Cooper Webb, Marvin Musquin kindle rivalry in Houston Supercross

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Cooper Webb’s remarkable run for the championship began in January with his first career win in the Triple Crown format of Anaheim II. That night, he won the first two Mains and safely managed his final feature to finish third. Round 13 of the Supercross season was much the same. Web finished 2-1-3 to sore the overall win.

“It was a tough night,” Webb said on NBCSN after winning the overall. “You always forget in the Triple Crowns how many laps you end up doing, so for me it was great to go out and get a win.”

It was the sixth win of the season for the rider who entered 2019 without a single 450 victory to his credit.

The evening was not without controversy as Webb manhandled teammate Marvin Musquin (5-3-1) in the first Main and put the Frenchman in a hole that his Main 3 win could not overcome. Off his rhythm, Musquin struggled with mistakes in the first two Mains before finally getting it right in the final feature.

Musquin was not happy with the way he was treated by his teammate. And even though Webb was able to increase his points lead by three, the rivalry is heating up. With four rounds remaining, if Musquin is able to continue to keep the pressure on, this will turn out to be a pivotal race because he knows where the battle lines have been drawn.

“Triple Crown is always super aggressive racing,” Musquin said reflecting on the contact in Main 1. “It’s only 12 minutes, so you’ve got to go for it. I was really aggressive. I made a clean pass on Cooper and I was pretty happy. Obviously I didn’t like the pass he made. He got really aggressive and was riding the bike super hard on multiple turns and he finally got me and pushed me off the track.

“It was pretty sketchy. … I guess that’s the way it is. I will have to do that if I have the opportunity or if I need to to make a pass.”

Musquin finished second in the overall standings.

Dean Wilson (3-2-5) stood on the podium twice during the night to finish third overall.

It was not a points win, but Ken Roczen (1-21-8) scored got the checkers first for the first time in two years with his Main 1 victory. His previous best finish in the Triple Crown format this year was a second in Main 1 at Anaheim II. As has been the case so often this year, however, a strong run was followed by disappointment.

Roczen crashed hard in Main 2 and smashed his toe. He was unable to return to the second feature with a 21st-place finish, but gutted out the third Main and finished eighth in it. His disappointing Main 2 contributed to his overall finish of 10th.

In fifth, Cole Seeley scored his first top-five of the season.

Color commentary was provided by Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who made the flight over from Fort Worth where NASCAR is prepared to race Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.

Complete Results
Points Standings

In 250s, Dylan Ferrandis made the most of his opportunity. As his principal rival in the 250 West championship stumbled, Ferrandis rode at the front of the pack throughout the three Mains to score the overall win. Ferrandis finished 2-1-2 in the Mains to beat second-place RJ Hampshire (3-2-4) by four points.

“I just did not give up but there was no risk to take for nothing, (so) I was just doing my race,” Ferrandis said on NBCSN after the conclusion of the third Main.

With the overall win, Ferrandis closes the gap to five points to Adam Cianciarulo (1-10-3), who finished fourth overall.

“Two wins in a row. I’m so happy. It’s a different feeling from last week because it was the first one. Now I’m really looking for the championship because it is the only thing that can give me full satisfaction.”

Cianciarulo took the blame for his modest performance.

“As much as I’d love to tell you … I had this guy crash in front of me – this guy cross jump in front of me, it really comes down to my fault because I didn’t get the start in the second Main. I put myself in a bad position,” Cianciarulo said after the race.

After winning the opening Main, the remainder of Cianciarulo’s night was marked by mistakes, but more importantly courage and ability. After going down twice in the second Main and falling to 19th, he mounted a charge that brought him to 10th at the checkers. In Main 2, he fell again and dropped to 13th early in the race. Cianciarulo made up another 10 positions and stood on the podium. With a 1-10-3, he finished fourth overall to minimize the damage.

“We have two races to make it happen and I couldn’t be more confident in myself,” Cianciarulo concluded.

Colt Nichols (5-4-1) won Main 3 and finished third overall.

Complete Results
Points Standings

450 Main 1: After grabbing the hole shot, Ken Roczen’s quest for his first win in two years got underway with the Main 1 victory. He stretched his advantage to 8.562 seconds over Cooper Webb and the rest of the field. … Dean Wilson rounded out the podium. … The drama came in the middle stage of the race when Webb body slammed his teammate Marvin Musquin off course after the wall jump as they battle for third. Musquin climbed through the field and was battling Wilson for third with a minute remaining, but was knocked off course and fell to fifth at the checkers. … Eli Tomac’s title hopes thinned with a sixth-place finish. – Complete Results

450 Main 2: Cooper Webb scored his fourth Triple Crown Main win. He won two Mains in Anaheim II and one at Detroit. … Dean Wilson finished 3.121 seconds behind in second. … Marvin Musquin had a bad start and was forced to overcome sixth-place on Lap 1. With time off the clock, Musquin cross-rutted and went down in the sand as he battled for every position possible. He fell one spot to third. … Justin Barcia went down with three minutes remaining. … Ken Roczen stepped off the bike in Turn 1 and smashed his toe. After winning the first Main, he was forced to retire from the second. – Complete Results

450 Main 3: Marvin Musquin wrestled the lead from holeshot winner Joey Savatgy in Turn 2 of Lap 1 and held his advantage till the end. … Main 3 was a battle of championship contenders as Eli Tomac finished second with Cooper Webb rounding out the podium. … With a smashed toe, Ken Roczen was able to finish only eighth. … Savatgy fell to ninth. – Complete Results

250 Main 1: Adam Cianciarulo grabbed the lead on Lap 1 and never looked back. He ran away with a nine-second advantage. … Dylan Ferrandis was eighth at the end of Lap 1. He steadily picked off the riders in front of him and passed for second as the white flag waved. … RJ Hampshire rounded out the top three. … Cameron McAdoo got the holeshot, but failed to navigate the first turn; he faded to ninth at the end. … James Decotis had a solid second-place run going until the four-minute remaining mark. At that point, he lost his rhythm and dropped to sixth. – Complete Results

250 Main 2: Last week’s winner at Seattle, Dylan Ferrandis snatched the lead from Chris Blose on Lap 2 and held on to win. … RJ Hampshire stayed within striking distance for much of the race, but finished 4.740 seconds behind. … Garrett Marchbanks rounded out the podium. … The championship battle came down to making the best of a bad situation. Adam Cianciarulo got pushed off line on the opening lap and fell to ninth. Mired in the field, his problems compounded when he crashed a second time on the blind side of the bridge. He was run into as he tried to remount. A clutch problem sent him to the mechanics area briefly. He rejoined the race 19th. Cianciarulo battled back to 10th at the checkers… Blose fell all the way to 19th at the end. – Complete Results

250 Main 3: Colt Nichols rode to an easy win over Dylan Ferrandis. … Adam Cianciarulo had another bad start and went down on Lap 1 in the whoops when he got tangled up with Michael Mosiman. He dropped to 13th. Cianciarulo put his head down and refused to panic, picking his way back to the bottom step of the podium. – Complete Results

Points Leaders

450SX
Cooper Webb (288) (6 wins)
Marvin Musquin (271) (2 wins)
Eli Tomac (262) (3 wins)
Ken Roczen (252)
Blake Baggett (215) (1 win)

250SX West
Adam Cianciarulo (182 points) (4 wins)
Dylan Ferrandis (177) (2 wins)
Colt Nichols (142) (1 win)
RJ Hampshire (126)
Shane McElrath (123) (1 win)

250SX East
Austin Forkner (151 points) (5 wins)
Chase Sexton (125)
Justin Cooper (123)
Alex Martin (92)
Martin Davalos (89)

Top 5s

450SX
Marvin Musquin: 10
Cooper Webb: 10
Ken Roczen: 9
Eli Tomac: 9
Blake Baggett: 7
Joey Savatgy: 3
Dean Wilson: 3
Chad Reed: 2
Justin Barcia: 2
Jason Anderson: 1
Justin Bogle: 1
Justin Brayton: 1
Aaron Plessinger: 1
Cole Seeley: 1

250SX West
Adam Cianciarulo: 8
Dylan Ferrandis: 6
Shane McElrath: 5
Colt Nichols: 5
RJ Hampshire: 4
James Decotis: 4
Jacob Hayes: 1
Garrett Marchbanks: 1
Jess Pettis: 1
Michael Mosiman: 1
Chris Blose: 1

250SX East
Austin Forkner: 6
Justin Cooper: 6
Chase Sexton: 6
Jordon Smith: 3
Martin Davalos: 3
Alex Martin: 2
Mitchell Oldenburg: 2

Next race: April 6, Nissan Stadium, Nashville, Tenn.

Season passes can be purchased at NBC Sports Gold.

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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