Justin Barcia wins second straight Supercross opener in Anaheim

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Last year Justin Barcia faced a heavy, muddy track in the Monster Energy Supercross opener at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, Calif. He powered through that gloomy night to win and take the early points lead. On Saturday night, Barcia battled a nearly perfect track but the result was the same. With an advantage of 5.6 seconds, he won back-to-back openers.

“That was an incredible race,” Justin Barcia told NBCSN after the race. “I didn’t want to win this race. My goal was just to get out of here safe and healthy. I just want to be on the podium a lot this year and be in a fight for the championship because I haven’t been able to do that.”

But the resolution to ride a safe race was put to the test when he bobbled halfway through the event and handed the lead over to a rookie rider. With a comfortable two-second lead, Barcia jumped right and landed on the tough blocks. That was all Adam Cianciarulo needed to pounce and lead his first 450 race in the Supercross season opener.

As riders move up in class, it is supposed to become increasingly difficult to win. Someone forgot to tell Cianciarulo. After winning last fall’s Monster Cup in Las Vegas, he had his sight set on the top spot of the podium. Fate has a way of leveling things, however, and with a two-second lead of his own, Cianciarulo landed hard and almost crashed.

“Justin made a mistake,” Cianciarulo told NBCSN after the race. “Went off and then Justin squared off under me. I thought we were both going to die off that next rhythm section. Man, it was just so much fun racing him.

“And then I spun out on the triple there. Thank God He blessed me with some long legs. I was able to save that. Knocked the wind out of myself for a good 20-30 seconds. Got back going again, tried to get closer, but he really put a good last couple of laps.”

The iron man performance belonged to last year’s champion.

Battling the flu, Cooper Webb could hardly speak when the night began. He got off to slow starts in both his Heat and in the Main, but as the race progressed he was able to regain his form. Webb climbed to third at the end of the race. It was not his first iron man performance. Webb won last year in New Jersey while he was also battling illness.

Blake Baggett and Jason Anderson rounded out the top five.

Two of the riders who challenged Webb throughout the 2019 season got off to slow starts.

After finishing second in his heat, Ken Roczen failed to launch in the Main. He finished sixth.

Eli Tomac is known for getting off to slow starts in races. He is usually able to make up for that and charge to the lead or at least the podium, but after riding outside the top 10 in the opening minutes, he recovered to finish only seventh at Anaheim 1.

Justin Cooper kept the pressure on Austin Forkner and won his first major race in the 250 West class. Feld Entertainment Inc.

More: Riders attempt to Supercross holeshot with Anaheim win

Anaheim is becoming a venue filled with surprises. In the 250 class there were two. The most pleasant one at Anaheim 1 was Justin Cooper winning his first major race. A less pleasing surprise was how he took the lead.

Cooper had the lead at the gate drop, but it didn’t take very long for Austin Forkner to get around him. Normally at that stage, Forkner would ride away from the competition if his record in the 250 East class last year was any gauge, but Cooper kept him in sight and closed the gap. With five minutes remaining in the race, that was enough to cause Forkner into an unforced error.

“I saw [Forkner] jump right and I started to check up,” Cooper told NBCSN after the race. “But in the air, there is nothing you can do there. He got in the tough blocks.

“The track was tough. We were all making mistakes, but I was trying to pressure him into that mistake right there. I ended up being patient and it worked out.”

Last year’s champion got off to a slow start in the Main. Dylan Ferrandis was mired outside the top five in the first few minutes. He rode back into the top three and was also able to take advantage of Forkner’s mistake to climb onto the second rung of the podium.

Forkner felt he had something to prove in the opening round of the 250 West series. He was denied the opportunity to win the East championship last year because of an injury and nothing was more difficult than missing those final races. He rehabbed, but nothing replaces race experience.

“Just first race jitters,” Forkner said after the race. “I haven’t raced since I tore my ACL last year, so it’s been a while. That’s the longest I’ve gone without racing. Everyone is nervous at A1, but for me I felt I was a little bit more.

“I had that one. Obviously, you guys saw what happened, I just kind of landed, just kind of got a little deep and shot off to the right just a little bit, and we were already landing pretty close to the edge and the Tough Blocks, and it was just – end of story. That was my fault, you know, I’ll just own up to that one. I felt like I had that one in the bag and that was leading to a pretty solid race. I think I would’ve held off and got the win.”

Forkner finished the race in third, but he was penalized two positions for cutting the track and credited with fifth.

That elevated Christian Craig to the third for his first podium since Anaheim 2 last year.

Michael Mosiman finished fourth. In his third year of competition, Mosiman entered the season with big expectations that this will be a magical year.

450s

Heat 1: Honda swept the podium in Heat 1. Justin Brayton made his return to the manufacturer a successful one with his win over teammate Ken Roczen. “I just don’t think I’ve reached my full potential to be honest,” Brayton told NBCSN after winning Heat 1. “I just keep getting better and better. I keep learning more technique.” He was 1.7 seconds ahead of his teammate Roczen. Vince Friese took the final spot on the podium with Eli Tomac fourth. Tomac got off to a slow start and was  running eighth early after getting pushed offline by Friese while they were battling for second. Charging back through the field Tomac knocked Malcolm Stewart’s bike out from under him. Stewart literally had to chase his bike down like a rodeo rider chasing a horse. Once he corralled the errant bike, he climbed back on and finished seventh to transfer to the Main. Kyle Chisholm took the final transfer spot in ninth. Tyler Bowers was the first rider on the outside looking in. Click here for Heat 1 results.

Heat 2: Justin Barcia picked up where he left off in 2019 in the opening round of the Supercross season. He won the Heat by 3.4 seconds over Adam Cianciarulo. The rookie rider had an adventurous race. Two minutes into his 450 career, he was pushed off line by Justin Hill and fell back to fifth. He overcame that bobble quickly to get back into the second position. Battling the flu, last year’s champion Cooper Webb put in a brave performance to take the final spot on the podium. Webb grabbed that spot on the final lap – passing Hill – while Jason Anderson lurked and waited for them to make a mistake. Anderson finished fifth. Zach Osborne crashed while riding second midway through the heat. Click here for Heat 2 results.

LCQ: Zach Osborne won handily over Chad Reed with a margin of 2.8 seconds. Neither rider needed to take very many risks. The story was different for Tyler Bowers and Aaron Plessinger, however. They were embroiled in a three-rider battle for the final transfer. Plessinger seemed to have the position handily until he bobbled on the whoops and took the final spot in a photo finish with Bowers and Kyle Cunningham, who ended up as the first man out. Click here for LCQ results.

250s

Heat 1: Alex Martin got the early jump on the field, but he left some drama in his wake. Austin Forkner and Justin Cooper were battling for second when Forkner got pushed offline in Turn 1. Falling back to fourth, Forkner had to put the incident behind him and charge back toward the lead. While Forkner was climbing out of his hole Cooper passed Martin on the next lap and then cruised to an easy win. Forkner climbed back to third. Click here for Heat 1 results.

Heat 2: Dylan Ferrandis grabbed the hole show and led the first lap. He managed a steady pace and ended with a five-second margin over Christian Craig. Cameron McAdoo took the last spot on the podium. Carson Brown took the final transfer position. The highlight reel was headed by Martin Castello when he crashed with Mitchell Oldenburg early in the heat. Oldenburg bounced back to finish eighth and transfer. Castello was racing hard with Brown for the final spot, but slipped slightly on the final lap. Click here for Heat 2 results.

LCQ: Michael Mosiman won the Last Chance Qualifier over Mitchell Falk to add his Husqvarna to the Main. Logan Karnow finished third. Meanwhile, the battle for the final transfer spot crew in intensity. Chris Howell caught up to the rear wheel of Taiki Koga in the final laps, but was unable to get by him until the final corner. Heading to the checkered flag, Howell bonsaied his way inside of Koga, pushed his rival to the tough blocks (but not beyond) and stole the final transfer position when he stalled Koga’s momentum. Click here for LCQ results.

Click here for 450 Overall Results | Season Points
Click here for 250 Overall Results | Season Points

Next race: January 11, Dome at America’s Center, St. Louis, Mo.

Season passes can be purchased at NBC Sports Gold.

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Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.