INDIANAPOLIS – You don’t finish your first 25 Grands Prix in a row without proper risk assessment, and it’s a strategy that Max Chilton in the No. 8 Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet has taken over to his opening races in the Verizon IndyCar Series, as well.
The month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a different animal and requires a similar amount of understanding how to build up pace and confidence through the days of practice and qualifying, prior to competing in the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.
In working with Ganassi this year and particularly this month, Chilton has access to three-time ‘500 and four-time series champion Dario Franchitti along with his ace engineer Brandon Fry, who’s helped other first-year drivers through the process at IMS.
“Without tempting fate too much, I am sort of a risk manager,” Chilton told NBC Sports. “Hence why I set the record I did in F1. I don’t think it can’t be beaten. It could be matched. No driver’s ever done that.
“Here, it’s crucial you’ve got the time to build up to it. Let’s face it – if I didn’t have Dario and didn’t have a team that’s so good, I’d be in a riskier position.
“He says we’ll never take downforce off without (also) doing tires. You don’t need to rush it along there. We’ve got two or three more days of running before qualifying. It’s important to make sure that you risk manage building up to it because when it comes time to an oval qualifying session, you’re gonna have to just go for it.”
Franchitti, who turns 43 today, is impressed with Chilton’s early approach to IMS.
“For any rookie coming to Indianapolis it’s always a daunting proposition,” Franchitti said. “He’s got the right temperament for it. He likes structure. The car itself, the inside of the car and the handling of the car fascinates him! I can relate to that.
“He’s impressed me so far. We’re trying to tell him the Indy 500 and weeks leading up to it is almost as much a mental game as anything else. So, far he’s handled it very well.”
Chilton also expressed thanks with Fry’s feedback and interaction with Franchitti.
“Brandon is sort of a calm, solid engineer,” Chilton said. “He gives you the car that you can trust it. Him and Dario completely bounce off each other. He gives me the engineering side of it, and Dario just tries to extract as much out of me as possible. He knows it helps. I can’t honestly pick a better person to be working with. I’m quite fortunate.”
Having had the baseline of some Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires running here last year, although he didn’t start the race owing to a fuel leak, he still described the adjustments he had to make stepping up to IndyCar here.
“You can obviously sense the speed is greater. The Lights car has a lot less downforce,” he said. “I know come qualifying when we’ll trim out, we’ll feel it moving around more. I felt the Lights car moved around a lot more.
“You have to drive it completely different because the speeds are greater, the rate and turn-in points are different. I’m really glad I did that last year because I wouldn’t have had that baseline I did previous.”
Wednesday was an interesting day for Chilton as he did a bunch of full-tank runs and completed 125 laps, second-most in the field only to fellow freshman Matthew Brabham.
“Anytime I’m running here, in traffic, you’re learning a lot. I was getting frustrated out there, I’m not gonna lie,” Chilton admitted.
“But it was good, because it made me realize there is a lot more to learn about timing a pass and having the right setup. I felt I was too comfortable in the corners and couldn’t move in a straight line. There’s just lots to learn.”
Fellow rookie Spencer Pigot’s accident on Wednesday was something Chilton took note of but didn’t appear to phase him too much.
“Yeah it makes you realize it can bite. But I want to avoid it all costs,” Chilton said. “He didn’t seem to do anything wrong. He seemed to turn in at the right point. He didn’t go too low below the white line.”
Has Chilton had that “holy cow!” moment as yet?
“I had a couple today!” he said. “Yeah, you follow a car, and the car isn’t turning, and the wall comes up on you very quick.
“You’ve gotta learn to appreciate this place, but not be afraid of it.”
PALA, California – In his 450 bike debut, Jett Lawrence scored a perfect round at Fox Raceway in Pala, California to win Pro Motocross Round 1. He posted the fastest time in both qualification sessions, won the holeshot in both motos, and scored a pair of wins to take the overall victory and the early points’ lead.
No one seriously questioned Lawrence’s opportunity to make noise in the 450 class. Few would have been surprised to see him podium in his Pro Motocross National, but Lawrence outperformed all expectations by dominating Moto 1. He entered the weekend with zero points and his eye on 20th in the standings so he would receive an automatic invitation to the inaugural SuperMotocross World Championship (SMX).
He well surpassed expectations.
“It’s awesome,” Lawrence told NBC Sports’ Jason Thomas. “I can finally smile. I’ve been trying to stay serious and not get too excited with emotions coming up – and now I can finally let loose. The second one was a little harder, I couldn’t hear him but I’d look back and I’d still see the red bike. It was like a chess match.”
By the end of the race, Lawrence made up 30 percent of the points he needed to claim 20th and served notice that he will be one of the favorites to win the championship. He closed the gap even further in Moto 2, but the two races had entirely different storylines.
While Lawrence was able to run away from the field in the first race and win with a 10-second advantage, Honda teammate and defending Monster Energy Supercross champion Chase Sexton pressured him for the entire 30 minutes plus two laps that made up Moto 2.
Lawrence is the 16th rider to win in his first Pro Motocross race, the 10th to do so in an opener and second youngest, (behind Rick Johnson, 17 when he won at Hangtown in 1982).
Sexton was within two seconds of Lawrence for the entire moto. He rode a patient race with the realistic expectation that the 450 rookie Lawrence might make a mistake. Lawrence bounced from rut to rut in this race, but would not be forced into losing his focus.
“Toward the finish line area I had some decent lines, I thought maybe, if I could get close enough, I could make a move,” Sexton said. “I tried my hardest; I got close. I made a bit of an attempt with maybe 10 minutes to go and messed up. Jett was obviously riding really good. We were pushing the pace and it was a fun moto. It felt a little like last year.”
With his 1-1 finish and the overall victory, Lawrence remains perfect at Fox Raceway after sweeping Victory Lane in five rounds his 250 career.
Dylan Ferrandis returned to the track after suffering a concussion in the Supercross season in Round 4 in Houston. He attempted to return for the Daytona Supercross race, but another hard crash on Media Day set him on the sideline.
“Earlier this week I was pretty far from a podium position, so got together with the team and we made it happen,” Ferrandis said. “It was very hard. [Aaron Plessinger] was pushing me and I had to dig very deep.”
In a pre-race news conference, he indicated that the best course of action was to get up to speed before he fully sent his bike into the turns. But adrenalin is a wonderful factor and once he got into the pace of the race, he held off charges from Cooper Webb in Moto 1 and Plessinger in Moto 2. Ferrandis’ 3-3 finishes in the two races earned 40 points and puts him back in the conversation to be among the top 20 in the combined SuperMotocross standings.
Plessinger and Webb each ended the day with 34 points. Plessinger won the tiebreaker for fifth overall in the standings. But it was an adventurous afternoon for Plessinger who had to overcome a pair of falls in the first Moto to finish fifth.
Round 1 of the Pro Motocross season marked the return of Webb after he suffered a Supercross series ending concussion in a heat race at Nashville.
“This was a last minute decision,” Webb said. “I sat out last summer and I didn’t want to do that again. Once I got cleared from the doctor, it was game on.”
The battle between Lawrence and Sexton gave Honda a 1-2 finish in this race for the second straight year, but perhaps most importantly, it provided a glimpse of what can be expected during the opening rounds.
I think there is more to come from Chase,” Lawrence said. “He had that crash in practice so it rung his head a bit, but I know it’s going to be a war in the outdoor season. I know there’s going to be times when I’m behind Chase and can’t get around him. It’s going to be an awesome season and I can’t wait to race my teammate.”
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Jett wasn’t the only Lawrence to win Fox Raceway Motocross. Hunter’s win in the 250 class marked the first time in history that brothers won a Motocross National on the same day.
The reigning 250 East Supercross champion scored the overall victory with a third in Moto 1 and a victory in Moto 2. A poor start in the first race forced Lawrence to mount a charge from behind. Riding with discomfort, Lawrence was out of his rhythm early. A spirited battle with Jo Shimoda and Justin Cooper for third through fifth forced him to push through the pain of an injury suffered at the start of the week.
“The start was crucial,” Lawrence said. “I had a massive crash Monday and could barely ride press day for three laps, I was in so much pain. This one goes out to Dr. [Rey Gubernick]. He has magic hands.”
Lawrence’s strong start to Moto 2 put him in a better zone and he pulled an eight-second advantage over the second-place rider.
Haiden Deegan got a taste of the Motocross series last year, but that was all it was: a nibble.
Deegan failed to crack the top 10 in either of two starts and had some questions for himself before the race began. Deegan did not believe there were high expectations placed on him for this race, which is precisely how he described his first Supercross attempt. In that inaugural SX race, he finished fourth and was as surprised as anyone in the field.
Again: The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Deegan surprised himself again by finishing second in only his third Motocross National. He finished sixth in Moto 1 and second in Moto 2, giving him a second-place finish overall.
“I’m actually a little surprised,” Deegan said. “A lot of people said I wouldn’t even be close to this. I guess we’re proving people wrong and that’s what we’ve got to do Second place in my first full season. I’m hyped.”
RJ Hampshire made a statement in Moto 1. An entirely new discipline allowed Hampshire to grab an early advantage. But then a poor start to Moto 2 provided an entirely different challenge. Two falls on Lap 1 dropped Hampshire to 39th in the running order.
“I didn’t have a great start and got mayhem in that second corner and went down,” Hampshire said. “Picked [myself] up in last and made some really good passes and then going uphill on the [backstretch], someone got out of whack – took me out and I was dead last again. I didn’t really know if I had a shot at the podium, but I was digging really deep.”
It took half of the race to get back into the points in 20th, but Hampshire kept digging. Passing riders one at a time, he climbed to 11th in Moto 2 and salvaged enough points to give him the third position overall.
Maximus Vohland made a statement of his own by holding off a determined Lawrence on the last two laps. Lawrence was able to pressure Vohland when they were slowed by a lapped rider who fell in front of the battle.
Tom Vialle was in a position to take the final overall podium spot with a solid third-place finish in the second moto. He did everything he could, but Hampshire’s determined charge from the back of the pack was capped off with a two-position advance on the final lap to slide onto the final step of the box.