After White House visit, Pagenaud hopes to see Macron next

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Simon Pagenaud has been living in the United States long enough to know that in a time of revved-up partisanship, an invitation to the White House might come with some speed bumps.

Decline an invite, as some American athletes have, and you might risk being seen as a grandstander who’s dragging personal politics into the sports world. Accept and others might see you as tacitly endorsing a laundry list of policies and views. A version of this debate played out in Pagenaud’s Twitter mentions earlier this week.

But Pagenaud, a native of France, didn’t hesitate to accept President Donald Trump’s invitation to attend a White House ceremony with Team Penske on Monday to celebrate their Indianapolis 500 victory.

“To me, when the president of the biggest country in the world invites you to reward you for sports achievements, I think all politics aside, you say yes,” Pagenaud said. “Because it’s a recognition of your work, it’s a recognition of the hard work that was behind it. It’s very symbolic. It’s something that you can’t say no to, in my opinion. I think because it’s sports, you have to put aside any political views. It had nothing to do with politics.”

And soon, he may get to do the same thing with President Emmanuel Macron.

“The French federation of racing is working on having me go and meet with the president of France,” Pagenaud said. “We’ll see if it happens. I hope it does. Because it’s definitely a huge achievement. For the young kids who are coming up in racing in France. It’s a huge achievement for our sport, for racing in France.”

Pagenaud goes out of his way to note that it was an honor to be at the White House “as a Frenchman.” But he has lived in the U.S. since the mid-2000s, and it’s clear that his affinity for his adopted country is strong – so strong, in fact, that he will consider applying for dual citizenship after he marries his American fiancee, Hailey McDermott.

“It’s a difficult subject for me, because I still feel like my French roots are very strong,” he said. “But in the meantime, America has welcomed me with such open arms that I feel Americanized. And when you read articles or you hear people talk about me everywhere in France, they say I’m Americanized – they say I’m the `French American.’ I’ve adopted your culture so much. My future wife is American, she’s from San Diego. I talk English 80 percent of the time. And my way of thinking is more American than French now. So I am Americanized. I can’t deny it.”

The couple is not entirely disassociated from politics; during qualifying at Indianapolis in May, McDermott and Ashley Welch, the fiancee of Pagenaud’s Penske teammate Josef Newgarden, wore T-shirts that said, “Not YOUR Body, Not YOUR Choice,” a statement about abortion policy.

She posted a photo of the team from the White House on her Instagram account , writing, “Today we got to meet the POTUS (at)realdonaldtrump and regardless of political views, it was an honor to be recognized at the (at)whitehouse.”

For his part, Pagenaud said he enjoyed meeting Trump, whom the team presented with a souvenir racing helmet.

“He was very down to Earth,” Pagenaud said. “Very easy to talk to.”

Pagenaud appreciated his tours of the Capitol and the White House, where he was particularly impressed by the art, decor and some behind-the-scenes access.

“Rooms where you can’t take your cellphone, so I can’t describe that too much,” Pagenaud said. “That was just, honestly, incredible to experience that, and it’s something that I’ll always have engraved in my memory.”

Pagenaud has only been home for two nights since winning Indy – and that includes just a few hours on Monday night, before flying to Milwaukee for a media tour to promote next weekend’s race at Road America. He’s still plowing through responses to the 2,500-plus messages he received since his Indy win.

He doesn’t appear to be running on fumes. Asked to name his favorite moment since winning Indy, he quickly decides that it was pouring milk on himself in victory lane and then proceeds to rattle off four or five more things that he thought were really cool.

“I think as an ambassador of the Indy 500, I really want to push it further,” Pagenaud said. “I want to push it to other countries. I want to make sure the race is recognized as it is. It’s the biggest race in the world. It should be talked about everywhere. I want to make sure I can do that, and help as much as I can.”

Houston Supercross by the numbers: Five riders begin to gap the field

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Chase Sexton stumbled in San Diego and Eli Tomac had a hard fall in Anaheim 2, but the Monster Energy Supercross numbers for Houston suggest they will continue to be the ones to beat in Houston. To do so, they will have to turn back challenges from another pair of riders who have swept the top five in the first three rounds and another with a worst finish of sixth.

Houston Supercross numbers
Cooper Webb’s ability to close races makes him a Houston favorite. – Feld Motor Sports

Despite an accident in his heat in San Diego that sent him to the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ), Sexton recovered to score a top-five that weekend. His podium finish in Anaheim 1 and overall win last week in Anaheim 2 makes him one of the three riders with a perfect top-five record. He is joined by Cooper Webb, who finished second in the first two rounds and fourth last week, and Ken Roczen, whose consistency in the first three races contributed to him grabbing the top spot in this week’s NBC Supercross Power Rankings.

There are reasons to believe Webb and Roczen can keep those streaks alive.

Webb is the only multiple winner at Supercross’ current Houston stadium. His pair of wins came in 2019 and 2021, the same year he won his two 450 championships.

Clinton Fowler points out this week, that Webb has carried that strength into 2023. Webb had a late surge in Anaheim 1, advancing from fifth to second in the final six laps. In San Diego, he set his ninth fastest lap with two to go and his eighth fastest on the final lap. He posted his fastest lap of Anaheim 2 on Lap 12 while the rest of the field did so on Lap 6 on average.

By comparison, Tomac set his 14th fastest lap on the final circuit in route to winning the Main at San Diego while he was trying to keep Webb at bay.

With a sixth at San Diego, Dylan Ferrandis barely missed sweeping the top five in his first three races as did Tomac with a sixth last week at Anaheim 2.

This will be the 46th year Supercross has visited Houston and with 55 races the city is tied for the second-most with Detroit.

Jim Pomeroy won the first race in the Astrodome during the inaugural season of 1974 on a 250, which was the premiere class at the time. Houston was one of three races held that year along with events at Daytona International Speedway and the Los Angeles Coliseum. All three venues return in 2023 with the first SuperMotocross championship finale returning to the famed LA Coliseum in September.

Webb won most recently in 2021 in the final race of three held there that year as the series executed a strategy of racing in residencies to limit travel during height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomac and Justin Barcia also won in Houston in 2021.

Two privateers have started the season on a high note.

Joshua Cartwright and Joshua Varize have each made the last two Mains. Cartwright finished 18th in San Diego and 21st last week in Anaheim 2 – all while working fulltime as a Business Intelligence Analyst at the University of Texas, Dallas. Varize earned a top-15 (12th) in San Diego and was 21st in Anaheim 2 in his third season on a 450.

Michael Mosiman scored his first 250 win last year in San Diego. – Feld Motor Sports

The numbers show none of the active 250 Supercross East riders have won in Houston, so no matter who steps on top of the box, there is going to be a fresh face. That is not surprising since most of the top competitors have not raced at this venue yet.

Michael Mosiman has a pair of top-fives there, however. His best finish was a second in the second 2021 race. Garrett Marchbanks scored a top-10 in his rookie season of 2019 in Houston.

In the 250 East division, Hunter Lawrence is one of the favorites to win the title now that Christian Craig has moved to 450s. Last year he had four wins and nine podiums, but failed to set a fast lap in a race.

The other 250 riders with 2022 wins this week are Mosiman, who earned his first Supercross win last year in San Diego, and Nate Thrasher, who became the fifth new class winner at Daytona.

Jeremy Martin will attempt to extend a record this week in Houston. His division leading SuperMotocross podiums number 65. He has 26 wins in the combined sessions, which ranks fourth all time.

Last Five Houston Winners

450s
2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Cooper Webb
2021, Race 2: Eli Tomac
2021, Race 1: Justin Barcia
2020, no race
2019, Cooper Webb
2018, Jason Anderson

250s
2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Colt Nichols
2021, Race 2: Jett Lawrence
2021, Race 1: Christian Craig
2020, no race
2019, Dylan Ferrandis
2018, Aaron Plessinger

By the Numbers

Anaheim 2
San Diego

More SuperMotocross coverage

Supercross unveils 16th edition of a Ricky Carmichael designed Daytona track
Power Rankings after week 3
Malcom Stewart out for “extended duration” after knee surgery
Haiden Deegan makes Supercross debut in Houston, Justin Cooper to 450s
Talon Hawkins set to relieve injured Jalek Swoll in Houston
Jalek Swoll out for an indefinite period with broken arm
Ken Roczen urgently needed a change
Chris Blose joins Pro Circuit Kawasaki in 250 East opener
Seth Hammaker to miss Houston with wrist injury
Jo Shimoda joins Seth Hammaker, Austin Forkner on injured list
Injury sidelines Austin Forkner for remainder of 2023 SX
Chase Sexton wins Anaheim 2 in 450s; Levi Kitchen takes 250s
Results and points from Anaheim 2