Adam Cianciarulo’s path to 250 championship had pressure valves

Vanessa O'Brien, KawasakiUSA
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When the dust settled at Ironman Raceway last week, Adam Cianciarulo hoisted the red plate and claimed his first Lucas Oil Pro Motocross championship less than four months after he took a hard tumble at Las Vegas in the Supercross 250 West finale and handed that championship to Dylan Ferrandis.

On paper it may have looked easy – but that is never the case at the top level of Motocross competition.

Cianciarulo took the points lead at Hangtown and never relinquished it. He remarkably stood on the overall podium in all 12 rounds. With a record like that, he should have run away from the field. Cianciarulo won the first four overalls and five of the first six races. At the end of Round 4, he had a points lead of 42 and his sight set on the magic number of 50 – which would have been one complete weekend of points.

But a final tally of +20 points suggests his championship was never without question.

Behind him in second in the points were two different riders. Justin Cooper was his principal rival for the first six rounds when Dylan Ferrandis took over that position and pressured the man he beat for the SX championship by winning four of the last six overall races.

Cianciarulo was almost as dominant in individual races as he was in the overall. He finished third or better in 20 of 24 motos in 2019.

Almost is the operative word, however. Built into his season were pressure-relief valves and they kept the points tight.

Since the Motocross points system is based on each individual race and not the overall finish, fifth-place finishes in the first motos at WW Ranch in Jacksonville, Fla. and at RedBud in Buchanan, Mich. robbed him of a lot of momentum. Those two races were key components in Cianciarulo seeing his points lead drop from 42 to 25 by the time Ferrandis rode into second at RedBud. Ferrandis would not be as easy to gap as Cooper.

With the magic mark of 50 out of Cianciarulo’s grasp, he kept his lead above 25 points for the remainder of the season.

While Ferrandis was winning four of the last six overalls, Cianciarulo refused to give up any significant ground. At Washougal and Unadilla, he finished just behind the contender and actually bettered Ferrandis at Budds Creek in the penultimate round. In that race, however, Cianciarulo had another pressure valve give way as he finished fifth in the second moto to keep the margin at 30.

“I really did not want to sit in the rig for 45 minutes between (motos) and stress about it the whole time,” Cianciarulo said on NBC Sports Gold after Moto 1 last week.

At Ironman for the finale, both Ferrandis and Cianciarulo did what they needed to do. Ferrandis won the first moto; Cianciarulo crossed under the checkers second, which kept his lead at more than 25 points and secured the championship.

Cadillac confirms WEC driver lineup with Chip Ganassi Racing that will race Le Mans in 2023

Cadillac Ganassi Le Mans
Cadillac Racing
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Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing announced their driver lineup for a 2023 entry in the FIA World Endurance Championship, the sports car series that includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The Cadillac V-LMDh entry will be driven by Earl Bamber and Alex Lynn, who were teamed on the No. 02 Cadillac that competed in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship DPi class this season and won the Twelve Hours of Sebring. The third driver will be Richard Westbrook, who will return to Ganassi after helping the team to a GT class win at Le Mans in 2018.

The team also will compete in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the rebranded Grand Touring Prototype premier category, which is designed for crossover between the top prototypes in IMSA and WEC. Ganassi will field a second entry at Daytona with its No. 01 Cadillac that will compete full time in IMSA with Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande.

A Ganassi spokesman said the team hopes to run its second entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans but only its WEC team is confirmed (an AOC invitation would be required for the IMSA team). The team also is exploring options but currently plans to have the WEC’s team base of operations in Indianapolis.

Ganassi is the first American-based prototype team to confirm its entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans. It’s expected that Team Penske, which raced this year’s Le Mans with a full-time WEC entry in LMP2, also will race Le Mans with Porsche’s new LMDh car that is set for IMSA, but the manufacturer has yet to confirm its driver and team lineup.

Next year will mark the return of Cadillac to Le Mans for the first time since 2002.

Before joining Ganassi last year, Lynn made 28 WEC starts since 2016, winning the LMGTE Pro class at Le Mans in 2020.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to continue with Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing,” Lynn said in a release. “It’s a huge honor to drive for Chip in any capacity but certainly on a full factory sports car program, it’s seriously cool. Cadillac has so much heritage as a luxury North American sports car brand, so to be able to represent them is a huge privilege. I’ve had a lot of fun in my first year doing it and to continue that onto the World Endurance Championship stage is fantastic.

“For me, returning to WEC is sort of what I’ve always known and it’s a bit like going into my wheelhouse. This year in IMSA was a bit different with getting to know all-new circuits and a new style of racing so 2023 will be filled with a bit more of what I’m used to with more of a European focus. I think what’s significant about WEC is without a doubt Le Mans. As a sports car race, Le Mans is the crown jewel and everything that we want to win. To be able to take Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac back to Le Mans to fight for overall honors is a huge honor and that’s something that I’m going to work tirelessly to make sure we achieve.”

Bamber won the Le Mans overall in 2015 and ’17 with Porsche teams and also was a 2019 GTLM champion in IMSA.

“I am really happy to continue at Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac,” Bamber said in a release. “I’ve loved my first season in DPi and now to continue over into the LMDh era and WEC is super exciting. Looking forward to fighting for a world championship and another Le Mans victory.

“The World Endurance Championships gives us the opportunity to race at the world’s biggest race, which is Le Mans, the crown jewel of sports car racing. I’ve been lucky enough to win it before and it’s obviously a huge goal for Cadillac and everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing. To have that goal in sight is really exciting. It’s been great to have Alex as a teammate in 2022. We’ve been able to learn and grow together in the DPi, and we have a really good partnership going into WEC. We know each other really well and believe adding Richard will be a seamless transition.”

Said Westbrook: “After four really good years at Chip Ganassi Racing, I’ve got so many friends there and I’ve always dreamt to come back one day. It just worked so well between 2016 and 2019, and I’m delighted we found a route to come together again. I can’t wait, it’s an exciting era in sports car racing right now.

“I feel like I know Alex and Earl really well. I did Le Mans with Alex in 2020 and I’ve known him for years. It feels like I’m going back with an ex-teammate and exactly the same with Earl. Although I’ve never shared a car with Earl, we’ve always done the same sort of racing be it in WEC or in IMSA. We’ve had lots of battles, including this year in our dueling Cadillacs. We’ve always gotten along quite well, and I can say we’re going to have a great year together.”

The seven-race WEC season, which also includes a stop at Spa, will begin March 17 with the 1,000 Miles of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway in Florida.