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The oval baptism of Alexander Rossi

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DALLAS – Alexander Rossi’s description of his first time around Indianapolis Motor Speedway is to the point.

“Scary as shit.”

When you’re maxing out at 243 mph before diving into the six-degree banking of Turn 1, any thoughts of reverence for 105 years of racing history are left in the pit stall.

That’s the reaction of a 24-year-old driver who had never competed on an oval, let alone a superspeedway, before this season.

Since the age of 10 in go-karts through the past eight years in Europe climbing the ranks to Formula One, the California native never found himself anywhere near an oval.

“I was never against the idea of oval racing, it was just very new to me,” Rossi said three days. “I just didn’t know where to begin.”

In February, when Rossi’s ride with Manor Marussia fell through (he remains a reserve driver), he entered a deal to drive the No. 98 for Andretti Herta Autosport just two weeks before the start of the IndyCar season.

“If you had asked me two weeks and one day (before) where I’d be racing, I would have said Formula One,” Rossi said Wednesday at an event to promote next weekend’s race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Suddenly, races on five different oval configurations appeared on his schedule. Rossi’s oval indoctrination began in April at the 1-mile track of Phoenix International Raceway. Rossi started and finished 14th, the last car on the lead lap.

A month later, Rossi was part of a large test at Texas Motor Speedway, the 1.5-mile track that Eddie Gossage built and later dubbed “No Limits, Texas.” So far, it’s Rossi’s favorite oval.

“I was all good to be myself and just drive like a qualifying lap, ‘Yeah, this is pretty good.'” said Rossi, who got “a little taste” of race conditions during a coordinated group run near the day’s end.

“Then you get into a pack and people are going two or three wide. Then you’re like…’uhhh…I don’t know if I’m going to be doing that.'”

Rossi eventually overcame his self-imposed limits.

“But then again, you try it once and then you’re ‘ok, that worked. I guess I’ll try it again and it continues to work’,” Rossi said. “So it’s pretty fun.”

Then came Indianapolis, which was “a whole new level.” This coming from a man who set his sights on Formula One at the age of 10 for one simple reason.

“They were the fastest cars on earth. That was it. They were just faster than everything else. That’s all I cared about.”

The first few laps around IMS, his second time out in the superspeedway aerokit, was a surreal experience for Rossi.

“Your brain doesn’t really want to do it in the beginning,” said Rossi. “It’s difficult to describe. You kind of have to force yourself to do it in the beginning, to be flat-out the whole lap and to continue to be flat-out the whole lap and not just bail out. I don’t know if it’s a good thing, but you get used to it. That transition was pretty cool when Monday afternoon, I got used to the fact that I was OK with being flat and I was OK to take a trim and start taking downforce off.

“That was a cool feeling, because I felt like I accomplished something.”

In the history of auto racing, every joke that could be made about racing on ovals, whether it be in IndyCar or NASCAR, has been told and will be told again by those who don’t know what’s going on in the cockpit.

The transition from road courses to ovals has proven challenging for many drivers, including Rossi. After two months, three tracks and one win, this is what the Formula One hopeful has taken away from his first steps into the oval discipline:

“To be fast you’re putting (the car) into a position where it really doesn’t want to do it. To be honest, when you’re watching it on board (camera), and for me I was the exact same, you look at it and as a racing driver you see it and you’re like, ‘well, that looks pretty manageable.’ But the differences on an oval, the feedback that you’re getting from the car and the sensations you’re getting from the car, are very minute and very, very specific. It’s the same thing with the behavior of the car. When you have a loose car on a road course, you’ll see drivers with opposite steering lock.

On an oval, loose is you go from here on the steering wheel to taking five degrees of steering lock out. But I can’t even explain to you that sensation. Like the rear of the car literally just had a huge wiggle. But you don’t see that in a steering trace, because everything is meant to go left, so you don’t see these huge corrections. If you see a huge correction, you’re in the wall. There’s no coming out of that. It’s a very similar feeling when you use the front. If you have one gust of wind at the wrong time you’ll literally be turned into the corner at 220 mph and the front will just give up, it will start moving up the track and you have to deal with that.

It’s the unpredictability of it and because the cars are so low on downforce the wind plays a huge difference, the track temperature plays a huge difference, so not one corner is the same, so every lap you’re on the tools in the car – bars and weight jackers and everything based on the wind socks, so you’re making decisions based on what you’re prediction of the wind is going to be in each corner. Then you add in 33 other cars and the turbulence of the air that creates and it’s just an incredibly difficult thing because the tolerances are just so much smaller than they are on road courses.”

It took two oval races for Alexander Rossi to get to the front. He led 14 laps and then won on the most famous oval in racing.

After two weeks in Indy, Rossi has begun to embrace the racing form he first explored two months ago.

That doesn’t change the fact that at the end of May, he was still peaking at 243 mph before that first historic corner.

Jokes Rossi, “I still question it.”

Supercross’ return Sunday in Salt Lake: Start time, TV, info for watching

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Nearly three months after the postponement of the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Monster Energy Supercross is returning to action.

Sunday’s Round 11 is the first of seven remaining 2020 events to be completed. All are being held at Rice-Eccles Stadium, on the campus of the University of Utah, with no fans in attendance.

Here’s what you need to know …

BROADCAST/STREAMING SCHEDULE

Television coverage will begin at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, then will move to NBC from 4-6 p.m. ET.

The event also will be streamed on NBCSports.com, the NBC Sports App, and NBC Sports Gold’s Supercross Pass, which also will stream live qualifying for the event starting at 1:30 p.m. ET.

COVID-19 IMPACT

Earlier this month, Feld Entertainment senior director of two-wheel operations Dave Prater confirmed that protocols for the final seven races will include COVID-19 testing for everyone on-site at Rice-Eccles Stadium. A negative result will be required to enter the stadium’s perimeter; only one test will be necessary as long as the person remains in Utah throughout the seven-race stretch.

Additional protocols include temperature checks (administered when someone enters the stadium perimeter), face masks, increased sanitation efforts and social distancing.

TRACK MAP

Prater also noted there is a different track map for each of the seven remaining rounds. “You might not see as different a track as you would from Indy to Salt Lake, but it will be a different track,” he said. “The lanes will be the same but with different obstacles.”

Click here to see the map for Sunday’s event.

FORMAT

A standard event format will be used for the seven remaining rounds, except for the season finale on June 21, which will include an East/West Showdown in the 250SX class.

  • 450SX Class – 40 Riders based on current point standings and 2020 top 100 number or combined season qualifying results
  • 250SX Class – 40 Riders based on current point standings and 2020 top 100 number or combined season qualifying results
  • Two qualifying sessions will be held for gate pick
  • 250SX Class – Two Heat Races and a Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ)
  • 450SX Class – Two Heat Races and a Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ)
  • 250SX Class Main Event
  • 450SX Class Main Event

WEATHER

Riders will face a heat wave in Salt Lake City. Weather Underground forecasts temperatures near 90 degrees at race time under partly cloudy skies.

WHEN WE LAST LEFT YOU

On March 7 at Daytona International Speedway, Monster Energy Kawasaki rider Eli Tomac earned his fourth career Daytona Supercross win in the 450SX class. Tomac erased a nine-second deficit, took the lead from Honda rival Ken Roczen with two minutes to go before the white flag lap and went on to victory.

In the 250SX East class, 18-year-old Garrett Marchbanks became just the fourth rider to claim their first career 250 class win at Daytona. Marchbanks held on after absorbing late-race pressure from reigning 250SX East champion Chase Sexton.

Extended Highlights – Daytona 450SX

Extended Highlights – Daytona 250SX

Tomac – who has become a father for the first time during the shutdown – currently holds the 450SX class championship lead by three points over Roczen. Reigning champion Cooper Webb is in third place, 29 points back.

In the 250SX East class, Sexton leads the way by 10 points over Shane McElrath, followed by R.J. Hampshire, 18 points back.

REST OF THE SCHEDULE

After Sunday’s opener, here are the details for the remaining six rounds:

  • Wednesday, June 3 ( 10:00 pm – 1:00 am ET, NBCSN);
  • Sunday, June 7 (5-8:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN);
  • Wednesday, June 10 (7–10 p.m. ET, NBCSN);
  • Sunday, June 14 (7-10 p.m. ET, NBCSN);
  • Wednesday, June 17 (7-10 p.m. ET, NBCSN);
  • Sunday, June 21 (3-4:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN; 4:30 – 6:00 p.m. ET, NBC).