Supercross Preview: Favorites seek revenge in San Diego

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What a difference a year makes. Cooper Webb finished ninth in the standings in 2018 with 181 points. He enters San Diego with the red plate affixed to his bike and 83 points to his credit – nearly 46 percent of last year’s total in only four races.

According to RacerXOnline.com, the points leader after Round 4 has gone on to win the last five 450 championships. Then again, no one has had a smaller lead at this stage of the season as the top four are separated by only four points.

Webb is not the only driver riding above expectations this year. In four races so far, riders have scored their first, second or third career victories – shutting out the favorites. And that is going to dominate this week’s storylines as they seek revenge in San Diego.

It won’t be easy, however; last year Marvin Musquin finished second in San Diego to the eventual champion Jason Anderson but the riders currently second and third in the standings experienced trouble and finished at the very back of the pack. Ken Roczen finished 21st two laps off the pace with Eli Tomac DNFing in 22nd.

Increasing the level of difficulty this week is the forecast. For the second time this season, rain is expected to impact the feature just as it did in Anaheim I when Justin Barcia and Colt Nichols survived the mud to post surprising victories.

Schedule:

Qualifying: 4 p.m. on NBC Sports, Gold
Race: Live, 10 p.m. on NBCSN and NBC Sports, Gold

Last Week:

Cooper Webb became the first two-time winner this season ahead of Marvin Musquin and Blake Baggett in the 450 class.
Adam Cianciarulo beat Dylan Ferrandis and Colt Nichols in the 250 class.

Last year:

Jason Anderson beat Marvin Musquin and Blake Baggett in the 450 class.
Justin Hill beat Adam Cianciarulo and Chase Sexton in the 250 class.

Winners

450s:
[2] Cooper Webb (Anaheim II, Oakland)
[1] Justin Barcia (Anaheim I)
[1] Blake Baggett (Glendale)

250s:
[2] Adam Cianciarulo (Glendale, Oakland)
[1] Colt Nichols (Anaheim I)
[1] Shane McElrath (Anaheim II)

Top-5s

450s:
Ken Roczen (4)
Eli Tomac (4)
Marvin Musquin (3)
Cooper Webb (3)
Dean Wilson (2)
Blake Baggett (2)
Justin Barcia (1)
Jason Anderson (1)

250s:
Shane McElrath (4)
Colt Nichols (4)
Adam Cianciarulo (4)
RJ Hampshire (3)
Dylan Ferrandis (3)
James Decotis (1)
Jacob Hayes (1)

Points Leaders

450s:
Cooper Webb (83)
Ken Roczen (81)
Eli Tomac (80)
Marvin Musquin (79)
Justin Barcia (72)

250s:
Colt Nichols (91)
Adam Cianciarulo (88)
Shane McElrath (87)
Dylan Ferrandis (86)
RJ Hampshire (67)

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IndyCar’s ‘Phoenix’ flying into 2023 season: Romain Grosjean enjoying the pilot’s life

IndyCar Romain Grosjean pilot
Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment
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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – The IndyCar driver known as “The Phoenix” already has taken flight before the 2023 season, and newly licensed pilot Romain Grosjean also got a head start on the opener.

Fulfilling a dream several years in the making, the Andretti Autosport plunged into aviation training over the offseason. Since beginning with online studying last August, Grosjean quickly progressed to earning his licenses for multiengine planes and instrument ratings while completing 115 hours of flight time.

He has landed twice at Albert Whitted Airport, whose primary runway also doubles as the front straightaway on the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg street course.

“Just to land on the start-finish line, that was pretty cool,” Grosjean said during IndyCar Preseason Content Days ahead of the Feb. 2-3 test at The Thermal Club. “The air traffic control guy was like, “Yeah, left on Acre Five, turn, and then back. I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s the last corner of the racetrack, I’ll take it and go back to the pit lane. He was like, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, that’s true.’ So it was quite funny.”

Grosjean, 36, said he had wanted to become a pilot since he was 30 but was discouraged by Europe’s complicated and time-consuming licensing process (“to go to ground school twice a week, and with our life, it’s impossible”). He was inspired again last year by (now former) teammate Alexander Rossi, who flew to some 2022 races after earning his license a couple of years ago.

“I thought that was pretty cool,” said Grosjean, who had grown “bored of waiting in the airports.”

He plans to fly to nearly all the races this year (“if the weather is good enough, I’ll be flying”) and jokes about being “commercial by the end of the year, so then I can take Roger (Penske). Roger can pay me to fly him around to races if things go bad with racing.”

Grosjean’s social media has been filled with posts about his new hobby, which afforded him the opportunity recently to take his wife to Key West for lunch from their home in the Miami area. The trip took 37 minutes there and 41 minutes on return and highlighted why Grosjean loves flying: “Freedom. Freedom to go anywhere you want, anytime you want. It’s the beauty of it. We can go to the Bahamas for a day if we want to. Anywhere. I think that’s just great to know that you can do whatever you want.”

It’s reminiscent of the cross-country trip across the Midwest in an RV that Grosjean took with his family during the summer of his 2021 rookie season.

“There’s one thing that I told my kids, and I told my friend about America, and for me, that’s the biggest difference between Europe and here, is here everything is possible,” said Grosjean (whose “Phoenix” nickname was derived from a brush with death in his final Formula One start). “If you have the wish, if you give yourself the possibility of doing it, everything is possible. It is different in Europe. Much more boundaries on the way. Much more steps that you need to do in a certain order. But if you want to be extraordinary (in the United States), if you want to do something different, you don’t need to do those steps because you can work through.

“Yeah, I like doing things, and when I do them, I like doing them well. But here I think just the opportunity of driving the RV, flying planes, for my kids to do whatever they want to do, we love that here. Yeah, it’s been the best discovery for us.”

The Swiss-born Frenchman already has flown himself to a race this year, jetting up the Florida coast for his Rolex 24 at Daytona debut last month. It was his debut as a Lamborghini factory driver, and his new deal will continue with the Twelve Hours of Sebring and possibly the Petit Le Mans while he also helps develop the automaker’s new hybrid prototype (LMDh) for next year.

Grosjean, who finished a disappointing 13th in the 2022 points standings with one podium for Andretti in his first full season, said IndyCar will remain his priority in 2024.

But he hopes the IndyCar schedule will afford racing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship endurance races and perhaps another his longest plane flight yet — a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“I’ll keep my fingers crossed like that we get the weekend off from IndyCar,” said Grosjean, noting that 10 IndyCar drivers were in the Rolex 24. “I think it would make a lot of sense. I think for both series it’s amazing. If we can get Le Mans, it’s also amazing because it’s just cool.

“I remember Mario flying across the Atlantic doing Monaco and the Indy 500, and those guys, they were racing everywhere, Formula 3, Formula 2, Formula 1. They were doing the races in opening of the Formula 1 race, and I think that’s very cool for us. So yeah, looking forward to the project. There’s going to be a lot of development coming on. By the time we finish the IndyCar season, the LMDh will be here in the States, and that’s when I’m going to spend a lot of time on it.”