Kaiser, Juncos beat the odds with dramatic effort to make the Indianapolis 500

INDYCAR Photo by Chris Jones
INDYCAR Photo by Chris Jones
1 Comment

INDIANAPOLIS – From the moment practice began for the 103rdIndianapolis 500, team owner Ricardo Juncos knew the odds were stacked against him.

The longtime Road to Indy Ladder Series team owner who had hopes of becoming a full-time team in the NTT IndyCar Series one day saw his sponsorship hopes for this year’s 500 evaporate. For many teams’ owners, that would be the end of the road for an Indy 500 effort because without sponsorship, there is no money to run the car.

Juncos, however, was determined. He had a car nicknamed the “White Rabbit” because it had zero decals on it.

THE 103RD INDIANAPOLIS 500: Click here for how to watch, full daily schedules

With 2017 Indy Lights champion Kyle Kaiser back for his second attempt at the Indy 500, the White Rabbit was building up to speed before jumping into the wrong foxhole.

Kaiser crashed the White Rabbit in Turn 3 on Fast Friday. The impact sent the car into a turn on its side before the floor extensions that INDYCAR officials have mandated for the current Dallara chassis, along with two large holes in the floor that serve as air deflectors, brought the car back on its wheels.

The “White Rabbit” was dead and Juncos had to put together a spare car. Parts were brought into the Gasoline Alley garages in the back of a pickup truck as the team began a 48-hour saga to rebuild the car and try to get into the 33-car starting lineup.

The team took the car it had run in the INDYCAR Classic at Circuit of the Americas and repaired it in time to hit the track late in Saturday’s qualifications, just to get a balance for the setup. Kaiser was not fast enough to crack the top 30 that were locked into the Indy 500 starting lineup and would have to make it through the “Last Row Shootout.”

By design, they chose not to participate in the Sunday morning practice session. Instead, they kept working on the car with some crewmembers working as long as 48 hours.

Of the six drivers that had to fight for the final three positions, Kaiser and Juncos were given little hope of making the race. The others included a full-time NTT IndyCar Series star in James Hinchcliffe, who crashed in Saturday’s qualifications but had a car fast enough to make it, a full-time NTT IndyCar Series team with two drivers – Carlin with Max Chilton and Patricio O’Ward, a fast 24-year-old in Sage Karam.

And then there was this McLaren outfit from England with a two-time Formula One World Champion by the name of Fernando Alonso.

It couldn’t have been scripted any more dramatically.

With Alonso on the “Bubble” and Kaiser the last of the six drivers in the “Last Row Shootout” to make an attempt, the spirit of the “White Rabbit” hopped, skipped and jumped its way into the field with a four-lap average of 227.372 mph.

Kaiser and Juncos were in, Alonso and McLaren were out.

INDYCAR Photo by Chris JonesThe fans that came out on a rainy cool day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway roared with delight.

Ricardo Juncos breathed a sigh of relief.

“We didn’t practice Sunday morning because the car was not ready,” Juncos said.

“We went everybody home to sleep at 4 a.m. or we were going to make mistakes. The rain delay helped us because it gave us more time to work on the car. We found other things that made us go fast.

“Even before this qualifying, for us, this was a victory to be here today. I have won already, regardless of what happens from here.”

Juncos will continue to search for sponsors and believes now that he is in the race, he hopes to find some funding. His goal is to run more IndyCar Series races the rest of the season.

“Our guys are so tired, we don’t even have the energy to think,” Juncos admitted to NBC Sports.com. “The ‘White Rabbit’ was fast because it was our Speedway car, but we were able to take this car and work on it to get it into the race.

“Now, we are in the race and we have to keep moving forward.”

 

Kaiser is a 23-year-old from Santa Clara, California. He has a deep understanding of what his accomplishment in “Crossroads of America” means.

“Only Indianapolis will give you these kinds of emotions,” Kaiser told NBC Sports.com “This has been the hardest couple of days of my life trying to keep my head straight and go about business. It took not just me, but the whole team trying to keep that mentality.

“I had one goal in mind; go out there and do another qual like we’ve done,” Kaiser said. “We did it three times Saturday and I wanted to do the same time we did. Even though we didn’t have the speed yesterday, we went out to make sure we had the perfect balance.

“We rolled out with the perfect balance.

“We are starting last in the field, but we are in the field. It shows how tough it is just to get into this race. We went for it. We gave it all we had and that is all we had.”

Liz Van Oostenburg PhotoKaiser’s girlfriend is Liz Van Oostenburg, who works for Harding Steinbrenner Racing in public relations. Sunday was her birthday and she told her boyfriend what she wanted.

“It’s the best birthday present she could have ordered,” Kaiser admitted. “She told me, ‘Just get in the race today.’ I said, ‘I’ll do my best.’”

And he did.

2023 SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Anaheim 2: Ken Roczen is consistency’s king

0 Comments

Strength is found not only in outright wins, but also through consistency, which contributed to the rise of Ken Roczen in the SuperMotocross Rankings after Anaheim 2.

Roczen ended the 2022 Supercross season with the knowledge that he urgently needed change, so he declared himself a free agent, signed with Suzuki during the offseason and set upon 2023 with renewed determination. It worked. Roczen is one of three riders in the 450 class with a sweep of the top five and that consistency has given him the lead in the NBC SuperMotocross Power Rankings.

SuperMotocross Rankings Anaheim 2
Like Babe Ruth pointing to the outfield wall, Ken Roczen pointed his way to the Power Rankings lead. – Feld Motor Sports

This formula rewards riders who compete at the front of the pack at the end of the Mains, in their heats, or in last week’s case, the three motos that make up the Triple Crown. Roczen has improved his overall performance each week with a fifth in Anaheim 1, a fourth in San Diego and his first podium of 2023 in Anaheim 2. Can he keep the trend alive with a first- or second-place finish in Houston?

A fall is all it takes sometimes. Last week, Eli Tomac tumbled hard when he pushed wide on the exit of a turn and jumped on top of a Tuff Blox. He remounted after that incident in Race 3 of the Triple Crown, but could only manage a 13th-place result in the moto. It could have been much worse and resulted in an injury, but coupled with a sixth in the overall standings at Anaheim 2, it pushed him down a spot in the SuperMotocross Ranking.

Along with Roczen (and Chase Sexton), Cooper Webb swept the top five in Supercross’ first three rounds. He is knocking on the door of a win and it won’t take long for him to ascend to the top of the box. Webb has two victories in Houston and each of them came during a championship season.

If there is a more determined rider than Jason Anderson, get out of his way. His path to the front of the pack is not always lined with primroses since he often has to pass multiple riders with whom he has had a run-in during his path, but the SuperMotocross Power Rankings are concerned only with raw results – not intention – and Anaheim 2 was Anderson’s best race of the season. He earned his first top-five and first podium with a second-place finish that was aided by a moto win.

MORE: Triple Crown format shakes up A2’s finishing order

Dylan Ferrandis has also been a model of consistency. Last week his Triple Crown effort of 4-6-5 gave him an overall finish of fifth. That came on the heels of a fourth-place result in the season opener and a sixth in San Diego. With no result worse than sixth this season, the numbers add up quite well.

Sexton’s position just outside the top five this week is entirely attributable to his last-place result in the San Diego heat. The SuperMotocross Rankings looks at the past 45 days, so that will affect him for a while, but if he continues to ride like he did in Anaheim 2, he’s going to climb quickly despite that albatross around his neck.

450 Rankings

This
Week
Driver Power
Avg.
Last
Week
Diff.
1. Ken Roczen 84.63 3 2
2. Eli Tomac
[2 Main; 2 Heat wins]
83.25 1 -1
3. Cooper Webb 82.25 2 -1
4. Jason Anderson
[1 Heat win]
80.63 5 1
5. Dylan Ferrandis 78.75 4 -1
6. Chase Sexton
[1 Main; 3 Heat wins]
77.75 9 3
7. Justin Barcia 67.88 6 -1
8. Aaron Plessinger 67.63 8 0
9. Adam Cianciarulo 67.25 7 -2
10. Joey Savatgy 61.00 11 1
10. Marvin Musquin 61.00 12 2
12. Malcolm Stewart
[1 Heat win]
58.75 13 1
13. Christian Craig 56.13 14 1
14. Colt Nichols 56.00 10 -4
15. Dean Wilson 47.50 15 0
16. Tristan Lane 41.00 18 2
17. Grant Harlan 40.67 19 2
18. Justin Hill 40.57 16 -2
19. Logan Karnow 36.50 20 1
20. Alex Ray 36.00 21 1

Supercross Points


The 250 West riders get a couple of weeks off before heading to Oakland for the rescheduled Round 2 and several of them need the rest. Tough weeks for Cameron McAdoo and RJ Hampshire forced them to lose ground in the SuperMotocross points to Jett Lawrence at a time that could prove to play mental games.

Lawrence also had his share of issues at Anaheim 2, but overcame early falls in the first two motos and finished no worse than sixth. Considering that he dropped to the tail of the field in Race 2, that was a remarkable accomplishment and he entered the final race with a shot at the overall win. He narrowly missed that mark, but still has not finished worse than second in three rounds. His lead in the SuperMotocross Power Rankings is safe.

Cameron McAdoo rode with injury in all three Triple Crown motos, so his sixth-place finish was a moral victory. Cameron McAdoo, Instagram

McAdoo said it best in an Instagram post this week: “Woke up feeling grateful that I’m relatively healthy after my big mistake during qualifying yesterday. We made the decision that it would be safe for me to race so I did everything I possibly could to get through the night ending up [sixth overall]. We will work on getting healed up in these few weeks off to come back strong for Oakland!”

With results of 8-7-5 in the Triple Crown and his combined sixth-place result, McAdoo lost significant ground to Lawrence in both the points’ standings and our Power formula. The Oakland race is going to be critical if he wants to stay in the championship hunt because the series will have a long break before returning in Seattle for Round 11. No one wants to sit with negative feelings for that long.

Mitchell Oldenburg has quietly amassed some impressive numbers. His name has not been called a lot during broadcasts, but he has not finished worse than seventh in any of the first three rounds. Themes develop during a season and weekend – and for the moment, this one revolves around reliability. Oldenburg finished 5-4-6 in Anaheim 2 which means he has consistently amassed SuperMotocross Power Rankings points.

Stilez Robertson won his first race of the season in Moto 2 of the Triple Crown. Coupled with a third-place finish in the final race, he leapfrogged Hampshire and Enzo Lopes, both of whom had disappointing outings. He stands fifth in the points’ standing mostly due to a ninth-place finish in the season opener, but each race has been progressively better and that is a good sign.

Sometimes, all it takes is a taste of success. Prior to Anaheim 2, Levi Kitchen’s best Supercross finish was a seventh earned in this year’s season opener. He scored a ninth at Minneapolis last year, but that was not enough to put him on the radar. This early in the season, one strong run can sway the SuperMotocross Power Ranking significantly, but Robertson has earned his way into the top five. More importantly, he’s going to be the object of interest when the West series returns to Oakland.

Next week the 250 East riders mount up in Houston, Texas before they head to Tampa, Florida. The Power Rankings will combine the two divisions, so the riders below are likely to shift dramatically.

250 Rankings

This
Week
Driver Power
Avg.
Last
Week
Diff.
1. Jett Lawrence – W
[2 Main; 2 Heat wins]
89.13 1 0
2. Cameron McAdoo – W
[1 Heat Win]
77.63 3 1
3. Mitchell Oldenburg – W 77.00 5 2
4. Stilez Robertson – W
[1 Heat win]
76.75 6 2
5. Levi Kitchen – W
[1 Main win]
73.75 12 7
6. RJ Hampshire – W
[3 Heat wins]
70.00 2 -4
7. Max Vohland – W 69.29 8 1
8. Derek Kelley – W 63.75 10 2
9. Enzo Lopes – W 63.25 4 -5
10. Pierce Brown – W 61.29 13 3
11. Phil Nicoletti – W 59.25 7 -4
12. Dylan Walsh – W 56.00 9 -3
13. Cole Thompson – W 51.00 11 -2
14. Robbie Wageman – W 50.75 15 1
15. Anthony Rodriguez – W 49.00 14 -1
16. Ty Masterpool – W 47.50 16 0
17. Kaeden Amerine – W 47.50 16 -1
18. Dominique Thury – W 47.00 18 0
19. Austin Forkner – W 43.00 20 1
20. Derek Drake – W 42.33 21 1

* The NBC Power Rankings assign 100 points to a Main event winner and 90 points for each Heat and Triple Crown win, (Triple Crown wins are included with heat wins below the rider’s name). The points decrement by a percentage equal to the number of riders in the field until the last place rider in each event receives five points. The Power Ranking is the average of these percentage points over the past 45 days.

POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 2 AT SAN DIEGO: Ken Roczen moves up, Chase Sexton falls
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 1 AT ANAHEIM: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence gain an early advantage