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Cooper Webb, Adam Cianciarulo win Atlanta Supercross

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Cooper Webb led Round 9 of the Supercross season flag to flag, but it was anything but an easy ride in Atlanta.

On Lap 5, Webb was under heavy pressure by teammate Marvin Musquin when he got crossed up in the sand. Musquin was right on his back wheel and actually got slowed up more than Webb. He lost a second in the incident.

Musquin closed to within less than half a second and forced Webb into a minor mistake. Webb overcame the pressure and extended his advantage to a full second again. Musquin closed to less than half a second a few laps later before Webb squirted out to another one-second lead.

Ultimately, it was a battle between Blake Baggett and Musquin that gave Webb a little breathing room. Baggett climbed into second on Lap 14 and kept the pressure on, but was never able to get close enough to force another mistake. Webb won his fifth race of the season and extended his points lead.

“It was all about lines,” Webb told NBCSN after the race. “I had to ride a little defensive, but also offensive. I knew there were a couple of places where they were catching me. I was searching, I was skimming, I was trying all kinds of stuff. I got a little tight in the middle, but by the end I found my groove.”

Baggett finished second and felt that the sand was partly to blame.

“The track conditions and the sand,” Baggett said. “It’s tough when they put sand in a Supercross event; I’m definitely not for it. You could get a run up to them, but then you were going through tear-offs so fast you needed to hang back.”

With his second-place finish, Baggett climbed into fifth in the points around Dean Wilson who finished eighth.

Musquin rounded out the podium.

Ken Roczen finished fourth and remains the only 450 rider with a perfect record of top-five finishes. He now sits 13 points behind Webb.

Aaron Plessinger rounded out the top five in fifth.

Eli Tomac had another slow start. He was 13th on Lap 1 and forced to make another charge through the field. He cracked the top 10 on Lap 5 and ultimately landed sixth on the leaderboard.

Complete Results
Points Standings

250s

It was a tale of brother versus brother (or at least teammate versus teammate) and East versus West when Adam Cianciarulo got around Chase Sexton on Lap 3 and set his sights on Austin Forkner. Nine laps later, the West Coast rider Cianciarulo passed Forkner and became the first to do so during the 2019 season.

Cianciarulo held on to win by nearly five seconds over Dylan Ferrandis.

It was his third Showdown win after winning the season finales at Las Vegas for the past two years. Cianciarulo is the first rider to win three Showdowns.

“Those guys are riding so good,” Cianciarulo told NBCSN after his victory. “I can’t say enough good things about Chase (Sexton) and Austin both. Their pace was unreal. For me it was just about trying to learn their pace and learn where they were better than me. That’s what I’m most proud of in that Main. I didn’t feel good all day. Honestly, I was pretty good in practice, but just terrible in my heat. I just stayed patient. I told myself on the line, ‘whatever you do, just do your very best the entire time.’ And my best was good enough for a win.”

Forkner grabbed the holeshot and appeared to have the race in hand until Cianciarulo chased him down. Two laps later, he lost second to another West rider Dylan Ferrandis. Forkner finished third, but it was the first time this year that Forkner lost a race after winning his heat earlier in the day on the heels of a perfect first three rounds of competition.

“I had a pretty rough day in practice,” Forkner said afterward. “I crashed twice pretty hard in the whoops and just wasn’t feeling it tonight. That’s where I was losing my time, obviously. That’s where I got passed both times.

“I just wasn’t willing to go any faster. Simple as that.”

Forkner made the decision to protect his points lead and keep from experiencing a disastrous run that might ultimately cost the championship. He ended the night with an 18-point lead over Justin Cooper and the field.

Sexton finished fourth and gave up minimal points to Forkner.

Cooper rounded out the top five.

Complete Results
250 East Points Standings
250 West Points Standings

450 Heat 1: Blake Baggett scored his first heat race of the season. … Points leader Cooper Webb kept the pressure on with a second-place finish. … Marvin Musquin rounded out the top three to give KTM a sweep. … Zach Osborne was knocked down in the first corner, but recovered to finish sixth.

450 Heat 2: Cole Seely led flag to flag. … Dean Wilson finished 2.155 seconds back in second. … Justin Brayton rounded out the top three. … Chad Reed slipped in the sand clipped wheels with Eli Tomac, who went to the ground. … Reed finished sixth; Tomac recovered to finish eighth.

450 Last Chance Qualifier: Justin Bogle dominated the LCQ with a margin of nearly nine seconds over Cedric Soubeyras. … Alex Ray finished third, another two seconds back. … Mike Alessi made his Main since March 2017 by taking the final transfer spot..

250 East Heat: Austin Forkner remained perfect for the time being. Through this heat, he had not lost a race yet this season through three rounds that included a Triple Crown event. … Forkner got off to his worst start of the season – allowing Chase Sexton the opportunity to get the holeshot and a more than one second lead. … A red flag gave Forkner the opportunity to catch back up and get the lead on the restart. … Sexton held on to finish second. … Martin Davalos rounded out the top three. … Wilson Fleming crashed on Lap 2 to bring out the red flag. … Anthony Rodriguez finished ninth to take the final transfer spot; Lorenzo Locurcio finished 10th and headed to the LCQ,

250 West Heat: Shane McElrath grabbed the holeshot, but he had pressure from Colt Nichols throughout the heat. … He nipped Nichols by one second. … Adam Cianciarulo rounded out the top three. That was a great recovery, however because Cianciarulo got squirrelly on the start and fell back to seventh on the first lap.  … Dylan Ferrandis slipped outside the top nine and had to battle his way back to seventh in order to secure a transfer spot. … Garrett Marchbanks took the final guaranteed spot in ninth. … Cameron McAdoo finished 10th and headed to the LCQ.

250 Last Chance Qualifier: East and West rode head to head for the first time in 2018. East rider Joshua Osby grabbed the win. … Jordan Bailey (East) and Cameron McAdoo (West) finished second and third respectively, but were less than a second behind the leader. … Kyle Cunningham (East) took the final transfer spot. … James Decotis (West) went down in the sand while running one position out of the transfer in fifth.

Points Leaders

450s
Cooper Webb (199) (5 wins)
Ken Roczen (186)
Marvin Musquin (182)
Eli Tomac (177) (2 wins)
Blake Baggett (142) (1 win)

250s West
Adam Cianciarulo (140 points) (4 wins)
Dylan Ferrandis (125)
Shane McElrath (123) (1)
Colt Nichols (120) (1)
RJ Hampshire (86)

250s East
Austin Forkner (99 points) (3 wins)
Justin Cooper (81)
Chase Sexton (79)
Jordon Smith (70)
Alex Martin (60)

Top 5s

450 top 5s
Ken Roczen: 9
Marvin Musquin: 7
Cooper Webb: 7
Eli Tomac: 6
Blake Baggett: 5
Dean Wilson: 2
Joey Savatgy: 2
Chad Reed: 2
Jason Anderson: 1
Justin Barcia: 1
Justin Bogle: 1
Justin Brayton: 1
Aaron Plessinger: 1

250 West top 5s
Adam Cianciarulo: 6
Shane McElrath: 5
Colt Nichols: 4
Dylan Ferrandis: 4
RJ Hampshire: 3
James Decotis: 2
Jacob Hayes: 1
Garrett Marchbanks: 1
Jess Pettis: 1

250 East top 5s
Austin Forkner: 4
Justin Cooper: 4
Chase Sexton: 4
Jordon Smith: 3
Martin Davalos: 2
Alex Martin: 1

Next race: March 9, Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, Fla.

Season passes can be purchased at NBC Sports Gold.

Follow Dan Beaver on Twitter

Why it’s important for Fernando Alonso to be in the Indianapolis 500

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It seemed so natural, so logical that Fernando Alonso would be part of McLaren in the 104thIndianapolis 500, it likely could have been announced last August.

NBCSports.com gave all the reasons why an Alonso reunion with McLaren at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway made the most sense last week.

Tuesday afternoon, it became official.

Arrow McLaren SP announced the two-time Formula One World Champion as its third driver for the Indy 500. He joins full-time NTT IndyCar Series drivers, rookies Oliver Askew and Pato O’Ward, on the Chevrolet team.

In a world where social media allows everyone to voice an opinion, there have been some who have asked, “Why is it so important that Fernando Alonso compete in the Indianapolis 500?”

To back up their point, the 33-driver starting lineup already includes the legendary names of the NTT IndyCar Series. From five-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon to three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves, to Indy 500 winners Alexander Rossi, Will Power, Simon Pagenaud and Ryan Hunter-Reay to two-time champion IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden, the lineup is full of big names.

On the grand scale of international motorsports, however, Alonso has the charisma and star power that transcends into the mainstream of popularity.

“Having Fernando in the Indy 500 is going to be great for IndyCar, for the Indy 500 and for the fans,” said Arrow McLaren SP co-owner Sam Schmidt. “I can’t wait to see that get started.

“On behalf of Ric (Peterson, another co-owner of the team) and myself, Fernando needs to be in the 500, he needs to have an opportunity to win and that would be mega for IndyCar. For all of those reasons, we kept our foot on the gas and tried to position our team as the team of choice. Although we haven’t won, we have shown pace there and ran at the front. Now that we are with Chevrolet, we feel that we can get it done.

“Our team of guys is fantastic. We have been preparing for this for a long time and we are poised to get it done. Ric and I are very excited about this.”

McLaren CEO Zak Brown has a long and close relationship with Alonso. Brown was in charge of Alonso’s Formula One program. Last year when Alonso did not compete in F1, he remained under contract as a McLaren “Ambassador.”

His contract with McLaren ended on December 31, 2019. He officially rejoined the team with Tuesday’s Indy 500 announcement.

“He creates a tremendous amount of attention wherever he goes,” Brown said of Alonso. “When we did the first test at Indy in 2017, the live digital feed got over a couple million followers. Fernando will draw a lot of global attention to Indianapolis, to IndyCar, to our partners and to the sport as a whole.

“He is a great addition. He is an ambassador to the sport. He very much enjoys the way he is embraced in Indianapolis.”

HOW THEY GOT BACK TOGETHER

With so many obstacles in the way between Alonso competing for any other team at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it just made sense that his best situation, and only situation, would come with the McLaren-backed operation.

But it was certainly a long, strange trip to get there.

“Clearly, Fernando was deep in conversations with Michael Andretti,” McLaren CEO Zak Brown responded to a question from NBC Sports.com in a private teleconference Tuesday. “Short of Roger Penske’s team, he believes Michael’s team is the most successful team at Indianapolis, certainly in most recent times.

“If you are Fernando Alonso and you want to win Indianapolis, then Andretti is clearly on your short list.

“We had a strong desire to run him. Fernando didn’t want to take a decision until after Paris-Dakar because he wanted to be very focused on that event. He was in no rush. He had two good opportunities. We kept him informed of some of the offseason moves we made. We secured Craig Hampson (as technical director after a successful term as Sebastien Bourdais’ engineer). When he was ready to make his decision, we had all of our pieces in place.

“He chose to move forward with us.”

Alonso’s best days at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway came in an Andretti Autosport-prepared Honda. That was in 2017 when the McLaren Honda Andretti team got the Formula One Ace up to speed quickly. Alonso qualified fifth on the grid off 33, led 27 laps and was in contention for the victory before his Honda engine blew up with 21 laps remaining.

Alonso came, he saw, and he nearly conquered the Indianapolis 500.

Alonso’s worst days at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway came in a McLaren-prepared Chevrolet. That was last year when one mistake after another showed how unprepared the McLaren operation was to take on the Indy 500 on its own. The list of faux paus was so long and legendary, there is no reason to recount them.

It all added up to one of the biggest names in international motorsports getting bumped out of the 33-car starting lineup by unheralded Kyle Kaiser of Juncos Racing.

McLaren officials knew the best way to succeed at Indianapolis was to join forces with a full-time IndyCar Series team. The main obstacle in that was Honda teams were ordered by corporate headquarters in Japan that the company’s days of doing business with McLaren were over. This came after disparaging and critical comments were made about the Honda Formula One engine McLaren used during a horrendous 2017 Formula One season.

Under no circumstances would American Honda and Honda Performance Development be allowed to make a deal with McLaren.

Brown found a partner at what was then known as Arrow Schmidt Peterson, but that was a Honda team. In order to make the deal work, Arrow Schmidt Peterson would have to break the final year of its contract with Honda and switch to Chevrolet.

Arrow McLaren SP was announced on August 9, 2019. Alonso was not part of that announcement.

He was attempting to negotiate a deal with Andretti Autosport and the team was willing to make it happen. Sponsors were signed and decisions were made leading to an expected announcement of an Alonso-Andretti combination for the Indy 500.

Honda Japan said no. They were held firm with Alonso for the same reasons they didn’t want to do business with McLaren.

That meant Alonso would have to find a Chevrolet team for the Indy 500. Team Penske wasn’t interested in increasing to five cars at Indy. Ed Carpenter Racing also said no to expanding to four entries.

All paths led back to Arrow McLaren SP.

“It’s a great day in the history of our team,” co-owner Sam Schmidt said. “We’ve had a lot of changes recently. Arrow McLaren SP is a fantastic cooperation of the future of our company. This just raises the bar. Everyone on our team is a true racer, wants to win and wants to win the Indy 500 and the championship. Every move we have made over the last two years has been geared towards achieving those dreams. This is one step further.

“Fernando Alonso, two world championships, two WEC’s, Le Mans and the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. He has made it perfectly clear the Indy 500 is the missing link there. We all know how competitive he was previously.

“For our team, we want to tap into his experience. We have two exciting rookies with Oliver Askew and Pato O’Ward. We really think being around him for the month of May will help them raise their game and understand what it takes to be a true, top-level, world-renowned driver. For all of those reasons, we have been working very hard on this for quite some time and we are very excited to announce Fernando Alonso as part of our team for the Indy 500.”

THE TWO SIDES CONTINUED TO NEGOTIATE, EVEN WHEN IT APPEARED ALONSO WOULD GO TO ANDRETTI

Although it appears this deal was put together quickly, Brown and Schmidt emphasized that was not the case.

“Actually, it’s been in the works for quite some time,” Brown said. “Fernando is quite a thoughtful individual when he takes a decision on what he wants to race. Paris-Dakar, from the moment he decided he was interested in it, he wanted to test, he wanted to get to know the car, he wanted to get to know the team and ultimately made his decision. This is something we’ve been speaking to Alonso about for a while.

“The new recruits, specifically Craig Hampson, we had a good test at COTA. These were things as Fernando made his final decision helped get him over the hump. There was speculation he would go elsewhere with parallel conversations that were going on.”

Schmidt was even more decisive in the team’s negotiations with Alonso.

“It seems like a bit of a whirlwind announcement, but we have been talking since November,” Schmidt said. “We’ve always run a third car at Indy. This will be a very, very well-prepared, thought-out deal. Craig Hampson will be the engineer and will be staffed by full-time, quality personnel.

“There has been some talk about the Grand Prix in a preparatory fashion for the Indy 500, but so far, we don’t have that in consideration.”

ALONSO’S THOUGHTS ON HIS RETURN

In a separate interview with Leigh Diffey of NBC Sports, Alonso admitted he had several teams to consider and McLaren was always in that group.

“We had some conversations,” Alonso said. “I already said last year I wanted to explore more options. I’d been talking with Andretti as well and some other teams. Andretti and McLaren are the ones I feel in my heart are like family. At the end, it was the natural choice to go with McLaren, especially after last year and give the fans something back after the disappointment of last year.

“I think McLaren is one of those teams that are part of motorsports. Being in F1 and IndyCar doing all the races. That shows and proves how McLaren is committed to the sport. The fans will love that commitment.”

Alonso has long dreamed of winning the international “Triple Crown” of motorsports. That includes victories in the Grand Prix of Monaco, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Indianapolis 500.

Alonso behind the wheel of the famed Marmon Wasp, the first winning car in the 1911 Indianapolis 500 — INDYCAR Photo

Alonso has already conquered Monaco and Le Mans. Indy remains the final event to master for the driver from Spain.

“The Indy 500 completes the big three races in motorsports, and three completely different disciplines,” Alonso explained. “It makes you quite a complete driver. That’s what I’m looking for in this stage of my career. The Indy 500 is probably the biggest priority for me now.

“Oval racing is unique, but the Indianapolis Motor Speedway even more. It’s a huge place. All the facilities are quite big. The circuit, there are four corners, but all very different. The traffic, the slipstream, the strategy, the tire degradation. The downforce you run differently from practice. The race, you are adjusting downforce. Even if it seems a simple way to drive, over 200 laps, you never repeat the same line or speed in any laps. It’s quite difficult to adjust the minimum settings in the car.”

THE IMPORTANCE OF RUOFF AS THE SPONSOR

The key to completing the deal was allowing mortgage firm Ruoff to join Arrow McLaren SP after agreeing to back Alonso with Andretti.

“Ruoff is a partner of Michael’s, he’s a good friend of mine and a partner in Australia,” Brown explained, referring to the Virgin Australia SuperCar team. “As he was having his conversations with Fernando, Ruoff was looking for something with big impact and exposure. When Michael and Fernando were unable to get their deal together, Ruoff asked Michael if he would mind going where Fernando goes because they know he will draw a tremendous amount of attention and Michael has all of his title deals done. Michael gave his blessing, he cut a deal with Ruoff, and we are excited to have them with us for the month of May.

“Right now, Fernando is going to be laser focused on the Indianapolis 500. I think he would enjoy IndyCar racing, but he is unsure of what he wants to do in 2021. The door is open, but there are no plans or discussions about racing beyond Indy at this point.”

KEEP THE MILK COLD

Alonso said it feels good to be back at Indy; to have another chance to win the Indianapolis 500. Despite last year’s major disappointment, Alonso is ready to recapture the glory he experienced in 2017.

“Definitely once you experience the Indy 500, it’ll remain always in your heart,” Alonso said. “I think the Indy 500 is on top of all the events I’ve ever participated. The atmosphere, the adrenaline, the traditions all the celebrations before the race. Even the milk! It arrives in a fridge Sunday morning and goes to the Pagoda.

“There are things as a driver you understand the importance of the moment and how big that race is worldwide.”

And that is why it is important that drivers such as Alonso compete in the Indianapolis 500. It’s an event that is bigger than the sport itself.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500