Christian Brooks and Manuel Sulaiman set the mark to beat in Spring Training testing for the Road to Indy at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala.
In his Exclusive Autosport ride, Brooks was fastest in testing for the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship. Sulaiman steered his Juncos Racing machine to the fastest lap for the Indy Pro 2000 Championship.
These two championships will race alongside the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires when the IndyCar season gets underway April 16-18. More than $3.1 million in scholarships and awards will be up for grabs during the Road to Indy season.
Sulaiman topped a competitive chart on which he narrowly bettered the speeds of Christian Rasmussen and Kyffin Simpson. All three drivers were in the 1:16.8 second range, with Sulaiman’s time equating to 107.789 mph.
“It’s been a very positive weekend,” said Sulaiman in a release. “We were super quick in the first session today and we were pushing the limits.
“I touched a bit of the grass and we weren’t able to finish that session. The team did a great job to get the car back out there for the final session and we were back at P1.”
When Sulaiman ‘touched a bit of the grass’ in the final corner of his last lap in that session, the damage to his Tatuus PM-18 was enough to sideline him for the next one. He rebounded to and got back to the top of the charts later in the day.
Ten different drivers ended one or more of the five test sessions run over the two-day period among the top three. The only driver to top the charts more than once was rookie Wyatt Brichacek with a best lap of 1:17.343.
“The higher downforce and bigger tire seem to suit my driving style better,” said Brichacek. “I seem to feel more comfortable in this car compared to the USF-17. I’m meshing well with my engineer and everything just felt really good this weekend.
“Barber is a really technical track and I feel as though I’ve learned more about how to carry speed through the high-speed corners, and that will really help me. I’m glad to be back with the Jay Howard boys and I’ve learned a lot from Christian, so I think we’ll help each other this year.”
“It feels great to finish the weekend on the top of the charts,” said Brooks. “The Exclusive Autosport car has been on rails all weekend long. We definitely put in some consistent results. We know it is practice but it always feels good to be on top and it is definitely a nice confidence booster going into the season. We are just going to put our heads down and push for some good results at Barber.”
Brooks, who won the final race of 2020 at St. Petersburg, was last year’s Hyperco Rookie of the Year.
Brooks’ best lap was just over a tenth of a second faster than former teammate Prescott Campbell, who has joined DEForce Racing for his own sophomore campaign.
“I’ve really enjoyed working with DEForce throughout this off season,” said Campbell. “I’ve become very close with the team, testing at their home track (MSR) in Houston. We had a plan for this test, stuck to it, and we’ve learned a lot.
“The pace that comes along with that is great and I hope this puts us in a good position for the first round of the series. It’s also a good chance to look at the competition: I raced with Exclusive last year and I knew they would be strong, especially Christian. I’ve seen how he works, and he won the last race of the season in 2020. It’s what we expected and I think we’ll be able to take the fight to them.”
A total of 2,725 incident-free laps were completed by the 23 drivers during the course of the two-day test, with the top 16 blanketed by less than one second.
Another crash while leading at Seattle dropped Chase Sexton from the top of the NBC SuperMotocross Power Rankings while solid performances by Cooper Webb and Eli Tomac allow them to climb the chart and threaten to make this a two-rider battle with six rounds remaining in the 2023 Monster Energy Supercross season.
During the race, Webb knew he had ground to make up. Riding behind both Tomac and Sexton early in the Main, he was as far back as fifth on Lap 7 at Seattle. That position would cost him the red plate and give away the advantage he began to build with his first win of the season in Tampa. Sexton is often at his best as he battles from the back and he methodically worked his way through the field. At the end of the feature, he was nearly five seconds off Tomac’s pace, but during the past 45 days, he holds the advantage. A resurgent Tomac that could erase that advantage quickly though.
Tomac struggled in Indianapolis with a neck strain. That contributed to his worst performance of 2023 and his second result outside the top five. He finished third in Detroit two weeks ago, but it was a distant third after finishing off the podium in his heat during that round. In Seattle, it appeared the same thing might happen when Tomac finished third in the prelim behind his two principal competitors Webb and Sexton. The Main was a different story.
Tomac dropped to fourth in the opening laps behind both of his rivals early in the race, but he got around Webb on Lap 2 and kept charging. When Sexton fell to the ground on Lap 11 and dropped to fourth, Tomac was in position to strike. He scored his sixth win of the season to tie James Stewart for second on the all-time wins list. He now shares the red plate with Webb as the rounds wind down.
Sexton has the speed, but he lacks the seasoning of Webb and Tomac. He’s pressing hard on every lap and that has bitten him several times this year. Sexton’s mistakes are costing him with a 10th-place finish at Indy, the loss of seven points at Detroit and a fifth in Seattle as the riders he’s battling stood on the podium. No one seriously questions Sexton’s talent or speed, but ultimately the results are what counts.
Justin Barcia is hitting his stride. He advances two positions this week after scoring his fourth consecutive top-five and second podium in that span of races. Barcia finished between sixth and eighth in five consecutive rounds from Anaheim 2 through Arlington, but he’s mostly avoided controversy and that puts him fourth in this week’s SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Seattle.
Jason Anderson had a solid performance in Seattle, but with a fifth-place finish in his heat and fourth in the Main he just keeps losing a little ground to the leaders. The biggest impact to his standing in the NBC Power Rankings is a 10th-place finish in Indianapolis that will take a while to age out of the 45-day formula. He’s tied for fourth in the championship points with Ken Roczen, who sits sixth in the rankings below. It’s important to be the rider “best in class” with Webb, Tomac and Sexton stealing the show.
The 250 West riders were back in action in Seattle and that gave Jett Lawrence the opportunity to break out of a tie with his brother Hunter Lawrence on the all-time wins list. It also provided Jett the opportunity to take back the top spot in the NBC SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Seattle.
Jett has stood on the podium in every race this year with the exception of the second Triple Crown race at Anaheim 2 and that level of perfection gives him bragging rights. Rest assured that while the two brothers have a bond that is unapparelled in motorsports, there is no one they would rather beat. Neither has been particularly successful in Triple Crown rounds this year, however, and Jett could lose his advantage in two weeks in Glendale, Arizona under that format.
A rivalry is developing between Lawrence and Cameron McAdoo. Tired of losing to the affable Australian, McAdoo pushed the envelope last week in Seattle. He crowded Lawrence in the whoops during their heat race and sent both to the ground. That frustration could bubble over with four rounds remaining. One thing is certain, when these two riders are in proximity on the track, the cameras will be aimed in their direction.
A little means a lot this season. Finishing second to Lawrence in four of five rounds, RJ Hampshire would be losing ground to the leader no matter what, but an 11th-place finish in the overall at Anaheim 2 places him eighth on the chart below behind two of the 250 West riders and five 250 East competitors.
In the mains, Levi Kitchen has been all over the board with a win, one more top-five, two results on the high side of the single digits and a crash-induced 21st at San Diego. He’s really shown his speed in the heats, however, with a perfect record of top-fives and a win.
Mitchell Oldenburg makes the top five list among West riders with a perfect record of top-10 finishes. He’s heading in the wrong direction, however, falling from ninth overall to 11th after finishing outside the top five in both his heat and the Main last week.
Jett Lawrence – W
Hunter Lawrence – E
Nate Thrasher – E
Cameron McAdoo – W
Haiden Deegan – E
Jeremy Martin – E
Jordon Smith – E
RJ Hampshire – W
Levi Kitchen – W
Max Anstie – E
Mitchell Oldenburg – W
Max Vohland – W
Tom Vialle – E
Pierce Brown – W
Enzo Lopes – W
Chris Blose – E
Chance Hymas – E
Michael Mosiman – E
Stilez Robertson – W
Phil Nicoletti – W
* The NBC Power Rankings assign 100 points to a Main event winner and 90 points for each Heat and Triple Crown win, (Triple Crown wins are included with heat wins below the rider’s name). The points decrement by a percentage equal to the number of riders in the field until the last place rider in each event receives five points. The Power Ranking is the average of these percentage points over the past 45 days for the 450 class and last 90 days for 250s (because of the split nature of their season).