Jeff Kardas, Lucas Oil Pro Motocross

Adam Cianciarulo has found the missing piece

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Competition is forged in many different fires. Perhaps one of the hottest for a professional racer is disproving that niggling doubt in his mind that he might not be good enough.

It was one month ago that Adam Cianciarulo entered the Supercross season finale with a chance to win the 2019 250SX West championship. All he needed to do was ride a mistake-free race. Instead, he crashed in the event and handed rival Dylan Ferrandis the race and the title.

That little voice might have been given the opportunity to turn into a screaming roar. Instead, Cianciarulo calmed it and promised better things to come.

“I think the (Supercross season) has really been behind me since the week after it happened,” Cianciarulo told NBC Sports earlier this week.

“I’ve had a lot of ups and downs in my career in terms of injuries and a bunch of other stuff. And there was a point in my career where I thought I was pretty much irrelevant. I thought I was a bust.

“Coming from amateurs into the pro ranks I was supposed to be this this super great rider who was supposed to win everything and I ended up getting hurt a lot and hindering my progress. I thought I was pretty much done. I thought I was going to be going to college and working. So to me, it puts everything in perspective. My fire and desire and want to win the championship is more than ever. (Losing the SX championship) hurts because it’s what we worked for. But at the same time, we’ve come so far and to be in this position – I think it would be a disservice to myself to let that continue to hinder me.”

Flash forward to Pala in Round 2 of the Motocross season. In the lead, Cianciarulo rode like a man possessed, jumping across ruts made by other riders to find his perfect line, feet off the pegs at times and flirting with disaster on every lap in search of his second win of the season.

The voice of doubt kept its mouth shut.

Adam Cianciarulo taking the checkers at Thunder Valley. Rich Shepherd, Lucas Oil Pro Motocross.

“I have one total win combined for all the other seasons compared to this season,” Cianciarulo said. “I think I just came into this season with a lot more confidence, more belief in myself and overall  just a stronger program – more well rounded.”

Then he won Thunder Valley last week for his best start to any season of his professional career.

“For it to transfer into three straight wins to start the season is awesome and it shows I’ve made a lot of improvements,” Cianciarulo continued. “And it definitely feels a lot different than it did in the past.

“I feel like I have something to prove every time I’m on a bike whether it’s practice or a race. I was always taught to race with a purpose. I think with the support system I have around me, I’d be doing them a disservice if I didn’t go out there and give my all every time I’m on the bike.”

The mistake at Las Vegas? Forgotten the moment Cianciarulo pulls into the gate.

“I wouldn’t say it’s motivated me more than I was already motivated for outdoors,” Cianciarulo said. “Sometimes you’re just dealt a band hand and I take responsibility for my mistake in Supercross and ultimately that’s what it was – a mistake – and it cost me. But either eway I was excited for outdoors to show what I had there. Maybe it put a little bit more of a chip on my shoulder, but I would have come out with the same intensity and fire as I have right now.

“The aggression you’re seeing with the riding: that just comes with the confidence and belief I have in myself. Ultimately that’s making the difference so far this year. When I go to the gate I think I’m the best guy and I think I should win. It’s amazing how much the mental side plays into it. I’ve always had the skills and talent to do it, but I was missing a few pieces in the past, and I certainly have a lot to prove as the season goes on, but it’s nice to start it off with that aggression and fire – and I just feel like I belong at the front.”

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
IMSA
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”