250 battle heats up as Austin Forkner crashes in Nashville Supercross

Leave a comment

The last time a rider won the Feature after winning the Last Chance Qualifier was on February 2, 2013, when Ryan Dungey performed the feat at Anaheim. Until Saturday night at Nashville in Round 14, that is.

Eli Tomac experienced engine problems in his heat after leading the first four laps. He failed to finish and was pushed into the LCQ.

In the “B” Main, his ride was smoking at the end of the race. But Tomac overcame his early woes to win his fourth race of the 2019 Supercross season.

“Talk about some adversity there,” Tomac said after the race on NBCSN. “I was able to recover. I’m kind of at a loss for words right now, really. The qualifying wasn’t so good today. … Then leading that heat race and we know what happened.

“That Main event there was something. … Overall, felt good that whole Main. Felt like I made some gains there.”

Now the series rolls into Denver – Tomac’s home track, where he may be alone in regard to physical conditioning for the high elevation.

When it’s your year, it’s your year, though. Cooper Webb went down hard on Lap 1 of his heat and would have struggled to finish with the leaders in that race, but a complete restart reset the field. Even with the mulligan, Webb struggled in his heat and finished an uncompetitive second.

Points are only awarded in the feature, however, and Webb grabbed the hole shot and held off a spirited battle with Marvin Musquin. After last week’s tangle between the two, Musquin was highly motivated to make the pass for the lead, but got off-line in the whoops and went down hard. He dropped to 20th. Webb took advantage of the mistake and built some separation between himself and the field.

Webb fell one more position to Blake Baggett in the closing laps, but still managed to earn his 10th podium finish in 14 races this year.

“I struggled all day, to be honest,” Webb said. “I’m lucky after that heat race when I got landed on. I was just sitting there and I think it hit me that this was a big deal.

“I got a blessing with that restart. That’s the championship. It tests you every race and I’m just happy to be up here. I was terrible in the whoops – and that was this racetrack. I think as everyone can see, I was just a fish out of water.”

Musquin’s fall and subsequent sixth-place finish cost him four points. Tomac cut into Webb’s lead and is tied for second in the standings. But overall, Webb now has a 21-point advantage over his closest competitors.

Dean Wilson finished fourth with Zach Osborne rounding out the top five.

Ken Roczen’s shot at the championship practically evaporated when Joey Savatgy went down on Lap 3 immediately in front of him while they battled for second. Roczen flipped over the top of the high-banked hairpin and had to scramble up the mountain. By the time he righted his Honda, he had fallen to 22nd. He climbed to eighth at the checkers and was the last rider to finish on the lead lap. Roczen is now 42 points out of the lead.

Complete Results
Points Standings

In 250s, the story was more about what did not happen, than what did.

Austin Forkner did not ride in the feature at Nashville and failed to earn any points with time running out in the 250 East division. He entered Nashville with a 26-point advantage over Chase Sexton and a 29-point lead over Justin Cooper, but a hard off in qualification left him with an injured leg. He limped off track and tried to get back on his bike for a few laps, but the pain in his leg was too much.

Forkner will have an MRI on Monday, at which point his future for 2019 will be known.

Sexton knew this was his opportunity to catch Forkner if he could win and capture the 26 points. Cooper could close to within two points and would hold his fate in his own hand if Forkner is able to return to competition. And as this was the first sign of weakness all year, both riders were desperate for a strong showing. Forkner has been perfect with five wins in East division. He was the top finishing East rider in the East/West Showdown in Atlanta.

Cooper attempted to take Sexton wide on Lap 1 and crashed both bikes.

Martin Davalos did all he could to help his teammate. He rode past Sexton and Cooper while they picked up their bikes and scored his fifth career win in his 99th start. His last victory came in April 2016 at Foxborough.

Once they separated, Sexton and Cooper were able to stay out of trouble and march back toward the front. Sexton fell as far back as 16th on Lap 1. He climbed into the top five on Lap 5, grabbed third on Lap 11 and set his sights on Davalos on Lap 13. At the checkers, he was able to cut the advantage to 3.508 seconds with a second-place finish.

“I got a really good start, which I was really happy about,” Sexton said to NBCSN after the race. “Made – I thought – a clean move on (Cooper) in the third corner. I came into the inside and he just ran us into the tough blocks and took us both out. It’s ok. We came back and passed him from dead last basically. It was good to get second and salvage points.”

Cooper climbed to third – 5.067 seconds behind Sexton.

Sexton was not able to completely catch Forkner, but he cut the lead to three points. Cooper is now seven behind.

Kyle Peters in fourth and Brandon Hartranft in fifth scored their first top-fives of the season.

Complete Results
Points Standings

450 Heat 1: Joey Savatgy rode Cooper Webb hard in the heat and took the win. … Trying to keep the pressure on, Webb jumped into the opposite lane on the last lap, but salvaged a second. … Justin Bogle rounded out the top three. … Marvin Musquin was riding well before the race was red flagged and restarted. He was not competitive after the restart and finished a distant eighth. … Eli Tomac’s bike shut off on Lap 3 while he was leading, sending him to the back of the field and into the LCQ. … Mike Alessi bombed Webb on Lap 1, but a red flag occasioned a complete restart for an accident involving Ronnie Stewart and Tyler Enticknap.

450 Heat 2: Ken Roczen keeps impressing in the heats with his fifth win of the season. … He took the checkers more than six seconds ahead of Cole Seely. … Zach Osborne rounded out the top three with Dean Wilson fourth. … Alex Ray took the final transfer position by a margin of 12 seconds over Ryan Breece.

450 Last Chance Qualifier: Eli Tomac got a bad start, but was patient during the first lap and picked off Justin Starling and Ryan Breece to sit comfortably in a transfer spot. One lap later, he slipped past Charles Lefrancois. By Lap 4, he rode easily past Austin Politelli to take the lead. On the white flag lap, his bike began to smoke, but he nursed it home to score his second LCQ win of the year. … Politelli, Starling, and Breece also advanced to the Main.

250 Heat 1: Martin Davalos rode to an easy win of 7.205 seconds over Alex Martin. … Martin was distracted by his fierce battle with Justin Cooper over the last couple of laps, but he held that advantage with Cooper winding up third. … That Cooper was around for the finish was in question. Riding third on Lap 1, Ramyller Alves went down on a jump and nearly collected Cooper.

250 Heat 2: Chase Sexton smelled blood in the water after Austin Forkner sustained an injury in qualification. He earned the holeshot and never looked back on his way to an almost 14 second lead. … Ryan Sipes took second easily over Mitchell Oldenburg. … Forkner was scheduled to ride in this race, before he scratched.

250 last Chance Qualifier: Steven Clarke won over James Weeks. … On the final lap, Cade Autenrieth squeezed past Kevin Moranz when Moranz was almost bucked from his Kawasaki. … After crashing in his heat, Ramyller Alves went down a second time in the LCQ. This time, he went down hard while leading.

Points Leaders

450SX
Cooper Webb (309) (6 wins)
Eli Tomac (288) (4 wins)
Marvin Musquin (288) (2 wins)
Ken Roczen (267)
Blake Baggett (238) (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 (148)
Justin Cooper (144)
Martin Davalos (115) (1 win)
Mitchell Oldenburg (105)

Top 5s

450SX
Cooper Webb: 11
Marvin Musquin: 10
Eli Tomac: 10
Ken Roczen: 9
Blake Baggett: 8
Dean Wilson: 4
Joey Savatgy: 3
Chad Reed: 2
Justin Barcia: 2
Jason Anderson: 1
Justin Bogle: 1
Justin Brayton: 1
Aaron Plessinger: 1
Cole Seeley: 1
Zach Osborne: 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: 7
Chase Sexton: 7
Jordon Smith: 3
Martin Davalos: 4
Alex Martin: 2
Mitchell Oldenburg: 2
Kyle Peters: 1
Brandon Hartranft: 1

Next race: April 13, Broncos Stadium at Mile High, Denver, Colo.

Season passes can be purchased at NBC Sports Gold.

Follow Dan Beaver on Twitter

Behind the scenes of how the biggest story in racing was kept a secret

Leave a comment

In a world where nobody is able to keep a secret, especially in auto racing, legendary business leader and race team owner Roger Penske and INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles were able to keep the biggest story of the year a secret.

That was Monday morning’s stunning announcement that after 74 years of leadership and ownership of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Hulman George Family was selling the track, the Indianapolis 500 and INDYCAR to Penske.

In an exclusive interview with NBC Sports.com on Thursday, Miles revealed the extreme lengths both sides went to so that nobody found out about this deal ahead of time. That included meeting with Penske at his Detroit offices early on Saturday mornings and late on Sunday nights.

The most important way of keeping it confidential was containing the number of people who were involved.

“We thought it was important to keep it quiet until we were ready to announce it,” Miles told NBC Sports.com. “The reason for that is No. 1, we wanted employees and other stakeholders to hear it from us and not through the distorting rumor mill.

“That was the motivation.

“We just didn’t involve many people. For most of the time, there were four people from Roger’s group in Michigan and four people from here (IMS/INDYCAR) involved and nobody else. There were just four of us. We all knew that none of the eight were going to talk to anybody about it until very late.”

Even key members of both staffs were kept out of the loop, notably Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles, who admitted earlier this week he was not told of the impending sale until Saturday when he was at Texas Motor Speedway for the NASCAR race.

Both Penske and Miles realize the way a deal or a secret slips out is often from people far outside of the discussions who have to get called in to work to help set up an announcement.

Miles had a plan for that scenario, too.

“On Saturday, we had to set up a stream for Monday’s announcement,” Miles said. “We came up with an internal cover story so if anybody saw what was going on, there was a cover story for what that was, and it wasn’t that announcement.

“The key thing was we kept it at only those that needed to know.”

It wasn’t until very late Sunday night and very early Monday morning that key stakeholders in INDYCAR were informed. Team owner Bobby Rahal got a call at 7:30 a.m. on Monday. Racing legend Mario Andretti was also informed very early on Monday.

At 8 a.m. that day came the official word from Hulman & Company, which owns the Indianapolis 500, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and INDYCAR as well as a few other businesses, that Penske was buying the racing properties of the company. It was an advisory that a media conference was scheduled for 11 a.m. at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

It was a masterful move by both Penske and Miles.

Penske is already famous for keeping one of greatest secrets in racing history in 1993 and 1994. That is when his famed racing team along with Ilmor Engineering created “The Beast” – a 209 cubic-inch, pushrod engine that was designed, developed and tested in total secrecy. A small, select group of Team Penske mechanics were involved in the top-secret project and were told by Penske that if word of the engine leaked out, “it would be like cutting your paycheck.”

Nobody talked.

History repeated itself with the biggest racing story of the 21st Century, the sale of the world’s most famous race course that hosts the largest single-day sporting event in the world – the annual Indianapolis 500.

When INDYCAR held its “Victory Lap” award ceremony on Sept. 26 in Indianapolis, Miles told the crowd of an impending announcement that would be big news for the sport.

Was he coming close to giving away Monday’s announcement?

“No, that was about a sponsor announcement that will be coming along later,” Miles said on Thursday night.

Penske is one of America’s greatest and most successful business leaders. He is also the most successful team owner in auto racing history with 545 wins in all forms of racing including a record 18 Indianapolis 500 wins, a record 16 NTT IndyCar Series championships as well as two Daytona 500 wins and two NASCAR Monster Energy Cup championships just to name a few.

Penske was not the only bidder, but he was the one who made the most sense to the Hulman George Family, because it was important to find an owner who believed in “stewardship” of the greatest racing tradition on Earth more so than “ownership” of an auto racing facility and series.

“There were a number of parties that were engaged in thinking about this with us,” Miles revealed to NBC Sports.com. “There were a couple that got as far as what I call the ‘Red Zone.’

“Then, Tony George reached out to Roger Penske on Sept. 22.

“Price and value were always important, but the thing that nobody could match was the attributes that Roger could bring to the table, in terms of his history of the sport, his knowledge of the sport, combined with his business sense.

“He was viewed as the leader from a legacy or stewardship perspective, which was a very important factor.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

McLaren IndyCar boss breaks down team’s first test since missing Indy 500

Arrow McLaren Racing SP Photo
Leave a comment

McLaren Sporting Director Gil De Ferran left Sebring International Raceway last Tuesday with a much happier outlook than when he left the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 19.

That was when McLaren and famed two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso arrived at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway ill-prepared. They failed to make the 33-car starting lineup for the 103rd Indianapolis 500.

That day in May, De Ferran vowed that McLaren would return.

Last Tuesday, what is now known as Arrow McLaren Racing SP after purchasing into Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, De Ferran was back to evaluate the team’s NTT IndyCar Series effort.

Instead of Alonso in the cockpit, it was the team’s recently named full-time drivers for 2020 at the test. That included 20-year-old Pato O’Ward of Monterrey, Mexico, the 2018 Indy Lights champion and 22-year-old Oliver Askew of Jupiter, Florida, the 2019 Indy Lights champion.

O’Ward was in the car for the test with Askew watching from the pit area.

“Pato did a great job, did not put a foot wrong, got on to it straight away and it was all good,” De Ferran told NBC Sports.com. “It was a positive day on all fronts. To work together, to build the team together and embark on this team together was very positive.”

De Ferran is a two-time CART champion with titles in 2000 and 2001 when he was with Team Penske. He also won the 2003 Indianapolis 500 for Team Penske before retiring as a driver at the end of that season.

Since then, he has been involved in numerous Formula One, IndyCar and Sports Car efforts. As McLaren’s Sporting Director, De Ferran is involved in both Formula One and IndyCar.

Arrow McLaren Racing SP also includes partners Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson. Arrow also has a financial stake in the team in addition to serving as sponsor.

The chance to work with two young drivers is something that has De Ferran excited.

“They are both very young, but they have been around for a while,” De Ferran said. “It’s not like these guys are completely clueless about racing. They have been racing ever since they were kids. Generally speaking, as a trend in motorsports, they start much younger than I did. They move to cars at a younger age and tend to reach this level of the sport at a younger age then when I was coming up.

“Although they don’t have a lot of experience in IndyCar, several members of the team can help in their development. These guys are very accomplished and top-level guys. They have won a lot of races and championships before getting the nod from our team.”

Last week’s test was part of INDYCAR’s evaluation of the new aeroscreen that will be on all cars beginning in 2020. Arrow McLaren Racing SP is a Chevrolet team. Honda team Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser and Sullivan also participated in the test with four-time Champ Car Series champion Sebastien Bourdais as the driver.

This was the only test that Arrow McLaren Racing SP will conduct in 2019. Testing time is severely limited De Ferran said it won’t be back on track until the 2020 regulations take effect.

Arrow McLaren Racing SP has already experienced some controversy after the team said several weeks ago that popular driver James Hinchcliffe would not be driving for the team. He remains on the payroll and is expected to be at the track in a public relations capacity.

That has angered many IndyCar fans who are huge fans of the popular Canadian driver.

“I have nothing more to add to this than what was said at the time,” De Ferran told NBC Sports.com. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s head-down. We have to go racing. We are on a journey here together with this partnership and two young drivers that are very accomplished and have a lot of talent. Our job is to deliver the results on the track.

“That is where my focus is. I’m completely focused on improving every aspect of everything that we do trackside.

“One thing I guarantee you, whatever we start, to have that focus to improve everything that we do we will continue to move forward. It was like that when I was driving, and it was like that throughout my professional career away from the cockpit. We will keep looking for opportunities to improve.

“Eventually, good things will happen.”

It was just Day One on the track, but after seeing this team struggle at last year’s Indianapolis 500, McLaren took its first step in returning as a full-time NTT IndyCar Series team.

“This is the beginning of a journey that we embarked on several months ago now and you do a lot in the background,” De Ferran said. “The guys from SPM and us have put a lot into this partnership. Behind the scenes, we have been working hard together.

“We’re all racers, man. We want to see cars on track. This has been like a little check off the box and it feels good that we were on track.

“We have a long journey ahead, but it’s good to be working together, at the race track, how the car is handling, the engine is working and how the drivers do.

“First day on the track for Arrow McLaren Racing SP. It’s a good day.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500