DiZinno: Road America’s IndyCar return goes down smooth

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ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – It was hard to sum up the emotions, the feeling and the weekend just completed at Road America other than to make it succinct.

It simply felt right.

Granted, perhaps it was too busy at times, given the fact there were 13 races spread across the Verizon IndyCar Series, Mazda Road to Indy and Pirelli World Challenge over four days.

The track first-timers were easily identifiable and frequently awestruck, overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the joint.

There was a lot of newness to get used to, as the track updated several of its facilities and amenities from years past. The new LED board in Victory Lane made for an interesting topic of discussion.

The media center felt more crowded (a good thing, given the media interest), and the grounds were consistently packed which occasionally made getting where you needed to go difficult.

Yet none of the nitpicky type things were a bother and the overall feeling from the weekend was one of relief, satisfaction and glory that after this nine-year hiatus, IndyCar was back at a place it properly belonged.

“I think it’s really happened wonderfully considering the weather this morning,” track president George Bruggenthies told reporters after the KOHLER Grand Prix race. “The crowds really came out. I have to congratulate the Road America staff and the whole team that does all the operations here. They worked very hard preparing. I think we delivered. The crowd came out and they had a great time. Beautiful race. I think they’ll be back.

“I know they probably exaggerated numbers in the early days, but I talked to a couple of my board of directors, and this is likely the largest event ever hosted by Road America, so that’s really something.

“It was very exciting. The fans obviously wanted it, and Mark Miles, as I stated before, has been working the last several years. Really the stumbling block was the date, and we put that together last July, the June date, and here it is. It just happened, and it was a great event.”

For proof it wasn’t just the track president pimping his facility, you then only needed to look at the round of driver quotes post-race to see the emotion from them was back.

Montoya. Photo: IndyCar
Montoya. Photo: IndyCar

Look first at three drivers who raced in the so-called “heyday” of the sport at Road America, in Juan Pablo Montoya, Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan. Their races came here from 1998 to 2002 before returning.

“It was so exciting to come back to Road America. This place is incredible. It’s just amazing,” said JPM.

“If anyone complains about the racing today, then they should go watch horse racing or something.”

Added teammate Castroneves, “The event here this weekend was spectacular. The fans were just great. I hope we can keep coming back here.”

Kanaan and a pack. Photo: IndyCar
Kanaan and a pack. Photo: IndyCar

“Down the straightaways I was able to look at the fans on the last two laps and people were standing and spinning hats and shirts and that’s what I love to see. I hope (the fans) enjoyed it as much as I did and they come back because we’ll make even better next year,” Kanaan noted.

Then look at a couple other drivers who raced in the intervening years of 2003 to 2007, in a pair of past series champions Will Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay.

“It is huge! I walked around the camping grounds earlier in the weekend. It just amazed me how many people are here, and how much fun they are having,” said Power, who waltzed to his 27th career victory on Sunday. “Just walking in here on Thursday, you could see the place was really popping. I am just so stoked to be back here. We should have been back here a long time ago. All the fans are great.”

Hunter-Reay added: “Just really great to see the fan turn out today here at Road America – any time you see a bunch of fans starting right away on Friday, you know it’s going to be a good weekend.”

Finally look at two drivers who made their first IndyCar starts here but had been here in Skip Barber in the past, young Americans Josef Newgarden and Conor Daly.

“I think we put on a great show for the fans, we had an amazing crowd. We should have been coming here all along!” said Newgarden. “I hope we come back here for many, many years to run. It’s one of the best tracks and has the best racing. That’s one of the reasons I wanted make sure I was able to race here.”

“Finally, I also want to say how awesome it is to be racing here at Road America, and seeing all that fans that came out. What a great event,” added Daly.

So why is Road America so great, you ask?

It’s the general feel of the place that stirs the soul and reminds you why you care about or fell in love with racing in the first place.

It’s the fact that you can bring your family and camp – the campgrounds were full throughout all 4.014 miles of the track – and walk or drive a golf cart around to explore the various nooks and crannies.

It’s the track food. Whether it’s pancakes or an “egger” from The Gearbox, the iconic Johnsonville double brat from St. John the Baptist, or even the new Win Tunnel stand that served up newer items like an Asian fusion salad, there’s no shortage of options at the track that simply serves up the best track food in the country.

It’s the peacefulness. The dichotomy at Road America is that the noise is loud as the cars whistle through the trees, yet there’s a calm and serenity that comes through because the cars going past is such a natural feeling. At no point do you feel like you’re going to be overwhelmed with anger or frustration at this place. Simply go to Turn 5, or Canada Corner, or into the paddock, and you realize what camaraderie can be like at a race track.

It’s the track itself. The combination of long straights, both sweeping and slow corners, and the curbs and rumble strips on exit – while the track is just the right amount of narrow for its length – is simply perfect. Getting to savor a hot lap from Mario Andretti on the Wednesday before the race was as if I’d died and gone to heaven. For good measure, three more laps followed in a PWC Ford Mustang Boss 302 (Nate Stacy driving), a Chevrolet Camaro pace car and a series PR golf cart.

And, simply, it’s the racing. I didn’t realize how good the IndyCar race was in the moment because I was trying to follow strategies, social media and timing & scoring all at once. The two Indy Lights races (one of which I got drafted in as a last-minute analyst thanks to IndyCar Radio) were fantastic and full of action. There were plenty of passes throughout the order in the USF2000 races. Pro Mazda and Pirelli World Challenge also had its moments; in PWC’s case, particularly in the GTS ranks. Both series had popular hometown sweeps with Aaron Telitz (Pro Mazda) and RealTime Racing (PWC GT) each winning their home events.

Confirm the date for next year, get another year of promotion and start the countdown clock for 2017.

Because Road America is back, after this year’s IndyCar return went down as smoothly as a Spotted Cow at Siebkens.

2023 SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Motocross season opener: Jett Lawrence rockets to the top


As the SuperMotocross season heads outdoors, the NBC Power Rankings change significantly with results from the Motocross opener at Fox Raceway in Pala, California. The Power Rankings assign a numeric value to each individual moto (90 points maximum) as well as the overall standings (100 points) and averages that number over the past 45 days. Included in the Power Rankings are results from the final five Supercross rounds, which fit into that 45-day timeframe.

Dylan Ferrandis finished on the podium in his first race back after experience a concussion in Supercross Round 4 at Houston. – Align Media

It didn’t take long for Jett Lawrence to rocket to the top of the SuperMotocross rankings – only about 74 minutes in fact. Lawrence dominated his first moto and beat his teammate Chase Sexton, the 2023 Monster Energy Supercross champion, to the line by 10 seconds. He had to fight a little harder for the second moto win as Sexton stalked him throughout the race and ended up less than a second behind.

Beginning this week, we have added the SuperMotocross points’ ranking beside the rider’s name and in one fell swoop, Lawrence went from being unranked in the 450 class to 26th. To qualify for the inaugural SuperMotocross’ guaranteed 20 positions that automatically make the gate for the three-race championship series, Lawrence needs to be inside the top 20 in combined Supercross and Motocross points. The bubble is currently held by Justin Starling and Lawrence needs to make up 44 points to overtake him.

Sexton’s second-place finish in the overall standings at Fox Raceway marked his ninth consecutive top-five finish. After the race, Sexton compared the battle he had with Lawrence to the one he experienced with Eli Tomac in last year’s Pro Motocross championship. These two riders had a significant advantage over the field in Pala, but there is still a lot of racing to be completed.

MORE: Jett Lawrence wastes no time, wins first 450 race

After missing 13 rounds to a concussion, Dylan Ferrandis told NBC Sports that he was not going to do anything risky in the season opener at Fox Raceway. If he dialed back his effort at all, one would be hard-pressed to notice. He finished third in both motos and was third in the overall standings. Ferrandis began the weekend just outside the top 20 in combined SuperMotocross points and climbed to 19th. In the next few weeks, he will get a little more breathing room over the cutline and then challenge for wins.

Adam Cianciarulo’s three-race streak of top-five finishes ended with a sixth-place overall at Fox Raceway, but that was enough to advance him one position in the NBC SuperMotocross Power Rankings and land him eighth in the combined points standings. His individual motos were moderate, but Cianciarulo is still battling the effects of injury and a nagging loss of strength in his wrist.

Aaron Plessinger returned from injury in the Supercross season finale to finish second at Salt Lake City. He added another top-five to his season total and now has six of those in the 13 rounds he’s made. With Ken Roczen and Eli Tomac not currently racing in Motocross, Plessinger has an opportunity to rise to the third seeding in short order.

450 Rankings

Driver (SMX rank) Power
1. Jett Lawrence (26) 93.33 NA
2. Chase Sexton (1) 92.36 1 -1
3. Dylan Ferrandis (19) 89.00 NA
4. Adam Cianciarulo (8) 82.89 5 1
5. Aaron Plessinger (5) 81.20 9 4
6. Justin Hill (9)
Not racing MX
79.75 8 2
7. Ken Roczen (4)
injured | Not racing MX
79.13 3 -4
8. Jose Butron (30) 75.67 NA
9. Lorenzo Locurcio (29) 75.00 NA
10. Eli Tomac (2)
74.50 2 -8
11. Dean Wilson (10)
Not racing MX
72.88 7 -4
12. Cooper Webb (3) 71.17 6 -6
13. Jerry Robin (32) 70.33 NA
14. Justin Barcia (6)
70.00 4 -10
15. Kyle Chisholm (15) 65.36 11 -4
16. Dante Oliveira (36) 65.00 NA
17. Shane McElrath (11)
Not racing MX
63.63 12 -5
18. Ryan Surratt (38) 63.33 NA
19. Josh Hill (13)
Not racing MX
62.38 13 -6
20. Justin Starling (20)
Not racing MX
62.13 19 -1

Motocross 450 Points

A bad start to Moto 1 at Fox Raceway was not enough to deter Hunter Lawrence. Neither was the fact that he was riding with sore ribs after experiencing a practice crash earlier in the week. He was a distant 10th to start the first race and for most of the 30 minutes, it seemed he would finish off the podium. Lawrence did not win the 250 East Supercross championship by giving in to hopelessness or pain, however.

Lawrence picked off one rider and then another until he found the battle for the top five in front of him at the halfway point. Once the field started to lap riders, Lawrence used the opportunity to continue forward through the grid. He passed third-place Jo Shimoda with two laps remaining and challenged Maximus Vohland for second on the final trip around Fox Raceway, but had to settle for the final spot on the podium. Lawrence dominated Moto 2 and claimed the overall victory in Pala.

Justin Cooper made his first start of the season at Fox Raceway and earned enough NBC Power Average points to climb to second. Partly this was due to consistently strong runs in both motos and a 5-4 that gave him the fifth position overall, but he is also not weighed down with moderate Supercross results. It will take a week or two to see where his strength lands him on the grid.

Motocross 250 Points

In only his third Pro Motocross National, Haiden Deegan scored a second-place finish in the overall standings. – Align Media

RJ Hampshire may feel he has something to prove after finishing second to Jett Lawrence in the 250 SX West division. He certainly rode like that was the case in Moto 1 and easily outpaced the field on his way to victory lane. In Moto 2, he crashed twice on Lap 1 and dropped back to 39th. It took half of the race to get inside the top 20 and salvage points. By the end of the race, he was 11th and while that was enough to get him on the overall podium, it cost him points in the NBC SuperMotocross Power Rankings.

Haiden Deegan surprised the field in Houston in his 250 Supercross debut by finishing fifth. At the time, he said his strong result was because there were no expectations. He echoed that statement after the Motocross season opener. His second-place finish in the overall standings was enough to project him five positions up the SuperMotocross Rankings. In 11 rounds in the combined series, Deegan has earned seven top-fives and a worst finish of eighth.

Jo Shimoda did not make his first Supercross race of 2023 until late in the season. He finished fourth on the hybrid track of Atlanta, which had some similar elements to Fox Raceway. His fourth-place finish in Moto 1 of the Motocross opener made it seem likely he would score an overall podium, but a sixth in the second race cost him points in the NBC Power Rankings in a field that promises to be extremely tight.

250 Rankings

Driver (SMX rank) Power
1. Hunter Lawrence (1) 89.56 2 1
2. Justin Cooper (42) 84.67 NA
3. RJ Hampshire (3) 83.67 3 0
3. Haiden Deegan (4) 83.67 8 5
5. Jo Shimoda (16) 82.33 7 2
6. Guillem Farres (46) 79.33 NA
7. Levi Kitchen (6) 79.11 5 -2
8. Max Anstie (5) 77.83 12 4
9. Max Vohland (8) 77.50 14 5
10. Enzo Lopes (10) 76.00 11 1
11. Mitchell Oldenburg (13) 74.25 16 5
12. Carson Mumford (19) 71.22 17 5
13. Jordon Smith (7) 70.56 9 -4
14. Ryder DiFrancesco (48) 70.33 NA
15. Chris Blose (12) 67.00 13 -2
16. Chance Hymas (27) 66.00 19 3
17. Tom Vialle (9) 65.78 18 1
18. Jett Reynolds (55) 63.33 NA
19. Michael Mosiman (28) 62.33 20 1
20. Garrett Marchbanks (64) 59.00 NA

* The NBC Power Rankings assign 100 points to a Main event winner in Supercross and overall winner in Motocross. It awards 90 points for each Moto, Heat and Triple Crown win. 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 13 AT ATLANTA: Justin Barcia leapfrogs the Big 3
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 11 AT SEATTLE: Cooper Webb, Eli Tomac overtake Chase Sexton
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 10 AT DETROIT: Chase Sexton narrowly leads Webb
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 8 AT DAYTONA: Chase Sexton unseats Eli Tomac
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 7 AT ARLINGTON: Jason Anderson narrowly trails Eli Tomac
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 6 AT OAKLAND: Perfect night keeps Eli Tomac first
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 5 AT TAMPA: Chase Sexton, Cooper Webb close in
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 4 AT HOUSTON: Eli Tomac rebounds from A2 crash, retakes lead
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 3 AT ANAHEIM 2: Consistency makes Ken Roczen king
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 2 AT SAN DIEGO: Ken Roczen moves up, Chase Sexton falls
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 1 AT ANAHEIM 1: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence gain an early advantage