 1, yet he failed to live up to that billing this year.
Force India had its troubles that of course did not aid Hulkenberg’s efforts. The 2015 car only debuted at the final winter test in Barcelona, and it wasn’t until the British Grand Prix at Silverstone that the B-spec model arrived.
However, Hulkenberg didn’t enjoy the same upsurge in form that teammate Sergio Perez did. The fact that his highest finish of the year was sixth is indicative of that, as is the fact that he rarely went challenge en route to these finishes. He picked up big points on weekends when Force India was comfortably fourth-quickest; rarely did he out-perform the ability of the car in the second half of the year.
And yet 2015 will still go down as an astonishing year for Hulkenberg. His victory on debut at Le Mans stole the headlines, and it’s a shame he will not be able to defend his title next year. One can only hope that he makes good on the early promise of his career and finally, finally, ends that inexplicable podium drought.
Strange year for the “Hulk.” His best result came in a new discipline and I’m not sure whether to correlate the lack of results in his day job, especially by comparison to Sahara Force India teammate Sergio Perez, with the switch in machinery and re-adapting back to F1 after his 24 Hours of Le Mans win co-driving with Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber in the Porsche 919 Hybrid.
Hulkenberg beat Perez on a more regular basis in the 2014 chassis, prior to the introduction of the B-spec chassis from Silverstone that, coincidentally or not, came after Le Mans.
As it was, Hulkenberg was mired in a rut from Hungary through Austin where he failed to finish five of seven races in a single span. Three respectable points finishes at least ended his year on a productive note. On the whole though, for a driver who has traditionally outperformed his machinery and tended to end seasons on a roll, it was a largely anonymous season.
Houston Supercross by the numbers: Five riders begin to gap the field
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.
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.
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.
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.