MRTI: Indy Lights Championship Fight Down to O’Ward, Herta

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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The 2018 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship has come down to a pair of teammates in Pato O’Ward and Colton Herta – both race under the Andretti Autosport umbrella, with Herta competing under the Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing banner.

O’Ward, with seven wins – it could easily be eight if not for an error in Race 2 on the streets of St. Petersburg – has probably been the faster of the two drivers, though Herta used a streak of four wins in a row to vault himself ahead of O’Ward entering Iowa Speedway.

However, since then, O’Ward has distanced himself from Herta, with four wins in a five-race span (Iowa, Toronto Race 1, and both races on the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course) – he also finished second in the race he didn’t win (Toronto Race 2).

Herta, meanwhile, suffered a broken thumb after a crash in Toronto qualifying, which he aggravated after crashing again in Race 1. He pulled off in Race 2 to prevent further damage, and then was unable to outduel O’Ward at Mid-Ohio, finishing second in both races.

As such, O’Ward leads Herta by 32 points entering Gateway Motorsports Park. And with only three races left in 2018 (Gateway, and two races at Portland International Raceway), it’s imperative for Herta that he gain ground this weekend.

With seven cars entered at Gateway, the maximum points swing is 26 at (ovals award 1.5 races worth of points in comparison to the road and street courses), and the max swing at Portland will be 18 points per race (assuming seven cars are also entered).

So, Herta still has chances to make up the ground, but he will need to finish ahead of O’Ward, and likely win grab a victory, at Gateway to give himself a realistic shot entering Portland.

And if Herta can have drivers like Santi Urrutia and Victor Franzoni, also race winners in 2018, finishing in between them, it would make his Portland effort much more manageable.

For O’Ward, a Gateway victory could put the championship out of reach. And if O’Ward thinks he can take a win this weekend, expect him to go for it.

Pro Mazda

Rinus VeeKay leads the Pro Mazda Championship entering Gateway. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

The Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires also sees the points leader hold a somewhat sizeable advantage over his main adversary – Rinus VeeKay leads Parker Thompson by 25 points entering Gateway.

The last four races, at Toronto and Mid-Ohio, saw Thompson’s strong 2018 come unraveled, with a pair of DNFs at Toronto allowing VeeKay, who swept the weekend, to close gap from 46 points to seven.

And at Mid-Ohio, another weekend sweep from VeeKay combined with a troublesome weekend for Thompson – he finished fifth and sixth in both races – to see VeeKay jump ahead to a 25-point lead.

Thompson, like Herta, must finish ahead of VeeKay to give himself a realistic chance at the championship entering Portland, and a perfect scenario for him would involve other drivers (e.g. David Malukas, Oliver Askew, and Harrison Scott) being in the mix as well and finishing in between him and VeeKay.

There are 48 points up for grabs at Gateway, and if Thompson maxes out that weekend, he would gain at least 10 on VeeKay, but having VeeKay finish fifth or below would bring the gap down to singe digits, giving him a much more realistic chance entering Portland.

For VeeKay, extending his win streak to five in a row would nearly make the Pro Mazda championship “all she wrote.” It wouldn’t be out of reach, and there is a one-race drop to be factored in – each driver will drop their worst finish of 2018 from their results – but it would make Thompson’s task astronomically difficult at Portland.

Rest assured, in both Indy Lights and Pro Mazda, the championship fights are boiling to a head, and Gateway could prove to be the most pivotal point in both championships.

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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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Haiden Deegan makes Supercross debut in Houston, Justin Cooper to 450s
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