Supercross: Cooper Webb’s winning Wednesday ways continue in Utah

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Cooper Webb kept his slim hopes alive Wednesday night of defending his Supercross title.

The defending series champion cruised to his third 450 victory in 2020 and second since the Monster Energy AMA Supercross season was restarted May 31 at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City.

Webb passed Ken Roczen out of the opening turn and led all 26 laps, winning by more than 4 seconds over Zach Osborne in Round 14.

Webb also won Round 12 (on a Wednesday) and finished second Sunday in Round 13 and third in Round 11, which marked Supercross’ return after an 85-day layoff because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“Man, every win is awesome,” the KTM rider told NBCSN. “Great race. Led every lap, first time to do that all year, which is awesome. Kenny was riding really well; we were putting in some heaters. Started hitting my stride. Regained my focus, was able to ride my laps, but I ended up getting a decent lead.

“It was cool to be able to enjoy that a little more. Not so stressful.”

Webb moved up a spot into second place in the standings and trails Eli Tomac, who finished third Wednesday, by 27 points with three events remaining.

Tomac has four podiums — two wins, a second and a third — during Supercross’ Salt Lake City residency. He rebounded Wednesday from a rough start that left him mired in the pack on the opening lap.

“Was just trying to watch front a little bit and claw my way forward there,” the Kawasaki rider said. “That was just way too buried, went to inside on the start trying to play the safe game but was too many guys back into the first turn.

“That’s all I had. Thre’s a lot of fast guys in this class, so third was kind of acceptable. But gotta be farther up next time on that start.”

After briefly taking the lead at the 7-minute mark from Webb, Roczen faded to a fifth-place finish and dropped to third in the standings, 29 points behind Tomac.

In a postrace interview with NBCSN, Roczen, who finished 10th in Round 13, said he had been battling illness.

“I just definitely had another viral flareup,” he said. “Two days is not enough to get back to 100% so unfortunately just have to deal with this now. I feel I’m riding good, the team’s working great, and I’m getting good starts. I’m trying to hang in there.

“All I can do is try. Come back again on Sunday and have a few more days and hopefully make another step forward and battle up front.”

Osborne scored his second podium of the past four races.

“I feel we’re building some momentum here,” Osborne told NBCSN. “I’ve been enjoying this Salt Lake trip a lot. Really refreshing for me. I feel I’m in a good headspace.

“We made some good changes during the break, and that was really key for me. It’s nice to just build some momentum. Nice to be up here and feel like I belong again.”

In the 250 West division, which was competing for the first time in 123 days, Austin Forkner led wire to wire for his third victory of the season.

“This has been the hottest race of the season and also at altitude,” Forkner told NBCSN. ” I think everyone could agree this is probably one of the toughest races of the season. The track was good, though. At the 8- to 12-minute mark, I was being too cautious. At the end, the last lap, I hit them super good.

“I knew that’s what it was going to take and I wasn’t going to make a mistake other than the whoops. I just gripped and held on. It was awesome.”

Forkner moved up a spot to second in the standings, 10 points behind championship leader Dylan Ferrandis, who rebounded to finish second Wednesday after crashing in a heat race and starting poorly. Cameron McAdoo finished third.

“I think it was just frustration with the altitude and heat,” Ferrandis said. “It was harder than all of the previous main events this season. Really hard on the body. I feel it. The night started really bad with crashing in the heat race, and I had a  bad gate for main event. But got a good start, and the bike was so awesome. I tried to make the best of it.

“This main event was really hard. Congrats to Austin. I think he really worked hard in this break to beat me today because I pushed, and I didn’t have enough so congrats to him. Happy to finish second because the day was not really great for me, and it’s good for the championship.”

James Hinchcliffe on Andretti: ‘It’s certainly the place I want to be’

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Since before the start of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, James Hinchcliffe tirelessly has worked to ensure the future would include a full-time return in 2021.

And with an opportunity to run the final three races this season with Andretti Autosport, there seems a surefire (albeit unlikely) path.

“If I go out and win all three,” Hinchcliffe joked with IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview Friday (watch the video above), “it would be hard for them to say no, right?”

Regardless of whether he can go unbeaten at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next weekend or the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida (where he earned his first career win in 2013), Hinchcliffe will have the chance to improve his stock with the team that he knows well and now has an opening among its five cars for 2021.

All three of Hinchcliffe’s starts this season — the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, July 4 at the IMS road course and the Indianapolis 500 — were with Andretti, where he ran full time in IndyCar from 2012-14.

“Obviously, the plan from January 2020 was already working on ’21 and trying to be in a full-time program,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed being reunited with Andretti Autosport, and everybody there has been so supportive. It’s been a very fun year for me on track. It’s been kind of a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways.

“It’s certainly the place I want to be moving forward. We’ve been working on that, working on those conversations. Genesys has been an incredible partner in my three races. We’ll be representing Gainbridge primarily, but Genesys will still have a position on our car in the last three.”

Gainbridge is the primary sponsor of the No. 26 Dallara-Honda that was vacated by Zach Veach, who left the team after it was determined he wouldn’t return in 2021. Hinchcliffe can empathize having lost his ride with Arrow McLaren SP after last season with a year left on his deal.

“You never want to earn a ride at the expense of somebody else in the sense that has happened here with Zach,” Hinchcliffe said. “I feel bad that he’s not able to see out the last three races of his season. I’ve got a lot of respect for him off track. He’s been a teammate this year, a colleague for years before that and honestly a friend for years before that. I’ve got a lot of time for him and his family. I understand a little bit of what it’s like in that position and what he’s going through.”

Hinchcliffe is ready to seize the moment, though, starting with the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had been hoping to add the Harvest Indy Grand Prix to his schedule and had been working out for the possibility.

“Then last week I had given up hope (and) was resigned that wasn’t happening,” he said. “I told my trainer, ‘I think we’re done for this year.’ Three days later, this call comes. I’m glad we didn’t make that decision too early. I feel great physically.

“I look at it as a great opportunity to continue to show I’ve still got what it takes and should be there hopefully full time next year on the grid.”

Watch Hinchliffe’s video with Leigh Diffey above or by clicking here.