Adam Cianciarulo addresses unfinished business in Supercross opener at Houston


Adam Cianciarulo has unfinished business he hopes to take care of in the Supercross season opener at Houston, which kicks off Saturday, Jan. 16 at NRG Stadium.

Like nearly all persons making their living in or around sports, Cianciarulo had his share of difficulties in 2020. It’s just that his trouble started well before the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic halted activity for two months in the spring.

“You can’t think too far into the future,” Cianciarulo told reporters in this year’s preseason press conference. “You’ve got to stay present-minded. That was my goal last year in my rookie season. … I just wanted to get the win out of the way, that way this year would be a little more just going after that title.”

He nearly achieved his goal of winning a 450 Supercross race the very first week.

In the season-opener in Anaheim, Calif. Cianciarulo served notice that he would be a threat to win. Finishing second in his debut behind a surprisingly strong Justin Barcia, he was ahead of the two most recent champions Cooper Webb in third and Jason Anderson in fifth.

The rider who would go on to win the 2020 championship, Eli Tomac was further back in seventh.

A tendency to occasionally push too hard caused and recurring problem of numbness in his wrists Cianciarulo to finish no better than fourth in the next four rounds until he nearly achieved his goal of winning in his rookie season once more in San Diego.  This time he was second to Webb.

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Disaster struck for the rookie 450 class rider two weeks later.

Pressing hard on a Dragon’s Back in Arlington, Texas Cianciarulo’s season almost ended when he suffered a broken left collarbone in a practice crash. In fact it would have ended if the pandemic had not paused the season and gave him the opportunity for one more race in Salt Lake City before the outdoor season began.

Winning in Supercross is still a priority.

“I’m going after a race win for sure, just to knock that off the list – to get that monkey off my back,” Cianciarulo said. “I kind of did. That little bit of pressure of getting that first win on a 450 is gone now that I’ve got some wins in the outdoor season.”

Cianciarulo got his first 450 win at the Red Bud MX Nationals in Buchanan, Mich. last September. He didn’t have to wait long for his second. That came in the next race at Spring Creek MX Park in Millville, Minn.

The pandemic continues to make the task of hosting sporting events difficult. The number of active COVID cases in California makes it impractical to race there in 2021 so the Monster Energy Supercross schedule was announced earlier this year with a modification on last year’s strategy and races concentrated in the Midwest and East Coast.

Last year the series was the first to test out the bubble strategy in which all events were held in a single location. This was done to minimize travel and allow riders and teams to quarantine in pods. The 2021 schedule features mini-pods of three races each, beginning in Houston this Saturday, followed by Tuesday, Jan. 19 and Saturday, Jan. 23rd.

Now the sophomore rider gets the opportunity to experience some of the excitement he missed in his rookie season. Most importantly, fans will be in attendance in limited numbers.

“The fans are such a huge part of our sport,” Cianciarulo said. “It doesn’t feel like a complete Supercross event without them there. I didn’t get to race all of the Salt Lake City rounds, but going from Anaheim – those first few California races of 2020 – and then being there at Salt Lake for the first race (without fans).

“From that to the outdoor season when there weren’t that many fans. It’s very welcome to have the fans in the stands.

And for Cianciarulo a new season brings a few pre-race jitters no matter where the series races.

“It’s still the same kind of nerves I would feel lining up at Anaheim – maybe a little less because crowd is not going to be at full capacity,” Cianciarulo said. “It’s a little more of a chiller vibe, but when you get behind the gate and look to your right, look to your left and see all these amazing athletes next to you it’s still nerve-wracking.”

Most importantly, Cianciarulo will get to absorb some of the energy of NRG Stadium.

“I enjoy Houston,” Cianciarulo said. “The dirt’s really good. It’s my favorite football team as well, the Houston Texans. I’m excited to channel some Deshaun Watson energy.”

As expected, FIA denies granting Colton Herta a Super License to race in F1

Colton Herta Super License
Brian Spurlock/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The governing body for Formula One on Friday said IndyCar star Colton Herta will not be granted the Super License that the American needs to join the F1 grid next season.

“The FIA confirms that an enquiry was made via the appropriate channels that led to the FIA confirming that the driver Colton Herta does not have the required number of points to be granted an FIA Super Licence,” the FIA said in a statement.

The FIA decision was not a surprise.

Red Bull was interested in the 22-year-old Californian and considering giving Herta a seat at AlphaTauri, its junior team. AlphaTauri has already said that Pierre Gasly will return next season and Yuki Tsunoda received a contract extension earlier this week.

However, AlphaTauri has acknowledged it would release Gasly, who is apparently wanted at Alpine, but only if it had a compelling driver such as Herta to put in the car. F1 has not had an American on the grid since Alexander Rossi in 2015, but Herta did not particularly want the FIA to make an exception to the licensing system to get him a seat.

At issue is how the FIA rates IndyCar, a series it does not govern. The points it awards to IndyCar drivers rank somewhere between F2 and F3, the two junior feeder series into F1.

IndyCar drivers have criticized the system in defense of Herta and the intense, close racing of their own highly competitive series. Herta has won seven IndyCar races, is the youngest winner in series history and has four starts in the Indianapolis 500. He qualified on the front row in 2021 and finished a career-best eighth in 2020.

Rossi, who has spent the last four seasons as Herta’s teammate at Andretti Autosport, lashed out this week because “I’m so sick and tired of this back and forth” regarding the licensing.

“The whole premise of it was to keep people from buying their way into F1 and allowing talent to be the motivating factor,” Rossi wrote on social media. “That’s great. We all agree Colton has the talent and capability to be in F1. That’s also great and he should get that opportunity if it’s offered to him. Period.

“Motorsport still remains as the most high profile sport in the world where money can outweigh talent. What is disappointing and in my opinion, the fundamental problem, is that the sporting element so often took a backseat to the business side that here had to be a method put in place in order for certain teams to stop taking drivers solely based on their financial backing.”

Rossi added those decisions “whether out of greed or necessity, is what cost Colton the opportunity to make the decision for himself as to if he wanted to alter career paths and race in F1. Not points on a license.”

The system favors drivers who compete in FIA-sanctioned series. For example, Linus Lundqvist earned his Super License by winning the Indy Lights championship.

Lundqvist’s required points come via the 15 he earned for the Lights title, 10 points for finishing third in Lights last year and his 2020 victory in the FIA-governed Formula Regional Americas Championship, which earned him 18 points.

That gave the 23-year-old Swede a total of 43 points, three more than needed for the license.

Herta, meanwhile, ended the IndyCar season with 32 points. He can still earn a Super License by picking up one point for any free practice sessions he runs this year; McLaren holds his F1 rights and could put him in a car. Herta could also potentially run in an FIA-sanctioned winter series to pick up some points.

Michael Andretti, who has petitioned the FIA to expand its grid to add two cars for him to launch a team, said he never bothered to explore potential replacements for Herta on the IndyCar team because he was confident the Super License request would be rejected.

Andretti has been met by severe resistance from existing F1 teams and even F1 itself in his hope to add an 11th team. Andretti could still get on the grid by purchasing an existing team and he’d like to build his program around Herta, who is under contract in IndyCar to Andretti through 2023.