Several rookies set for IndyCar debuts at St. Petersburg

Photo: IndyCar
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The 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series saw only one rookie as a full-time entrant – Ed Jones, with Dale Coyne Racing (note: rookie Esteban Gutierrez also competed in several events in 2017, but as a substitute driver for Sebastien Bourdais).

In 2018, the rookie tally balloons to three full-time competitors – Zach Veach, Robert Wickens, and Matheus Leist – with another six running in a part-time capacity – Jack Harvey,  Jordan King, Pietro Fittipaldi, Zachary Claman DeMelo, Rene Binder, and Kyle Kaiser.

All told, it is one of the most packed rookie classes in recent memory, and features several drivers with an array of accomplishments across a host of series from around the world.

Robert Wickens might be the most decorated of the rookie crop, given his success in DTM and several European junior series. That could make Wickens an early favorite for Rookie of the Year, but the remaining rookies, though less polished, should not be overlooked.

Both of the remaining full-time rookies – Veach and Leist – are graduates of the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires and are proven race winners, both having won in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship.

For Veach, his 2018 effort comes after several years of trying to break into the IndyCar ranks. An Indy Lights championship contender in 2014, Veach could not find an IndyCar seat for 2015, ultimately returning to Indy Lights in 2016, where he won three races on his way to fourth in the championship. He parlayed that into a pair of IndyCar races in 2017 – subbing for then Ed Carpenter Racing driver JR Hildebrand at Barber Motorsports Park before joining A.J. Foyt Racing for an Indianapolis 500 effort – and then caught his big break near the end of the season, when he and Andretti Autosport confirmed a full-season effort with backing from Group One Thousand One.

Sunday’s season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is the culmination of years of work for Veach to simply get a chance in IndyCar, and he is excited to continue his career in Andretti’s No. 26 Honda.

“The last preseason test is behind us now and I couldn’t be more excited for St.Pete,” Veach detailed. “We’ve made big strides in the Group One Thousand One car over the last couple months, and I feel ready to show what we can do on the streets and start our 2018 campaign. I can’t thank everyone at Group One Thousand One, Andretti and my crew enough for the effort they put in over the winter, all in preparation for this weekend.”

Leist, too, brings with him much success from his Indy Lights exploits, having won three times in 2017 on his way to fourth in the standings. He also has a championship pedigree already, having won the BRDC British F3 Championship in 2016.

Tony Kanaan and Matheus Leist during testing at ISM Raceway: Photo: IndyCar

At 19, he is the youngest of the full-season rookies. But having joined A.J. Foyt Racing alongside IndyCar stalwart Tony Kanaan, Leist will be surrounded by veterans from whom he can learn.

“Pretty excited for my first race in INDYCAR,” said Leist, who will pilot the No. 4 ABC Supply Chevrolet. “St Pete is a track I really like. It gives me a lot of adrenaline. I’m really looking forward to the challenge.

“We did some good preseason testing, so I’m pretty confident for the season. I think the whole team is in good shape for the challenge. Hopefully, we’ll do well!”

Beyond the three full-time drivers, four other part-time rookies – Zachary Claman DeMelo, Jack Harvey, Jordan King, and Rene Binder – will grace the streets of St. Petersburg.

Of that group, Claman DeMelo is the driver with the most recent experience at the St. Petersburg street circuit, having raced there in Indy Lights in both 2016 and 2017, with a best finish of seventh in Race 2 last year. He also contested the 2017 IndyCar season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, joining Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing that weekend.

Claman DeMelo will contest ten events for Dale Coyne Racing in the No. 19 Paysafe Honda. Like Leist, Claman DeMelo is only 19, but will also have a veteran presence alongside him in teammate Sebastien Bourdais, in addition to Michael Cannon serving as Claman DeMelo’s engineer.

Zachary Claman DeMelo will run ten races for Dale Coyne in 2018. Photo: IndyCar

“I’m eager to show the world stage what I can do beginning with the season-opening race in St Petersburg,” Claman DeMelo revealed. “I’ve made great progress in the gym and in offseason testing, and I look forward to showing that progress on the track.”

Jack Harvey, like the aforementioned Veach, has endured a long road to IndyCar. A standout in Indy Lights in both 2014 and 2015, he was sidelined for 2016 after being unable to find a full-time seat.

Things got better in 2017 when he joined forces with Michael Shank, whose IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship program has competed at a high level for years. Harvey and Shank, in a joint effort with Andretti Autosport, contested last year’s Indianapolis 500 together, and Harvey later joined Schmidt Peterson Motorsports for the final two races of the year.

The 2018 season sees Shank increase his IndyCar program to six events, with he and Harvey partnering with SPM in another joint venture to field the No. 50 AutoNation Sirius XM Honda.

For Harvey, the task of helping to launch a new entrant seems daunting on paper, but he is confident that he and Shank will find success together.

Sam Schmidt, Jack Harvey, and Michael Shank join forces for 2018. Photo: IndyCar

“We are a new team. It’s the first race. We know our expectations and will do our best to deliver. I have all the confidence in the world in both Michael Shank Racing and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, and I am ready more than ever to kick off the season with a strong debut outing,” Harvey asserted.

While Claman DeMelo and Harvey are known quantities in the American racing scene, Jordan King and Rene Binder represent unknowns.

King joins Ed Carpenter Racing as the road and street course driver for 2018. And St. Pete will be his first ever IndyCar race as he moves over from the FIA Formula 2 championship.

Jordan King will pilot the No. 20 Fuzzys Vodka Chevrolet at the road and street races in 2018. Photo: IndyCar

For King, this weekend is about starting things off on the right foot with ECR.

“There has been so much build-up and anticipation, I’m interested in seeing the whole picture come together,” said King. “The team has done some really good work over the winter. I’m feeling positive going into the weekend but with an open mind on my expectations. Hopefully, we can have a good weekend and take a decent result in my first race in the Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevy.”

Rene Binder, too, makes his IndyCar debut in St. Pete. Though his is perhaps the most difficult test in that he’ll be doing so with a brand new team: Juncos Racing, in their No. 32 Chevrolet.

Juncos debuted at the Indianapolis 500 last year with Spencer Pigot and Sebastian Saavedra and will contest eight races in 2018 – four with Binder and four with 2017 Indy Lights champion Kyle Kaiser.

Binder, like King, hopes to start his IndyCar venture off on the right foot and looks forward to beginning his career on a street circuit, which he admits to having an affinity for.

“I have always loved to race on street circuits, like the ones in Monte Carlo or Singapore, so it won’t surprise you that I look forward to the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg,” said Binger. I have to admit that one single day of preseason testing in Sebring was definitely not enough, but on the other hand, there is extreme commitment and much positive energy in our team. Juncos Racing has given me full support right from the beginning, so we can only hope that there are some fans out there to support our rookie team.”

The remaining two part-time rookies Pietro Fittipaldi and Kyle Kaiser, will make their season debuts at the Phoenix Grand Prix at ISM Raceway.

First practice for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg begins at 11:20 a.m. ET on Friday.

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2023 SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Anaheim 2: Ken Roczen is consistency’s king

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Strength is found not only in outright wins, but also through consistency, which contributed to the rise of Ken Roczen in the SuperMotocross Rankings after Anaheim 2.

Roczen ended the 2022 Supercross season with the knowledge that he urgently needed change, so he declared himself a free agent, signed with Suzuki during the offseason and set upon 2023 with renewed determination. It worked. Roczen is one of three riders in the 450 class with a sweep of the top five and that consistency has given him the lead in the NBC SuperMotocross Power Rankings.

SuperMotocross Rankings Anaheim 2
Like Babe Ruth pointing to the outfield wall, Ken Roczen pointed his way to the Power Rankings lead. – Feld Motor Sports

This formula rewards riders who compete at the front of the pack at the end of the Mains, in their heats, or in last week’s case, the three motos that make up the Triple Crown. Roczen has improved his overall performance each week with a fifth in Anaheim 1, a fourth in San Diego and his first podium of 2023 in Anaheim 2. Can he keep the trend alive with a first- or second-place finish in Houston?

A fall is all it takes sometimes. Last week, Eli Tomac tumbled hard when he pushed wide on the exit of a turn and jumped on top of a Tuff Blox. He remounted after that incident in Race 3 of the Triple Crown, but could only manage a 13th-place result in the moto. It could have been much worse and resulted in an injury, but coupled with a sixth in the overall standings at Anaheim 2, it pushed him down a spot in the SuperMotocross Ranking.

Along with Roczen (and Chase Sexton), Cooper Webb swept the top five in Supercross’ first three rounds. He is knocking on the door of a win and it won’t take long for him to ascend to the top of the box. Webb has two victories in Houston and each of them came during a championship season.

If there is a more determined rider than Jason Anderson, get out of his way. His path to the front of the pack is not always lined with primroses since he often has to pass multiple riders with whom he has had a run-in during his path, but the SuperMotocross Power Rankings are concerned only with raw results – not intention – and Anaheim 2 was Anderson’s best race of the season. He earned his first top-five and first podium with a second-place finish that was aided by a moto win.

MORE: Triple Crown format shakes up A2’s finishing order

Dylan Ferrandis has also been a model of consistency. Last week his Triple Crown effort of 4-6-5 gave him an overall finish of fifth. That came on the heels of a fourth-place result in the season opener and a sixth in San Diego. With no result worse than sixth this season, the numbers add up quite well.

Sexton’s position just outside the top five this week is entirely attributable to his last-place result in the San Diego heat. The SuperMotocross Rankings looks at the past 45 days, so that will affect him for a while, but if he continues to ride like he did in Anaheim 2, he’s going to climb quickly despite that albatross around his neck.

450 Rankings

This
Week
Driver Power
Avg.
Last
Week
Diff.
1. Ken Roczen 84.63 3 2
2. Eli Tomac
[2 Main; 2 Heat wins]
83.25 1 -1
3. Cooper Webb 82.25 2 -1
4. Jason Anderson
[1 Heat win]
80.63 5 1
5. Dylan Ferrandis 78.75 4 -1
6. Chase Sexton
[1 Main; 3 Heat wins]
77.75 9 3
7. Justin Barcia 67.88 6 -1
8. Aaron Plessinger 67.63 8 0
9. Adam Cianciarulo 67.25 7 -2
10. Joey Savatgy 61.00 11 1
10. Marvin Musquin 61.00 12 2
12. Malcolm Stewart
[1 Heat win]
58.75 13 1
13. Christian Craig 56.13 14 1
14. Colt Nichols 56.00 10 -4
15. Dean Wilson 47.50 15 0
16. Tristan Lane 41.00 18 2
17. Grant Harlan 40.67 19 2
18. Justin Hill 40.57 16 -2
19. Logan Karnow 36.50 20 1
20. Alex Ray 36.00 21 1

Supercross Points


The 250 West riders get a couple of weeks off before heading to Oakland for the rescheduled Round 2 and several of them need the rest. Tough weeks for Cameron McAdoo and RJ Hampshire forced them to lose ground in the SuperMotocross points to Jett Lawrence at a time that could prove to play mental games.

Lawrence also had his share of issues at Anaheim 2, but overcame early falls in the first two motos and finished no worse than sixth. Considering that he dropped to the tail of the field in Race 2, that was a remarkable accomplishment and he entered the final race with a shot at the overall win. He narrowly missed that mark, but still has not finished worse than second in three rounds. His lead in the SuperMotocross Power Rankings is safe.

Cameron McAdoo rode with injury in all three Triple Crown motos, so his sixth-place finish was a moral victory. Cameron McAdoo, Instagram

McAdoo said it best in an Instagram post this week: “Woke up feeling grateful that I’m relatively healthy after my big mistake during qualifying yesterday. We made the decision that it would be safe for me to race so I did everything I possibly could to get through the night ending up [sixth overall]. We will work on getting healed up in these few weeks off to come back strong for Oakland!”

With results of 8-7-5 in the Triple Crown and his combined sixth-place result, McAdoo lost significant ground to Lawrence in both the points’ standings and our Power formula. The Oakland race is going to be critical if he wants to stay in the championship hunt because the series will have a long break before returning in Seattle for Round 11. No one wants to sit with negative feelings for that long.

Mitchell Oldenburg has quietly amassed some impressive numbers. His name has not been called a lot during broadcasts, but he has not finished worse than seventh in any of the first three rounds. Themes develop during a season and weekend – and for the moment, this one revolves around reliability. Oldenburg finished 5-4-6 in Anaheim 2 which means he has consistently amassed SuperMotocross Power Rankings points.

Stilez Robertson won his first race of the season in Moto 2 of the Triple Crown. Coupled with a third-place finish in the final race, he leapfrogged Hampshire and Enzo Lopes, both of whom had disappointing outings. He stands fifth in the points’ standing mostly due to a ninth-place finish in the season opener, but each race has been progressively better and that is a good sign.

Sometimes, all it takes is a taste of success. Prior to Anaheim 2, Levi Kitchen’s best Supercross finish was a seventh earned in this year’s season opener. He scored a ninth at Minneapolis last year, but that was not enough to put him on the radar. This early in the season, one strong run can sway the SuperMotocross Power Ranking significantly, but Robertson has earned his way into the top five. More importantly, he’s going to be the object of interest when the West series returns to Oakland.

Next week the 250 East riders mount up in Houston, Texas before they head to Tampa, Florida. The Power Rankings will combine the two divisions, so the riders below are likely to shift dramatically.

250 Rankings

This
Week
Driver Power
Avg.
Last
Week
Diff.
1. Jett Lawrence – W
[2 Main; 2 Heat wins]
89.13 1 0
2. Cameron McAdoo – W
[1 Heat Win]
77.63 3 1
3. Mitchell Oldenburg – W 77.00 5 2
4. Stilez Robertson – W
[1 Heat win]
76.75 6 2
5. Levi Kitchen – W
[1 Main win]
73.75 12 7
6. RJ Hampshire – W
[3 Heat wins]
70.00 2 -4
7. Max Vohland – W 69.29 8 1
8. Derek Kelley – W 63.75 10 2
9. Enzo Lopes – W 63.25 4 -5
10. Pierce Brown – W 61.29 13 3
11. Phil Nicoletti – W 59.25 7 -4
12. Dylan Walsh – W 56.00 9 -3
13. Cole Thompson – W 51.00 11 -2
14. Robbie Wageman – W 50.75 15 1
15. Anthony Rodriguez – W 49.00 14 -1
16. Ty Masterpool – W 47.50 16 0
17. Kaeden Amerine – W 47.50 16 -1
18. Dominique Thury – W 47.00 18 0
19. Austin Forkner – W 43.00 20 1
20. Derek Drake – W 42.33 21 1

* 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 2 AT SAN DIEGO: Ken Roczen moves up, Chase Sexton falls
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 1 AT ANAHEIM: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence gain an early advantage