The 100th Indy 500 rookie class boasts five fascinating stories

Rossi on yard of bricks. Photo: IndyCar
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INDIANAPOLIS – This year’s rookie class for the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil is a nice average of the classes from the last four years since the introduction of the Dallara DW12 chassis in 2012, and comprises five distinct talents all with something of note to prove.

In Max Chilton and Alexander Rossi, there’s two Formula 1 refugees who’ve found a home in IndyCar, who’ve both punched above their weight thus far in a full season and are starting to come into their own in meshing with their teams.

Meanwhile in Spencer Pigot and Matthew Brabham, there’s a pair who have spent the last four years since 2012 battling between themselves in the Mazda Road to Indy. Both have two championships (Pigot 2015 Indy Lights, 2014 Pro Mazda; Brabham 2013 Pro Mazda, 2012 USF2000) but are only just at the beginning of their IndyCar careers.

And in Stefan Wilson, there’s the undoubted emotional favorite of the five drivers. While Wilson’s ’500 debut is in large part a tribute run to the memory of his late older brother Justin, it’s still an incredible comeback story for Stefan on his own – he hasn’t been in an IndyCar since 2013, and hasn’t run a full season in anything in five years.

Any of the five would be a worthy Sunoco Rookie of the Year award winner for this year’s Indianapolis 500, the 100th running of the sport’s most prestigious race.

And while the race itself may be fought among the traditional two big teams – Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing Teams – it’s fair to say the ROTY honors for the year are incredibly wide open.

“It is a great rookie class with five of us out there this year,” Wilson told NBC Sports. “And all established drivers and all on good teams. So whoever wins rookie of the year is going to deserve it.”

Added Chilton to NBC Sports, “It is a strong year. I don’t think there’s this many years to have this many rookies. In the season obviously Spencer’s not doing the full year, nor is Brabham.

“But in this race there’s five of us. It’s a good size of the grid. And they’re all proven. They’ve won championships or on ovals before. No one can predict it until the last 10 laps, and even then you don’t know.”

Rossi at the yard of Bricks. Photo: IndyCar
Alexander Rossi at the yard of Bricks. Photo: IndyCar

Chilton and Rossi have been perhaps inextricably linked this year, probably because both have entered into IndyCar under similar circumstances.

Both sought the F1 path, got there, found the sledding tougher at the team formerly known as Marussia and have since come back Stateside. Chilton spent 2015 in Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires learning the ropes while Rossi returned to America after a long European bow, easily becoming the best American abroad and the only one to obtain an F1 Superlicense.

While they were perhaps judged for lack of understanding the nature of what they were getting themselves into in IndyCar – and admittedly, I was an early critic – their adaptation and greater appreciation for the series itself and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is obvious.

It’s apparent that by looking at them, the Chilton and Rossi of three months ago have evolved into drivers fully engrossed, fully capable of performing and fully locked into a great battle not just for rookie-of-the-year honors but greater outright results in the series.

Rossi, in particular, has not only accepted the challenge of IMS, but also embraced it. He’s been the strongest rookie thus far this month and was unlucky to get bounced from the Fast Nine Shootout right at the gun on Saturday. But he’s been clean, consistent and fast thus far.

“It felt fast. It was definitely eye-opening in terms of not having any kind of prior comparison to a place like this,” Rossi said after Monday’s first post-practice press conference.

“I was glad we got through ROP without any issues.”

After qualifying 11th, best of the rookies, Rossi added, “Eleventh was one away from what we could’ve hoped for after yesterday, so we’ll take it.”

Chilton at speed. Photo: IndyCar
Chilton at speed. Photo: IndyCar

Chilton added, after stepping up from Indy Lights, “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.

“You’ve gotta learn to appreciate this place, but not be afraid of it.”

He said that earlier in the week, but found out how hard this place bites in pre-qualifying practice Saturday morning. A heavy crash in Turn 2 forced his team to a backup car, but Chilton got it in the field on Sunday and will start 22nd.

Brabham's funny face. Photo: IndyCar
Brabham’s funny face. Photo: IndyCar

Brabham and Pigot are in tougher part-time situations this month. Both had the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis as a tune-up, and Pigot also ran the season opener at St. Petersburg.

Beyond the Indianapolis 500 though, they don’t have any further starts guaranteed, althought the possibility exists you could see Pigot for further races at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

Four years following their epic scrap at the USF2000 race at Lucas Oil Raceway for the win – Pigot ultimately prevailing over Brabham – they’re now vying for the same title this year.

“We had a crazy year in USF2000,” Brabham told NBC Sports about Pigot during INDYCAR Media Day back in February.

“We’d always been rivals. It didn’t matter the year or series. We were close. We had similar paths, fighting out in Mazda Road to Indy.

“It’s pretty ironic that, now you mentioned that, from that IRP oval race (in 2012) and then the next year, in Pro Mazda, it was me and him again. Now for rookie-of-the-year, I didn’t foresee it, but it’s cool. We joked at Cape (Motorsports) we’d be racing together the whole way, and now we are.”

Brabham is the embodiment of the spirit of the Brett “Crusher” Murray-led PIRTEK Team Murray, which shares a KV Racing Technology technical alliance. The Australian team’s brought a lot of fun to the Speedway this month and is also racing for a good cause, the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation.

Pigot, meanwhile, feels more prepared now having had a couple weekends under his belt – and he’s already fit in well with the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team.

“Coming into this weekend I felt a lot more confident and comfortable,” Pigot told NBC Sports after finishing 11th in the Grand Prix. “I didn’t have question marks about what it feels like to do the whole race, or what it’s like in the long run. I knew more things, and it showed a bit in the race.”

Pigot recovered from this crash. Photo: IndyCar
Pigot recovered from this crash. Photo: IndyCar

His month on the oval got off to a rough start with a heavy crash on Wednesday, May 18, which forced the team to a backup car after his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing primary chassis was tubbed. But he made it back out after a great buildup job by the crew of a new one.

“I feel fine physically. Just feel bad for the guys,” he said. “I’m not really sure what happened there. Before I knew it, I was facing backwards.”

Brabham qualified 27th, Pigot 29th, for the race.

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Where Wilson differs is in his recent experience by contrast to the others.

Chilton, Rossi, Pigot and Brabham have all raced regularly each of the last several years.

By contrast, Wilson’s first appearance in an Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo North America race earlier this month at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca driving with GMG Racing marked his first time in a racecar in more than a year.

He hasn’t raced a full-time season since Indy Lights in 2011 – then in the series’ old car. His last Indy Lights oval start came at Fontana in 2012.

“Last year I didn’t drive a single car. There were times when I’ve been like, ‘What am I doing here? Am I past my welcome? Am I going to get a shot?” Wilson pondered.

“Am I ever going to get this shot, or should I be doing something else with my life?’

“I didn’t want that to be the case, but when you’ve been sitting on the sidelines for as long as I’ve been it’s easy to get those questions in your mind. It’s good to get this opportunity and see.”

Wilson, in the third KVRT entry, will start 30th.

Hopefully, the path for this year’s top rookie ends better than the either of the last seven top rookies.

Ryan Hunter-Reay, who was the 2008 top rookie (but wasn’t really a rookie in North American open-wheel racing), is the last Indianapolis 500 rookie of the year to have gone on and win a race in IndyCar. Of course, “RHR” has also bagged the 2012 series title and 2014 ‘500 race win, so he’s the recent gold standard for freshmen going onto bigger or better things.

Since 2009, top rookies have been Alex Tagliani, Simona de Silvestro, JR Hildebrand, Rubens Barrichello, Carlos Munoz, Kurt Busch and Gabby Chaves.

Of that lot, only Munoz still has a full-time ride since, although several other rookies have debuted in the interim and maintain their presence in IndyCar (Charlie Kimball and James Hinchcliffe were in the 2011 ’500 to name a couple). Chaves is also working towards continuing beyond the month of May with Dale Coyne Racing. Tagliani and Hildebrand have become regular Indy-only additions to the field of 33.

With only Chilton and Rossi confirmed for the rest of this year, the other three will be looking to secure a rookie of the year title they can hang their hat on for the future.

Meanwhile either Chilton or Rossi could take the first step in matching Chaves’ feat achieved last year, top rookie in the Indianapolis 500 and the series, in the same season.

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