The forthcoming weekend at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires might be the most pivotal of the season for all three series.
The streets of Toronto had a heavy impact – literally – on the championship battles in all three series. In the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, Pato O’Ward retook the championship lead by 17 points over Colton Herta, with Herta suffering an injured thumb after a crash in Race 1 qualifying.
Meanwhile, in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, things were essentially reset due to a pair of eighth place finishes for points leader Parker Thompson – he had contact in both races – and a weekend sweep from second-place runner Rinus VeeKay.
The Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, however, saw Kirk Kirkwood get closer to clinching the title, and he is in position to do so before the calendar switches to the month of August.
Indy Lights and Pro Mazda see their usual double headers, with races on Saturday and Sunday, while USF2000 will enjoy a rare triple header, with races on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
Talking points for all three series are below.
The most crucial aspect of the Indy Lights title chase centers around the health of Colton Herta’s hand. If he’s fully healthy and can tackle the demanding Mid-Ohio track, then he’ll have a chance to gain on Pato O’Ward – O’Ward leads Herta by 18 points. But, if his thumb and hand aren’t healthy enough, it could give O’Ward a chance to make the gap insurmountable.
While Santi Urrutia is 40 points behind O’Ward, he is only 22 behind Herta, whose injury opens the door for Urrutia to close even more in the battle for second. And, 40 points is still within range for Urrutia if gets on a hot streak in the final races of the year. He won two of the final four races last year, beginning at Mid-Ohio, and he finished second in the other two. A repeat performance could sneak him back into title contention.
Victor Franzoni looks to rebound after a troublesome Toronto outing saw him crash in Race 1 and then retire from Race 2 to conserve finances and resources.
Parker Thompson’s weekend to forget on the streets of Toronto has essentially reset the championship picture. He leads Rinus VeeKay by only seven points entering the weekend, and the two title combatants are now poised for a duel to the finish after Thompson was on the verge of running away with it. Thompson scored a victory in USF2000 Race 2 last year at Mid-Ohio, and finished third in Race 1, while VeeKay had finishes of third and second. In short, they enter Mid-Ohio very evenly matched, so it’s anybody’s guess as to who is favored among them.
Carlos Cunha ranks third in the Pro Mazda championship, and still with a shot at the title. He has been knocking on the door of winning for most of the year, and it’s only a matter of time before he knocks it down.
David Malukas and Oliver Askew rank fourth and fifth. Malukas has been fast and has two wins this year, but his season has been blighted by some inconsistency. Meanwhile, Askew has struggled mightily with Cape Motorsports. Both will look for strong results at Mid-Ohio.
In USF2000, the championship revolves exclusively around Kyle Kirkwood. The 19-year-old from Florida leads Kaylen Frederick by 131 points entering the weekend. If he scores 34 points by the end of the weekend, the championship is his. Anything is certainly possible, but given that he has won six races in a row – and seven in total this year – it would take an enormous amount of misfortune for him to fail to clinch this weekend.
Behind Kirkwood, seven points separate Frederick, Igor Fraga, and Rasmus Lindh in the battle for second. All three have been quick in recent races, and any Kirkwood misfortune could see any one of these three end up in victory lane.
Of note: Alex Baron and Swan-RJB Motorsports, two-time race winners this year, are again absent from the entry list this weekend.
PALA, California – In his 450 bike debut, Jett Lawrence scored a perfect round at Fox Raceway in Pala, California to win Pro Motocross Round 1. He posted the fastest time in both qualification sessions, won the holeshot in both motos, and scored a pair of wins to take the overall victory and the early points’ lead.
No one seriously questioned Lawrence’s opportunity to make noise in the 450 class. Few would have been surprised to see him podium in his Pro Motocross National, but Lawrence outperformed all expectations by dominating Moto 1. He entered the weekend with zero points and his eye on 20th in the standings so he would receive an automatic invitation to the inaugural SuperMotocross World Championship (SMX).
He well surpassed expectations.
“It’s awesome,” Lawrence told NBC Sports’ Jason Thomas. “I can finally smile. I’ve been trying to stay serious and not get too excited with emotions coming up – and now I can finally let loose. The second one was a little harder, I couldn’t hear him but I’d look back and I’d still see the red bike. It was like a chess match.”
By the end of the race, Lawrence made up 30 percent of the points he needed to claim 20th and served notice that he will be one of the favorites to win the championship. He closed the gap even further in Moto 2, but the two races had entirely different storylines.
While Lawrence was able to run away from the field in the first race and win with a 10-second advantage, Honda teammate and defending Monster Energy Supercross champion Chase Sexton pressured him for the entire 30 minutes plus two laps that made up Moto 2.
Lawrence is the 16th rider to win in his first Pro Motocross race, the 10th to do so in an opener and second youngest, (behind Rick Johnson, 17 when he won at Hangtown in 1982).
Sexton was within two seconds of Lawrence for the entire moto. He rode a patient race with the realistic expectation that the 450 rookie Lawrence might make a mistake. Lawrence bounced from rut to rut in this race, but would not be forced into losing his focus.
“Toward the finish line area I had some decent lines, I thought maybe, if I could get close enough, I could make a move,” Sexton said. “I tried my hardest; I got close. I made a bit of an attempt with maybe 10 minutes to go and messed up. Jett was obviously riding really good. We were pushing the pace and it was a fun moto. It felt a little like last year.”
With his 1-1 finish and the overall victory, Lawrence remains perfect at Fox Raceway after sweeping Victory Lane in five rounds his 250 career.
Dylan Ferrandis returned to the track after suffering a concussion in the Supercross season in Round 4 in Houston. He attempted to return for the Daytona Supercross race, but another hard crash on Media Day set him on the sideline.
“Earlier this week I was pretty far from a podium position, so got together with the team and we made it happen,” Ferrandis said. “It was very hard. [Aaron Plessinger] was pushing me and I had to dig very deep.”
In a pre-race news conference, he indicated that the best course of action was to get up to speed before he fully sent his bike into the turns. But adrenalin is a wonderful factor and once he got into the pace of the race, he held off charges from Cooper Webb in Moto 1 and Plessinger in Moto 2. Ferrandis’ 3-3 finishes in the two races earned 40 points and puts him back in the conversation to be among the top 20 in the combined SuperMotocross standings.
Plessinger and Webb each ended the day with 34 points. Plessinger won the tiebreaker for fifth overall in the standings. But it was an adventurous afternoon for Plessinger who had to overcome a pair of falls in the first Moto to finish fifth.
Round 1 of the Pro Motocross season marked the return of Webb after he suffered a Supercross series ending concussion in a heat race at Nashville.
“This was a last minute decision,” Webb said. “I sat out last summer and I didn’t want to do that again. Once I got cleared from the doctor, it was game on.”
The battle between Lawrence and Sexton gave Honda a 1-2 finish in this race for the second straight year, but perhaps most importantly, it provided a glimpse of what can be expected during the opening rounds.
I think there is more to come from Chase,” Lawrence said. “He had that crash in practice so it rung his head a bit, but I know it’s going to be a war in the outdoor season. I know there’s going to be times when I’m behind Chase and can’t get around him. It’s going to be an awesome season and I can’t wait to race my teammate.”
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Jett wasn’t the only Lawrence to win Fox Raceway Motocross. Hunter’s win in the 250 class marked the first time in history that brothers won a Motocross National on the same day.
The reigning 250 East Supercross champion scored the overall victory with a third in Moto 1 and a victory in Moto 2. A poor start in the first race forced Lawrence to mount a charge from behind. Riding with discomfort, Lawrence was out of his rhythm early. A spirited battle with Jo Shimoda and Justin Cooper for third through fifth forced him to push through the pain of an injury suffered at the start of the week.
“The start was crucial,” Lawrence said. “I had a massive crash Monday and could barely ride press day for three laps, I was in so much pain. This one goes out to Dr. [Rey Gubernick]. He has magic hands.”
Lawrence’s strong start to Moto 2 put him in a better zone and he pulled an eight-second advantage over the second-place rider.
Haiden Deegan got a taste of the Motocross series last year, but that was all it was: a nibble.
Deegan failed to crack the top 10 in either of two starts and had some questions for himself before the race began. Deegan did not believe there were high expectations placed on him for this race, which is precisely how he described his first Supercross attempt. In that inaugural SX race, he finished fourth and was as surprised as anyone in the field.
Again: The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Deegan surprised himself again by finishing second in only his third Motocross National. He finished sixth in Moto 1 and second in Moto 2, giving him a second-place finish overall.
“I’m actually a little surprised,” Deegan said. “A lot of people said I wouldn’t even be close to this. I guess we’re proving people wrong and that’s what we’ve got to do Second place in my first full season. I’m hyped.”
RJ Hampshire made a statement in Moto 1. An entirely new discipline allowed Hampshire to grab an early advantage. But then a poor start to Moto 2 provided an entirely different challenge. Two falls on Lap 1 dropped Hampshire to 39th in the running order.
“I didn’t have a great start and got mayhem in that second corner and went down,” Hampshire said. “Picked [myself] up in last and made some really good passes and then going uphill on the [backstretch], someone got out of whack – took me out and I was dead last again. I didn’t really know if I had a shot at the podium, but I was digging really deep.”
It took half of the race to get back into the points in 20th, but Hampshire kept digging. Passing riders one at a time, he climbed to 11th in Moto 2 and salvaged enough points to give him the third position overall.
Maximus Vohland made a statement of his own by holding off a determined Lawrence on the last two laps. Lawrence was able to pressure Vohland when they were slowed by a lapped rider who fell in front of the battle.
Tom Vialle was in a position to take the final overall podium spot with a solid third-place finish in the second moto. He did everything he could, but Hampshire’s determined charge from the back of the pack was capped off with a two-position advance on the final lap to slide onto the final step of the box.