IndyCar 2019 preview: Four veterans with something to prove

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Editor’s Note: Over the next two days, MotorsportsTalk will preview all full-time entries competing in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series. Our second preview features four series veterans looking for a breakout season this year. 

Read our first feature on champion drivers by clicking here.

The 2019 season begins on March 10 with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Coverage begins at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app. Additional coverage can be found on NBC Sports Gold.

Graham Rahal – #15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda

Chris Graythen/Getty Images

When your father and team owner is a former IndyCar champion and Indy 500 winner, you have a lot to live up to, and although Graham Rahal has yet to win either, he still has plenty of time to create a legacy of his own, having just turned 30 in January. Rahal looks to improve this season, having finished a disappointing 2018 winless for the first time since 2014. The RLL team enters the year with a new engineer in Allen McDonald, who was hired in October, and a new vice president in Piers Phillips. The team hopes that the addition of both industry veterans will ensure improvement for the team as a whole in 2019, so don’t be surprised to see Rahal return to victory lane this year.

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Marco Andretti – #98 Andretti Herta Autosport Honda

Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Like Rahal, Marco Andretti has faced high expectations to perform well due to his last name. However, success has eluded Marco recently, having not won a race since Iowa in 2011. Andretti hopes to end that drought in 2019, with the 31-year-old Nazareth, Penn., native pairing with a new engineer this season. Mark Bryant, who recently won the 2018 Indy Lights championship with Patricio O’Ward, replaces Nathan O’Rourke.

Whether Bryant’s success in 2018 will continue this year remains to be seen, but the move is seen as a step in the right direction. Andretti could be a threat to win on the road and street courses this year, having won his first pole since 2013 in the first race at Belle Isle, where he eventually finished a 2018-best fourth. However, there is no other race Marco could win that would add to the Andretti family legacy more than the Indianapolis 500 (May 26 on NBC). A win at Indy this year couldn’t be more fitting for Marco. 2019 marks the 50-year anniversary of his grandfather Mario’s win at the Brickyard in 1969.

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James Hinchcliffe – #5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda

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James Hinchcliffe experienced a feast or famine season in 2018. Despite earning his highest points finish since 2013 and winning at Iowa Speedway, he failed to qualify for the Indianapolis 500. But his outlook for 2019 is increasingly positive. Sponsor Arrow Electronics has remained faithful to Hinchcliffe and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, further reinforcing their commitment by becoming the title sponsor of the team. Hinch will also have a new teammate this year, with Formula One veteran Marcus Ericsson making the move to IndyCar to join him at SPM. Hinchcliffe enters his ninth season in IndyCar with a clean sheet. Expect him to make the best of it, as Hinchcliffe has stated that he is a man on a mission. That mission? To come back to Indianapolis – and win.

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Takuma Sato – #30 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda

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Takuma Sato looks to make 2019 the third year in a row he’s reached victory lane. The Japanese driver won the 101st Indianapolis 500 for Andretti Autosport in 2017 and won at Portland International Raceway last September. But Sato’s victory in the series’ return to the Pacific Northwest was RLL’s only real highlight last year, and the entire organization hopes to turn things around this season, having made changes over the off-season in hope of becoming more competitive. Sato enters this season with the goal of more consistent finishes, and though the #30 finished mid-pack in preseason testing, don’t be surprised to see the driver known for his “no attack, no chance” philosophy to aggressively make his way to the front of the pack this season.

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The 2019 NTT IndyCar Series begins on March 10 with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Coverage begins at 12:30 p.m. E.T on NBCSN.

 

Eli Tomac, Ken Roczen finish 1-2 at High Point, tie for points lead

Rich Shepherd, ProMotocross
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Time was running off the clock and Eli Tomac was going to give up the overall win to Ken Roczen, until the Colorado native dug deep and made the pass for second in Moto 2 at High Point Raceway at Mount Morris, Penn. Roczen would win his third Moto of the season, but Tomac won the war.

With a third-place finish in Moto 1 and his second in Moto 2, Tomac grabbed the overall victory for the second time this season in Round 4 of the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross championship.

For Tomac, it was another difficult start to the race. He tipped his bike over in Moto 1 and fell back to fifth while battling two seconds behind the leader Blake Baggett. Tomac had to battle his way back toward the front again after barely cracking the top five in the first Motos in two of the first three rounds.

Roczen fared even worse in Moto 1. He finished sixth in that race – more than 34 seconds behind the leader Baggett. Determined to make up for his bad start, Roczen charged through the field in Moto 2 and took the lead from Cooper Webb on Lap 9.

“I was just going to charge,” Roczen told NBC Sports after his Moto win. “Do the best I can. I went back to my Colorado (last week) settings because the first race was awful; I couldn’t even ride.”

Tomac entered the round two points behind Roczen and was able to make up only those two points. The battle continues onto Florida next week with a tie for the top spot.

With a 2-5, Jason Anderson grabbed third overall.

Battling back from injury, Anderson faded in the closing laps of Moto 2, but is regaining strength each week.

Webb (third) and Zach Osborne (fourth) rounded out the top five in Moto 2 and finished fourth and fifth respectively overall.

Moto 1 featured a rider searching for his first Moto win in two years. Baggett earned the holeshot and held off an early advantage by Tomac. When Tomac fell, it handed second to Anderson, who finished nearly 10 seconds behind the leader.

“Every time I get out front here, I have that weird sensation of trying to keep it on two wheels,” Baggett said on NBC Sports Gold following his win.

Tomac was not the only rider to go down in Moto 1. Webb lost his pegs on Lap 9 and became the cape to his KTM motorcycle as he flew along holding tight to the handlebars. He recovered in that race to finish seventh.

450 Moto 1 Results
450 Moto 2 Results
450 Overall Results
Points Standings

Adam Cianciarulo remains perfect in the 250 class. Winning Moto 2 in each round so far this season, Cianciarulo has capitalized on his late event surges to sweep Victory Lane in the first four weeks.

It wasn’t an easy run for Cianciarulo, nonetheless. He was only fifth at the end of Lap 1 in Moto 1 and was forced to slice through the field to get to second at the checkers of that race.

“Just coming to the races now – coming to outdoor nationals now – compared to the past, it’s just an entirely different vibe,” Cianciarulo said on NBCSN after the race. “It’s like I’m experiencing it for the first time because for the first time in my whole pro career I believe in myself.

“It’s a process when you hit rock bottom and start coming back.”

Hunter Lawrence stole the show in Moto 1. Earning his first career win handily, he came out in Moto 2 and proved it was not a fluke by finishing third in the race and taking second overall.

“It’s awesome,” Lawrence said on NBC Sports Gold following his Moto 1 victory. “It’s just a Moto win, but it’s a big milestone in our trip and campaign.”

Chase Sexton earned the holeshot in Moto 1, but faded to fourth at the end. Sexton kept Cianciarulo in sight in the back half of Moto 2 to finish second in the race and third overall.

With a 3-4, Dylan Ferrandis finished fourth overall with Colt Nichols (5-5) finishing fifth.

After losing the overall at Thunder Valley amidst controversy, Justin Cooper wanted to make a statement. He barely raised his voice with a sixth in Moto 1 and a ninth in Moto 2 to finish ninth overall.  He lost another 20 points to the points leader as Cianciarulo starts to edge away from the pack. Cooper remains second in the points, but is now 26 back.

Garrett Marchbanks went down hard on Lap 4 of Moto 1 and had the bike land on his head. He did not start Moto 2, but there have been no report of injury yet.

250 Moto 1 Results
250 Moto 2 Results
250 Overall Results
Points Standings

Moto Wins

450MX
[4] Eli Tomac (Hangtown II, Pala I & Pala II, Thunder Valley II)
[3] Ken Roczen (Hangtown I, Thunder Valley I, High Point II)
[1] Blake Baggett (High Point I)

250MX
[4] Adam Cianciarulo (Hangtown II, Pala II, Thunder Valley I, High Point II)
[3] Justin Cooper (Hangtown I, Pala I, Thunder Valley I)
[1] Hunter Lawrence (High Point I)

Next race: WW Ranch Motocross Park, Jacksonville, Fla. June 22

Season passes can be purchased at NBC Sports Gold.

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