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Formula 1: Recapping the past week’s news

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F1 Stars Head to Le Mans

The star-studded driver lineup of the 2018 24 Hours Le Mans features several names Formula 1 fans will recognize, with a couple of powerhouses even in the mix.

First, and most obviously, is Fernando Alonso, and expectations are that he’ll be a favorite to win in the No. Toyota TS050 for Toyota Gazoo Racing – he partners Sebastien Buemi and Kaz Nakajima.

Unsurprisingly, the Toyotas, the sole remaining hybrids in the LMP1 class, lead the way through the first two days of qualifying, with Alonso’s No. 8 leading the way ahead of the No. 7 – Nakajima set a pole time of 3:15.377, set during the first qualifying session of the week on Wednesday. (Full qualifying results can be viewed here).

But, Alonso is not the only Formula 1 driver in the field. In fact, he’s not even the only world champion in the LMP1 class.

Jenson Button, the 2009 world champ, joins SMP Racing in their No. 11 BR1-AER, partnering former F1 driver Vitaly Petrov and former Verizon IndyCar Series regular Mikhail Aleshin.

Button has been running in Japan’s Autobacs Super GT Series, where he currently leads the championship after three races with co-driver Naoki Yamamoto.

SUZUKA, JAPAN – APRIL 17: Jenson Button of Great Britain and Team Kunimitsu Honda Raybrig NSX-GT looks on in the pits during the Autobacs SuperGT series official test at the Suzuka Circuit on April 17, 2018 in Suzuka, Mie, Japan. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Other drivers with prior F1 experience to enter this year’s Le Mans are Bruno Senna (Rebellion Racing), Paul di Resta (United Autosports), Jean-Eric Vergne (G-Drive Racing), Giedo van der Garde, (Racing Team Nederland), Pastor Maldonado (DragonSpeed), Juan Pablo Montoya (United Autosports), Felipe Nasr (Cetilar Villorba Corse), Jan Magnussen (Corvette Racing), and Sebastien Bourdais (Ford Chip Ganassi Racing).

Chilton Asserts that Alonso Will Move to IndyCar if He Wins Le Mans

Max Chilton believes a Le Mans victory would help entice Fernando Alonso to move to IndyCar full-time in 2019. Photo: IndyCar

Carlin Racing’s Max Chilton, who raced against Alonso in Formula 1 in 2013 and 2014 (Chilton was with the now defunct Marussia F1 Team, while Alonso was with Ferrari) asserted in an interview with the F1 Report on Sky Sports that Alonso might move to the Verizon IndyCar Series next year if he adds a Le Mans triumph to his resume.

Such a victory would mean Alonso has two legs of the “Triple Crown” – he has won the Monaco Grand Prix already (twice, in 2006 and 2007), with Le Mans and the Indianapolis 500 being the other two events in that trifecta.

“I think he really enjoyed doing the Indy 500 last year because he suddenly had a car at the front which he hadn’t had for a number of years and it was such a career-changing moment if you win that race,” Chilton explained.

He continued, “This weekend is really critical for his career and McLaren’s because I honestly think if he wins Le Mans this weekend he will be off probably doing IndyCar next year with McLaren. I still don’t think McLaren are going to have a championship-fighting car next year, so why not move sticks and try to win the Indy 500?”

Alonso has not indicated what his intentions for 2019 are, but speculation has become rampant in the wake of McLaren’s pending IndyCar effort next year.

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Cooper Webb leaps from obscurity to Supercross lead

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Cooper Webb could not even locate the radar tower before the 2019 season began – let alone expect to see his number dead center in the radar screen.

His ascent to 450 competition came with little fanfare. Finishing 13th in Supercross in 2017 and then eighth in Motocross, Webb did not turn many heads as a rookie. Last year was more of the same.

Through Round 7 at Arlington, Webb failed to record a single top five. That elusive result would come the following week at Tampa with a fourth-place finish. Two weeks later, he stood on the podium at Daytona for the only the second time in his Supercross 450s career. But at season’s end, Webb was only ninth in the standings in both Supercross and Motocross.

No one expected much from him when Anaheim rolled around this year.

Webb started the season much the same as he ended 2018. A fifth-place finish in Anaheim I in muddy and equalizing conditions was followed by a modest 10th at Glendale, but the rider from North Carolina believed in himself.

In professional racing, nothing is more difficult than winning the first race. Webb’s first taste of victory came in Heat 1 of the Triple Crown at Anaheim II. Everyone remained skeptical – it was only one heat race after all. The skepticism turned to interest when he won Heat 2. Then Webb finished third in Heat 3 to take the overall victory. It was his first win in the 450 class.

That was all it took to unleash his potential. Webb won the following week in Oakland and then again two weeks later in Minneapolis.

The Supercross riders left Minnesota and headed straight down Interstate 35 to Arlington with four of them separated by two points. All eyes were focused on Ken Roczen, Eli Tomac, Marvin Musquin – and, oh yeah Webb who sat in second.

Someone was likely to stumble in Arlington and the odds on favorite to do so was Webb. That seemed to be confirmed once the feature started. While the three more experienced riders led by Tomac scooted away from the field, Webb was mired outside the top five for the first six lap.

It was Tomac who tripped and fell, however. Webb passed the stricken rider and surged to fifth on Lap 7. He was in fourth by Lap 10 and third on Lap 16.  As Webb and teammate Musquin battled for the second, they slowly reeled in the leader Roczen. Once Webb broke free on the conflict with the runner-up position firmly his, he could see the red plate on Roczen’s Honda like a cape being waved in front of a bull.

Webb charged through the final six laps getting closer and closer until he edged Roczen for the closest finish in Supercross history. It was Webb’s fourth victory of the season, coming only four weeks after he scored his first career win.

Relive the final laps in the video posted above.

As incredible as Webb’s rise to the points lead is, it has been done before.

Last year Jason Anderson seemingly came out of nowhere to lead the standings after Round 2. Anderson held the advantage for the remainder of the year, while Webb has been part of a game of hot potato in which no one seems to want to don the red plate for more than a week.

The pressure continues to mount. Webb now has a two-point advantage over Roczen, who is the only rider to sweep the top five this season.

Webb’s advantage over third is a mere four points, while Musquin has a current five-race streak of podium finishes to his credit.

Tomac’s trouble in Texas serves as a cautionary tale that a single loss of focus can be devastating and Webb still lacks the seat time of his three principal rivals, but last week’s incredible come-from-behind victory is showing that Webb is riding above experience level.

Follow the complete Supercross and Motocross seasons on NBC Sports, Gold.