Feld Entertainment Inc

Statement made as Austin Forkner closes in on 250 points lead

Leave a comment

The 2019 Monster Energy Supercross season started perfectly for Austin Forkner. After winning five of the first six events and finishing third in the other race, it seemed like nothing could derail his effort of winning the 250 East championship. That is until he suffered a torn ACL at Nashville with two races remaining.

“Last year I felt like everything was going completely smooth,” Forkner told NBC Sports. “Everything was just running perfectly. I don’t know what it was about last year. After you win two or three races in row then you get confidence and you can do anything.

“It’s hard to beat anybody who has that much confidence. I have yet to go on a win streak this year. My confidence is good, but when you’re winning race after race after race, you just feel like nobody can touch you. That extra bit of confidence: the mind’s a powerful thing when you think like that.”

Forkner tried to return for East Rutherford near the end of the 2019 season, but his knee couldn’t stand up to the pressure. Losing the championship was more painful than the injury itself.

For 2020, Forkner has moved into the 250 West series and admitted to having extra pressure to perform in the opening race. Judged by his standards, Forkner felt he rode badly in the prelims. By the time the main rolled around, he found his rhythm. Last year’s near-champion challenged for the win before a mistake cost him the opportunity and sent him under the checkered flag third.

Forkner was credited with fifth after being penalized two positions for cutting the course.

On the heels of that disappointing race, Forkner needed to make a statement, which is just what he did the following week at St. Louis. He obliterated the field to score his first win of the season.

“I feel like I made the statement in St. Louis with a dominant race there,” Forkner said. “Then I had a bad race at Anaheim 2.”

Last week at Glendale, the clock reset. It was time to make another statement.

Forkner won the first two races of the first Triple Crown event of the season and became the first repeat 250 winner. An aggressive move on Christian Craig in the first race moved him to second. Then, he made short work of Alex Martin and sailed to the finish. Midway though the second race, he passed Derek Drake and won unchallenged. With one race remaining, he had two wins under his belt.

“It was just good to (run well at Glendale),” Forkner said. “It was really a statement race to myself – to have a bounce-back race. I was down in points too because I crashed at A2 and finished 17th. I was 22 points out, and then I went from 22 points out to 10 points out to the leader. … When you’re that far out of the lead, it’s like there is a big hole – and then it got cut in half, plus some. That has made everything a little easier.”

It wasn’t enough to win and make a statement to himself. Forkner needed to alert the competition. Never mind that he has only two wins in the first four races compared to a sweep of the podium last year at this juncture, he is still the rider to beat.

“The first two motos, I wanted to put it down and show those guys that I’m up there,” Forkner said. “That I’m not here to mess around; I’m here to get it done.

“It’s never good to think about not making a mistake; ‘don’t do what you did last week’. When you think like that, things happen. It’s better to just ride, and push, and try to go as fast as you can.”

The hard crash at Anaheim 2 lurked in Forkner’s memory. In that race he ran well until the incident cost him the victory.

In Glendale, he had a cushion by winning the first two motos, but another crash in back to back weeks would easily cost him the overall.

There were plenty of opportunities to crash. With only one more chance to make an impression, the start of race three was chaotic as riders vied for the holeshot.

“I didn’t get the greatest start (to race three),” Forkner said. “We were all kind of pinballing off each other the first couple of laps. It kind of spooked me a little bit I guess, so I was like ‘don’t do anything stupid. Don’t let anybody come and take you out’ and ruin my shot at the overall. Just ride my race and do what I have to do.”

Forkner found a safe place to ride and settled into a rhythm. Only then did he start to charge. Forkner knows that it is going to races like that to string victories together. There is a time to be aggressive and a time to bide one’s time.

“(It may seem like I’m more aggressive) because I’ve made more mistake this year than I did last year,” Forkner said. “A season like last season doesn’t happen very often. To win that many races. I’m not bummed about it, but I probably need to work on that a little bit, to try and get my mindset a little stronger and just start clicking off more consistent wins and everything else will come together after that.”

IndyCar’s revised schedule gives Tony Kanaan an extra race in 2020

INDYCAR Photo by Joe Skibinski
Leave a comment

Tony Kanaan got a bit of good news when the latest revised NTT IndyCar Series schedule was released Monday.

Kanaan’s “Ironman Streak” of 317 consecutive starts would have concluded with the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 15. That race was postponed, and the races that followed have been canceled or rescheduled later in the year. The season tentatively is scheduled to start June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway.

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is the reason for the tentative nature of this year’s 2020 NTT IndyCar Series schedule.

Kanaan, the 2004 IndyCar Series champion and 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner, started the season with a limited schedule for A.J. Foyt Racing in the No. 14 Chevrolet. That schedule included all five oval races, including the 104th Indianapolis 500.

A silver lining for Kanaan is that this year’s trip to Iowa Speedway will be a doubleheader, instead of a single oval contest. His schedule has grown from five to six races for 2020, should the season start on time with the June 6 contest at Texas Motor Speedway and the additional race at Iowa.

“I’m really happy that IndyCar has been very proactive about the schedule and keeping us posted with the plans,” Kanaan told NBCSports.com Tuesday afternoon from his home in Indianapolis. “I’m double happy that now with Iowa being a doubleheader, I’m doing six races instead of five.”

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Kanaan’s “Last Lap” is something that many fans and competitors in IndyCar want to celebrate. He has been a fierce foe on the track but also a valued friend outside the car to many of his fellow racers.

He also has been quite popular with fans and likely is the most popular Indianapolis 500 driver of his generation.

Scott Dixon was Kanaan’s teammate at Chip Ganassi Racing from 2013-17. At one time, they were foes but eventually became friends.

“I hope it’s not T.K.’s last 500,” Dixon told NBCSports.com. “I was hoping T.K. would get a full season. That has changed. His first race of what was going to his regular season was going to be the 500. Hopefully, that plays out.

“You have to look at T.K. for who he is, what he has accomplished and what he has done for the sport. He has been massive for the Indianapolis 500, for the city of Indianapolis to the whole culture of the sport. He is a legend of the sport.

“We had our differences early in our career and had problems in 2002 and 2003 and 2004 when we were battling for championships. We fought for race wins and championships in the 2000s. I’ve been on both sides, where he was fighting against me in a championship or where he was fighting with me to go for a championship. He is a hell of a competitor; a fantastic person.

“I hope it’s not his last, but if it is, I hope it’s an extremely successful one for him this season.”

Even before Kanaan joined Chip Ganassi Racing, Dixon admitted he couldn’t help but be drawn to Kanaan’s personality.

“T.K. is a very likable person,” Dixon said. “You just have to go to dinner with the guy once, and you understand why that is. The ups and downs were a competitive scenario where he was helping you for a win or helping someone else for a win. There was never a dislike or distrust. We always got along very well.

“We are very tight right now and really close. He is a funny-ass dude. He has always been a really good friend for me, that’s for sure.”

Back in 2003 when both had come to the old Indy Racing League after beginning their careers in CART, the two drivers were racing hard for the lead at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan on April 13, 2003. They were involved in a hard crash in Turn 2 that left Kanaan broken up with injuries. IRL officials penalized Dixon for “aggressive driving.” Dixon had to sit out the first three days of practice for the next race – the 2003 Indianapolis 500.

Kanaan recovered in time and did not miss any racing. He started second and finished third in that year’s Indy 500.

“We were racing hard and going for the win,” Dixon recalled of the Motegi race. “It was a crucial part of the season. Everybody has to be aggressive. I respect Tony for that. He was not letting up. That is what I always saw with Tony, how hard the guy will push. He will go to the absolute limit, and that is why he was inspiring and why he was a successful driver.

“Those moments are blips. You might not talk to the guy for a week, but then you are back on track. T.K. is very close with our family and we are with his.”

This season, because of highly unusual circumstances, T.K.’s IndyCar career will last for one more race than previously scheduled.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500