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Column: Rossi spoils Wickens’ near-perfect IndyCar debut

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Canadian driver Robert Wickens started from the pole, led the most laps (71), overcame two late cautions/restarts and then wrapped things up by winning Sunday’s IndyCar season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

That’s how the story SHOULD have ended.

Unfortunately for Wickens, making his first career start in an IndyCar race – and what a start it was – his dream weekend ended in a nightmare.

With two laps remaining, Alexander Rossi slid into Wickens in Turn 1, sent the race leader hard into the wall and out of the race – while Rossi continued along to a third-place finish.

The aftermath of contact between Alexander Rossi and Robert Wickens in Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. (Photo: IndyCar)

Surprisingly, IndyCar officials ruled no harm, no foul on Rossi’s part, allowing him to end up with a podium finish behind race winner Sebastien Bourdais and runner-up Graham Rahal.

Wickens, meanwhile, after driving nothing short of an exceptional race – and who deserved a win for that effort – was left to go home to Canada with an extremely disappointing 18th-place finish.

And to add insult to injury, Wickens was scored two laps down to the winner, Bourdais.

Wickens did everything right in his IndyCar debut. He picked his spots, made clean passes, let others go by (primarily when he was on pit road), and raced like an IndyCar veteran rather than a series rookie.

It’s a very clear observation from just one race that Wickens is a very cerebral driver, he keeps his emotions in check and will make an excellent teammate to James Hinchcliffe and an equally excellent fit with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports going forward.

But Rossi’s move — whether it was a mistake or not — prevented Wickens from finishing his Cinderella story with what he deserved: a win.

I can understand Rossi was fighting for the spot and contact was incidental to the battle between him and Wickens.

But at the same time, some might disagree with IndyCar officials on the Rossi verdict.

Here’s part of what Rossi had to say in his defense afterwards:

“(Wickens) defended the position, which he has the right to do, but in doing so, in moving the reaction, he put me into the marbles pretty late into the corner,” Rossi said. “It’s difficult with these cars and with how much we’re sliding around in the first place, even on the racing line.

“When you’re put in the marbles, it’s hairy. Super unfortunate. Like you never want to see that happen. I feel bad because I feel like I could have won and he could have gotten second. You never want to see that happen, but nevertheless, it was a great job by the whole team all weekend.”

So, was Rossi’s action right? That’s debatable.

Watch the replay of the incident and after Wickens briefly tried to block before deciding otherwise, it appears Rossi came into the turn too hot, hit the rumble strip, slipped off it and slid right into the right side pod of Wickens’ car, sending him spinning.

When you make an aggressive move – in this case over-aggressive at that point in the race and at that part of the racetrack – that takes out another driver, especially the race leader, it just doesn’t seem right.

Rossi fans will counter that he was trying to win the race and with two laps left, HAD to be over-aggressive. And also that particular place on the track was arguably one of the few (and best) places to pass Wickens.

If the contact had not occurred, we likely would have had one of the best race finishes that the Verizon IndyCar Series has seen in a long time.

Rossi knows Wickens is ticked at him. It should be interesting how the conversation goes when the two finally discuss what happened Sunday – even though it could take nearly four weeks until the next IndyCar race (at Phoenix) for that to happen.

“I will (talk to Wickens) at some point, and obviously express my feelings,” Rossi said. “I’m sure he’s upset, and he has a right to be.

“If you were in the lead of the race with two to go and you didn’t finish, you’d be upset, yeah.”

At the same time, that’s not to discount Bourdais waiting for the right opportunity, seizing upon it, passing Wickens and Rossi and motored on to his second consecutive win at St. Petersburg, his adopted hometown.

Bravo to Bourdais. He let the race come to him. Also bravo to Wickens. What he showed us Sunday could be the sign of a new star in the making for the IndyCar Series.

As for Rossi, here’s how Wickens so astutely put it after the race, “(Rossi) just went too deep, locked the rears and slid into me. There’s really no other explanation to it. The only pity is he carried on to a podium, and I ended up in the fence.”

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Adam Cianciarulo sweeps to second straight Pro Motocross 450 win

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Adam Cianciarulo (450) and Dylan Ferrandis (250) swept both motos of their divisions Saturday in the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship event at Spring Creek MX Park in Millville, Minnesota, significantly impacting the points standings.

After scoring his first career victory Sept. 8 at RedBud, Cianciarulo made it two consecutive victories on his Monster Energy Kawasaki. He won the first moto by 1.7 seconds over Blake Baggett and the second moto by 2.7 seconds over Baggett.

“Man, what a dream come true,” Cianciarulo said. “I really wanted to go 1-1 last round at RedBud and had that silly mistake. Today, we got the job done and made it happen. Two consecutive victories in the 450 Class just feels really good. I just want to keep the ball rolling.”

With three rounds remaining, Cianciarulo is ranked second in the standings at a 15-point deficit to Zach Osborne, who won three of the first five rounds.

In the 250 standings, Dylan Ferrandis jumped ahead of Jeremy Martin (who won three consecutive events earlier in the season) by three points (257-254).

Dylan Ferrandis swept both motos for his second win of the season in the 250 class (Align Media).

Ferrandis beat third-ranked RJ Hampshire in the first moto and nipping Martin by 0.4 seconds in the second.

“That was a difficult race in the second moto and the pressure was on,” Ferrandis said. “It was really good for me to have that battle and come out on top in the second moto. The championship is really close and I think that we were able to put on a good show for everyone today. Jeremy [Martin] and I have a good relationship I think and we congratulated each other and talked about the battle after the race.”

NEXT: The Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship will hold its seventh round Sept. 26 with the Geico Motorcycle WW Ranch National at Jacksonville, Florida.


RESULTS

Thor Spring Creek National (Spring Creek MX Park, Millville, Minnesota)

450 Class Overall Results (Moto Finish)

  1. Adam Cianciarulo, Port Orange, Fla., Kawasaki (1-1)
  2. Blake Baggett, Grand Terrace, Calif., KTM (2-2)
  3. Justin Barcia, Monroe, N.Y., Yamaha (5-4)
  4. Chase Sexton, La Moille, Ill., Honda (8-3)
  5. Eli Tomac, Cortez, Colo., Kawasaki (6-5)
  6. Marvin Musquin, France, KTM (3-10)
  7. Christian Craig, El Cajon, Calif., Honda (7-6)
  8. Joey Savatgy, , Suzuki (9-7)
  9. Max Anstie, United Kingdom, Suzuki (10-8)
  10. Zach Osborne, Abingdon, Va., Husqvarna (4-16)

450 Class Championship Standings

  1. Zach Osborne, Abingdon, Va., Husqvarna – 235
  2. Adam Cianciarulo, Port Orange, Fla., Kawasaki – 220
  3. Marvin Musquin, France, KTM – 215
  4. Eli Tomac, Cortez, Colo., Kawasaki – 196
  5. Justin Barcia, Monroe, N.Y., Yamaha – 194
  6. Blake Baggett, Grand Terrace, Calif., KTM – 190
  7. Chase Sexton, La Moille, Ill., Honda – 173
  8. Christian Craig, El Cajon, Calif., Honda – 141
  9. Broc Tickle, Holly, Mich., Yamaha – 134
  10. Joey Savatgy, Tallahassee, Fla., Suzuki – 122

250 Class Overall Results (Moto Finish)

  1. Dylan Ferrandis, France, Yamaha (1-1)
  2. Jeremy Martin, Millville, Minn., Honda (5-2)
  3. Alex Martin, Millville, Minn., Suzuki (4-4)
  4. Jett Lawrence, Australia, Honda (3-6)
  5. Justin Cooper, Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y., Yamaha (9-3)
  6. RJ Hampshire, Hudson, Fla., Husqvarna (2-11)
  7. Hunter Lawrence, Australia, Honda (7-5)
  8. Jo Shimoda, Japan, Honda (12-8)
  9. Mitchell Harrison, Brighton, Mich., Kawasaki (11-9)
  10. Derek Drake, San Luis Obispo, Calif., KTM (8-12)

250 Class Championship Standings

  1. Dylan Ferrandis, France, Yamaha – 257
  2. Jeremy Martin, Millville, Minn., Honda – 254
  3. RJ Hampshire, Hudson, Fla., Husqvarna – 202
  4. Alex Martin, Millville, Minn., Suzuki – 194
  5. Shane McElrath, Canton, N.C., Yamaha – 186
  6. Justin Cooper, Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y., Yamaha – 164
  7. Jett Lawrence, Australia, Honda – 162
  8. Cameron McAdoo, Sioux City, Iowa, Kawasaki – 140
  9. Mitchell Harrison, Brighton, Mich., Kawasaki – 123
  10. Brandon Hartranft, Brick, N.J., KTM – 114
Adam Cianciarulo won the holeshot in both motos at Spring Creek (Align Media).