Sato tops final session as RLL sweeps testing at ISM Raceway

Photo: IndyCar
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For the third time during the weekend of testing at ISM Raceway, Takuma Sato led the way in his No. 15 Mijack Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Given that teammate Graham Rahal was fastest during Friday night practice as well, it means that the RLL duo swept the weekend for the Bobby Rahal led team, with one of their drivers going fastest in each session.

Sato’s best lap came in at 189.855 mph, eclipsing his speed from afternoon practice to set the fastest lap of the weekend. He also completed the most laps – 158 – of all 22 drivers who took to the track on Saturday night.

“Wrap up today’s open test, very successful I would say,” Sato asserted in a video posted on RLL’s twitter page. “Lots of things to learn and lots of things that we tried, and I think over the course of two days we learned a lot. A great car, definitely more exercise for the driver, definitely busier (with) low downforce. But, we (completed) qualifying sims, race traffic runs. I think the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team is really strong.”

Behind Sato was Team Penske’s Will Power, who mirrored his performance from Saturday afternoon practice to put his No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet in second.

Tony Kanaan put his No. 14 ABC Supply Chevrolet for A.J. Foyt Racing in third, with defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden putting his No. 1 Hitachi Chevrolet in fourth for Team Penske. Fifth went to Marco Andretti in the No. 98 U.S. Concrete Honda for Andretti Herta Autosport.

The Saturday night session saw four incidents that brought out caution periods, ending a string of remarkably clean running across the two days of testing. One incident was for Scott Dixon, who drifted high exiting Turn 2 in the final 30 minutes of running. His No. 9 PNC Bank Honda eventually made contact with the wall, enough to damage the car and force Dixon to stop on the track. He climbed from the car unhurt, though he was finished for the session.

The other three incidents were for A.J. Foyt Racing driver Matheus Leist, who drifted high first in Turns 1 and 2 and then two more times in Turns 3 and 4. On all three occasions, Leist made light contact with the wall, but did not incur significant, if any damage, during any of the incidents.

Results for the Saturday night session, the final one of the weekend at ISM Raceway, can be found here.

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

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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 during the inaugural season of 1974 on a 250, which was the premiere class at the time. Houston was one of three races held that year along with events at Daytona International Speedway and the Los Angeles Coliseum. All three venues return in 2023 with the first SuperMotocross championship finale returning to the famed LA Coliseum in September.

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

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