Dixon, Ganassi rebound in evening test session

Photo: IndyCar
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A quick look at the time sheets from the first test session of this weekend’s Verizon IndyCar Series Prix View could make one think that Chip Ganassi Racing started off on the back foot. None of the four Chip Ganassi drivers finished the session in top ten, with Scott Dixon the best of the bunch in 12th in his No. 9 Honda.

However, the four-time champion rebounded in the evening session, spending most of the night in top five and ending it in fourth. Teammates Charlie Kimball and Tony Kanaan flexed some of their muscle as well, locking in spots in sixth and eighth.

Dixon never appeared concerned after the lackluster opening session, even offering a reason he and his teammates were not among the fastest early on.

“We didn’t do new tires,” he said of the first session times. “It looked like a bunch of people did new tires at the end and did a couple of different aero adjustments to try and get an idea on some of the data that we’ve been looking at through the off-season.”

Phoenix International Raceway provides an excellent platform for the organization as it transitions back to Honda power and begins working with Honda’s aero kit. Dixon dominated last year’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix, leading the final 155 laps on his way to victory, and his performance that night serves as a benchmark that will help the organization gauge its competitiveness.

As far as Dixon is concerned, in spite of the lap times, the opening session was a positive experience. “The engine feels really good, and lap times I thought for what we were doing were actually fairly decent,” he detailed. “It’s always hard to tell in preseason testing, especially with manufacturers, how tuned up they are, and we’ll just have to see how it plays out once we come back here for the race. But for us and our testing program today, the session went fairly well.”

Dixon was also keen to emphasize the team’s history with Honda. As one of its flagship operations upon entering the sport in the 1990s, Chip Ganassi Racing won nine championships with Honda, including the first for both manufacturer and team in 1996.

“As a team we’ve achieved a lot with HPD and Honda, so it’s nice to be back working with a lot of those people, and as I said, they run the program vastly different (from Chevrolet),” he said. “So I think the program in itself actually fits our team a little bit better, but you know, we’ll have to see.”

While changing manufacturers may not seem daunting, especially if it means returning to one you’re already familiar with, there are many elements that complicate matters. For starters, Honda’s engine is vastly different from what it was in 2013, the last year Chip Ganassi’s team competed under the Honda umbrella. They ran with a single-turbo 2.2-liter V6 that year. Honda switched to a twin-turbo platform in 2014, but Ganassi’s team had already moved to Chevrolet by then. And, of course, there is Honda’s aero kit and its much-documented struggles against Chevrolet’s.

Dixon understands it may be an uphill battle, but he is happy to face a new challenge. “There’s a lot to learn, a lot to take in. It’s exciting, it’s a new challenge, and definitely happy to be behind the No. 9, and we’ll see what we can get this season.”

And, not to be ignored, Dixon’s appearance mirrored that of The Stig, Top Gear’s tame racing driver. The Kiwi’s entry was adorned in a white livery with a driver’s suit to match and did not hide the fact the team has not yet announced a sponsor in the wake of Target’s departure.

“You don’t like it?” Dixon quipped when asked about his all-white attire. He politely declined to elaborate on the details.

“That’s above my pay grade, man,” he joked when asked about the sponsor search.

Testing continues for the man in white, and the rest of the 21-car field, tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. local time.

Houston Supercross by the numbers: Five riders begin to gap the field

Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media
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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.

Houston Supercross numbers
Cooper Webb’s ability to close races makes him a Houston favorite. – Feld Motor Sports

Despite an accident in his heat in San Diego that sent him to the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ), Sexton recovered to score a top-five that weekend. His podium finish in Anaheim 1 and overall win last week in Anaheim 2 makes him one of the three riders with a perfect top-five record. He is joined by Cooper Webb, who finished second in the first two rounds and fourth last week, and Ken Roczen, whose consistency in the first three races contributed to him grabbing the top spot in this week’s NBC Supercross Power Rankings.

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. Jim Pomeroy won the first race in the Astrodome in 1974. 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.

Michael Mosiman scored his first 250 win last year in San Diego. – Feld Motor Sports

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.

The other 250 riders with 2022 wins this week are Mosiman, who earned his first Supercross win last year in San Diego, and Nate Thrasher, who became the fifth new class winner at Daytona.

Jeremy Martin will attempt to extend a record this week in Houston. His division leading SuperMotocross podiums number 65. He has 26 wins in the combined sessions, which ranks fourth all time.

Last Five Houston Winners

450s
2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Cooper Webb
2021, Race 2: Eli Tomac
2021, Race 1: Justin Barcia
2020, no race
2019, Cooper Webb
2018, Jason Anderson

250s
2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Colt Nichols
2021, Race 2: Jett Lawrence
2021, Race 1: Christian Craig
2020, no race
2019, Dylan Ferrandis
2018, Aaron Plessinger

By the Numbers

Anaheim 2
San Diego

More SuperMotocross coverage

Supercross unveils 16th edition of a Ricky Carmichael designed Daytona track
Power Rankings after week 3
Haiden Deegan makes Supercross debut in Houston, Justin Cooper to 450s
Talon Hawkins set to relieve injured Jalek Swoll in Houston
Jalek Swoll out for an indefinite period with broken arm
Ken Roczen urgently needed a change
Chris Blose joins Pro Circuit Kawasaki in 250 East opener
Seth Hammaker to miss Houston with wrist injury
Jo Shimoda joins Seth Hammaker, Austin Forkner on injured list
Injury sidelines Austin Forkner for remainder of 2023 SX
Chase Sexton wins Anaheim 2 in 450s; Levi Kitchen takes 250s
Results and points from Anaheim 2