Vanessa O'Brien, KawasakiUSA

Adam Cianciarulo’s path to 250 championship had pressure valves

Leave a comment

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.

Newgarden, Rossi ready for a red-white-and-blue INDYCAR finale

1 Comment

MONTEREY, California – In an international series that personifies diversity from all over the globe, the two main combatants in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship are from the United States.

Josef Newgarden of Tennessee takes a 41-point lead over Alexander Rossi of Northern California into Sunday’s double-points season finale at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca. This year’s Indianapolis 500 winner, Simon Pagenaud of France, is just 42 points out of the lead.

It’s been quite a while since the two drivers entering the final race of the season were both Americans. Four of the top 10 drivers in the series are from the United States. Last year, five of the top 10 were from the USA.

All but one race in the 17-race NTT IndyCar Series schedule is contested in the United States.

Patriotism still matters in IndyCar.

“I think so,” said Andretti Autosport driver Rossi, who is the last American driver to win the Indianapolis 500 in 2016. “I know I’ve read a lot of things from other drivers saying, ‘It doesn’t matter, it’s not important, no one cares.’

“I can’t really get onboard with that.

“I think me as an American, growing up, being a fan of the Olympics and everything, like you cheer for Americans, right? That’s what you do as a patriotic person. Canadians cheer for James. We see the Swedish contingent that comes to the races for Marcus Ericsson and Felix Rosenqvist.

Getty Images“I think Americans will cheer for Americans. I would love to see an American to win the championship. I think it’s important for the young kids watching hoping to be IndyCar drivers one day, that they see someone who grew up in Tennessee or California or wherever. It’s like, there’s a lot of relate-ability to that for a young kid with aspirations of being a racecar driver.”

Since Sam Hornish, Jr. won the final of his three IndyCar Series championships in 2006, just two American drivers have won the title – Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2012 and Newgarden in 2017. During that span, Scott Dixon of New Zealand won four of his five NTT IndyCar Series championships and Dario Franchitti of Scotland won all four of his IndyCar titles.

The last time two Americans had a chance to win the championship in the final race of the season came in 2001 when Hornish won the championship over Colorado’s Buddy Lazier. Connecticut’s Scott Sharp was third and Arizona’s Billy Boat was fourth in the final standings that year.

That was a much different time and place for IndyCar. At that time, many of the top drivers were in CART while the old Indy Racing League featured a predominantly American lineup. Once unification brought the two sides together in 2008, the championships have been fought on American soil, but international drivers were victorious.

The last time two American drivers finished 1-2 in CART was 1996 when Jimmy Vasser of California defeated Pennsylvania’s Michael Andretti for the crown. In 1992, Bobby Rahal of Illinois defeated Andretti and Al Unser, Jr. of New Mexico for the CART title.

Prior to that, the IndyCar “National Championship” was dominated by drivers from the United States.

 

While Rossi openly choose to wrap himself in the American flag, it’s not as important to Newgarden.

“For me, it’s never been something I put a lot of emphasis on,” said the Team Penske driver. “I’m proud to have grown up in such a wonderful country as the United States, but what I’ve always loved about the IndyCar Series is that they bring the best of the best from around the world. That’s always been important to me.

“It means more I think when you have the best from all over the place coming to compete at the Indianapolis 500, during the whole championship. You really feel like you have that in the IndyCar Series. You get the best drivers from around the world.

“To pair with that, I think we need strong Americans running, as well. So for sure, having guys like Alex and Graham Rahal, some young guys coming up like Colton Herta, myself, it’s really great to have young American competition representing as well and running so strongly.

“What I’ve always loved is the great mix of talent from around the world. To me that’s just so important. If it was all Americans running in the championship, I don’t think it would mean as much. I like that we have that great diversity and that great mix from around the world.”

Although these two drivers are both from the USA, they are fierce rivals. They have mutual respect for each other, but they sure aren’t considered close friends.

“Josef and I honestly aren’t that close,” Rossi admitted. “He never lived in Indy when I moved here, or he was just moving. I actually never really hung out with Josef.

“We obviously have a lot of respect for each other. We raced together for a short period of time in Europe. We have a lot of mutual friends.

“Josef and I don’t talk or socialize really. So, it doesn’t have any impact.”

Newgarden agrees that these two men choose to embrace the rivalry.

“I think it’s just really business,” Newgarden said. “He lives in Indianapolis. I live in Nashville. I don’t see him too often outside of the racetrack. We go and we compete. He’s a great competitor. He’s definitely a tremendous talent, has done a great job in his career.

“It’s been a good, competitive relationship I would say.”

With the return of American drivers capable of winning races, championships and Indianapolis 500s, it has sparked a rejuvenation in IndyCar racing. With drivers from all over the world fighting it out for glory, this series that was born and bred in the United States can take pride in featuring some of the best racing in the world as the series continues to grow in popularity.

“I think we just need to continue a focus on our product,” Rossi said. “I think we have the best race product on the planet in terms of entertainment, the variance of winners that we have throughout a season, how many guys are capable, teams are capable of winning races.

“But that’s an ever-moving target. I think IndyCar has done a good job of placing the priority on that. I just think we need to continue doing that and everything will be moving in the right direction.”