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Austin Forkner: When hyperbole simply isn’t enough

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There are times when hyperbole is simply not enough.

Austin Forkner was perfect through the first two rounds of the Supercross 250 East schedule, winning every heat and feature he entered, and it was quickly noted that no one had ever gotten off to as strong a start.

The rush to proclaim his perfection was because a Triple Crown at Ford Field in Detroit lurked next on the schedule.

Since the debut of the Triple Crown in 2018 – an event in which three Main Events are averaged to provide an overall winner – no one had managed to sweep all three races. Surely that would put an end to Forkner’s perfection. This format had not been particularly kind to him in 2018.

Forkner gave the field a glimmer of hope in qualification when he allowed Chase Sexton to post a faster time in the second session. Then, he let Jordon Smith lead the first lap of Main 1. It would turn out to be the only lap another rider would lead all evening. Forkner took the lead from Smith on Lap 2 and stretched his advantage to more than 10 seconds at the checkers.

Forkner led the next two Mains flag-to-flag to add another first to his record. One week after being hailed as the first rider to be perfect in the opening two rounds of a 250 Supercross season, he became the first rider ever to sweep a Triple Crown – and in the process, extended his perfection to three rounds.

Forkner’s success fits in the context of the Supercross season as a whole. In the 450 class, Cooper Webb seemingly came from nowhere to lead the division after finishing ninth in the standings last year. Forkner was fourth in the East standings in 2018, but nearly 60 points (the equivalent of about 2.5 races) behind the champion Zach Osborne

What are the odds of Forkner extending his winning streak to four? That depends on exactly what statistic one credits most.

Forkner and the Supercross East riders head to Atlanta this weekend. Last year, this was Round 3 of their season and it was a Triple Crown event. Forkner won his second consecutive race ahead of Zach Osborne. While he took the overall victory, Forkner failed to win any of the mains with a best of second in Main 2. By comparison, Osborne won Main 1 and tied in points, but Forkner won the tiebreaker because he had the best finish – a third to Osborne’s fifth – in the final main.

Atlanta is the first of two Showdown events pitting the best East rider against the best of the West. Last year, Forkner finished sixth in a Showdown race at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Ind. He missed the second Showdown at Las Vegas after sustaining an injury at Minneapolis in another Triple Crown event, so it is unclear how he will fare against that group of riders.

There’s a great thing about records, however; no matter how Round 4 plays out, no one can take away Forkner’s achievement. He remains the most perfect rider this deep into a season even if he struggles in Atlanta. At least until a more perfect rider comes along in the future.

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
IMSA
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”