Cooper Webb gives thanks (as always) for being on verge of another Supercross title


Cooper Webb never stumbles or slips while confidently and stridently seizing the moment whenever he is (again) at the center of the AMA Monster Energy Supercross Series.

That has happened often this year — though this isn’t a reference to his sublime riding (the KTM Red Bull star has shown to be remarkably resilient this season, particularly in the second half of races).

We’re talking, of course, about the presumptive 2021 450 champion’s remarkably smooth postrace podium interviews.

Webb, who carries a virtually insurmountable 22-point lead over Ken Roczen into Saturday night’s season finale in Salt Lake City, Utah, always wraps up by nailing every sponsor mention along with the shoutouts to his wife, Mariah, and mechanic, Carlos Rivera, without fail.

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Supercross Cooper Webb
Cooper Webb has seven Supercross victories this season and could win his second title in three years Saturday (Feld Entertainment Inc.).

“No, not really, I just always obviously want to give back to the people that have supported me, and continue to support me,” Webb told NBC Sports with a chuckle when asked if he ever practices his pitch-perfect delivery of gratitude. “I think the sponsors are always important, but those individualized positions with my mechanic, my wife, the team managers or whoever it may be, there’s just certain people that it takes an army to make this all happen.

“But you always have those really tight people in your inner circle that got your back through thick and thin, so it’s always nice to just thank them and make them feel special. And I try to give back to my sponsors, because I know how much it means to them and without them, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do. I try to let the fans know how the race was and be honest about how I felt and then give it up to the people that helped me.”

Webb has finished on the podium in 12 of 16 races and has seven victories –the most recent being a testament to the determination and grit that attracted him to KTM.

After a disappointing sixth in the April 13 race at Atlanta Motor Speedway (where Roczen had won to narrow the points gap), Webb made a nine-hour round trip with KTM director of motorsports Roger De Coster, mechanic Carlos Rivera and suspension technician Ryo Okuda to the rider’s home base near Orlando, Florida.

After testing for a full day, Webb and the team drove back Friday to Atlanta, and Webb won the following night to extend his lead again over Roczen.

“It was definitely a busy and eventful week, but I’ve got to give it up to my team for being that committed and focused and willing to take that extra step to ensure a good result,” Webb said. “And obviously it paid off mentally getting the win. It was pretty rewarding. Not everyone is willing to do that. I’ve been on teams where it’s kind of like, ‘Hey, sorry. You’ve got to figure it out.’ So it was super cool.”

Supercross Cooper Webb
Cooper Webb salutes the crowd after a second-place interview in Round 16.

It also was a good reminder of why Webb signed three years ago with KTM, which delivered a title in their first year together and a runner-up finish to Eli Tomac last year.

“They’re the best team in the pits,” Webb said. “I knew that coming in, their mentality of winning. Just being able to adapt and change stuff on the bike to the rider’s liking is huge in our sport. Comfort is super key. That was really the main reason I came here.

“I used to ride for Yamaha, and coming to this brand with guys like Roger De Coster, who is known as the man in our sport for not only his race results but winning championship after championship as a team manager. My mechanic, Carlos, is one of the most winning mechanics there is. Just a really good group of people that we all share that common goal, which is to go win and try to win a championship. They’re super awesome. We work super well together.”

Though De Coster (who was instrumental in the career of four-time champion Ryan Dungey) is the most famous member of the support team, Webb’s constant praise has helped the profile of Rivera (who also worked with Dungey).

Cooper Webb and mechanic Carlos Rivera survey the track before Supercross Round 16 at Salt Lake City, Utah (Feld Entertainment, Inc./Align Media).
Cooper Webb always thanks his wife, Mariah, in his podium interviews.

“Man, he’s just by far the smartest guy and pays the most attention to detail than anyone that I’ve ever worked with,” Webb said of his mechanic. “It’s honestly incredible. When I came here, I was really keen on working with him. It’s important in our sport to have that relationship with your mechanic. Not only he’s the last person touching your bike before you go out to risk your life essentially but also just that connection. He’s the last person that you talk to before you race.

“He’s the only one communicating with me with the pit board each lap. It’s very important to have that awesome relationship with the mechanic on a personal end but as well as the business end. He’s taught me just so much — with attitude, with bike setup, with technique, with starts. Whatever it may be, I owe a lot to him. I don’t think I would be quite where I’m at without him.

“I think for these guys, too, they bust their butts. (Riders) travel a lot, but they travel even more. Having to be here two to three days longer with building the bikes. They change every single part on these motorcycles every single weekend before I race again. It’s a lot of work. He has a family. He sacrifices a lot to be with me.”

Here are four more things to know about Webb before his likely coronation as a two-time Supercross 450 champion Saturday night in Salt Lake City (which also is the focus of a new Moto Spy Supercross Season 5 episode):

–He learned his trade in an unconventional place: Webb was raised in Morehead City, North Carolina, a surfing and fishing town on the North Carolina coast between Wilmington and the Outer Banks. Far from a motorcycle hotbed, Webb learned to race by making daily laps at the same track for a decade (until leaving for California on a professional motocross contract at 16). He got into Supercross because of his father, Bob, a former professional surfer who shapes surfboards for a living.

“He used to ride for fun and race back in the day,” Cooper said of Bob Webb. “When I was born, he’d gotten a motorcycle again to enjoy riding and racing. He was the one who got me into it. There’s actually quite a bit of professional racers from North Carolina. There is a racing presence there, but on the coast, it was definitely not very known, and not a lot of people did it.

“So I feel like I kind of put motorcycle racing and Supercross racing on the map for a lot of people back home. And I have so many fans back home who watch it and never knew what it was, but because I’m a hometown kid. They turn it on and support me, so it’s pretty cool.”

After his career has ended, Webb plans to return to North Carolina (he also lived in the Charlotte area from 2016-18 while riding for Joe Gibbs Racing). “North Carolina is home for me,” he said. “When I retire, I’ll definitely go back.”

Supercross Cooper Webb
Cooper Webb has risen from humble beginnings in Morehead City, North Carolina, to championship rider with KTM Red Bull (Feld Entertainment Inc./Align Media).

–He takes pride in being a Southern boy: After his Atlanta victory, Webb had a special dedication to fans in the South for supporting Supercross. That stems from having been a fan attending the annual Supercross event at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

“Obviously, this year was different being at the speedway, but just all day, seeing fans and the Southern hospitality that they have, and a lot of people from North Carolina that I saw,” Webb said. “As a North Carolinian, we’re very prideful of where we came from, and there’s not really a lot of professional racers from there, and especially very successful ones.

“I’m super prideful of it, and I try to make it known. It is super special to have those fans that are really embracing you and connect on that level of just being from the South. I can always relate to that, and it always feels special when I can have a good result on places more east or south.”

He also has NASCAR connections through his time in the Charlotte area. Before the Atlanta races, Webb and defending Cup Series champion Chase Elliott did an amusing Instagram video that Alan Gustafson, Elliott’s crew chief, helped arrange.

“I’ve met him before one time,” Webb said of Elliott. “I actually have a ton of friends still that live in North Carolina, and more in that Mooresville area, so they kind of connected with his crew chief, AG, who I’ve met before.

“I knew Chase, that’s his home speedway and stuff. So it was pretty cool. I know he follows Supercross a little bit, but I’m sure he probably can’t get out and ride too much, but yeah, it was pretty funny to hear his words of encouragement. Yeah, it’s cool to interact. He’s at the pinnacle of NASCAR, and so it was really cool to have him collab and us try to reach out to the fans and get something different going.”

–He celebrates getting under the skin of his rivals: NBC Sports analyst Ricky Carmichael recently said on the NASCAR America MotorMouths show that “Cooper Webb is a warrior, a fighter. He will wear you down. He plays games with you and just irritates you. He’s got every facet of the game figured out, and that’s what makes him so tough.

“It always seems like he races with a chip on his shoulder. If his bike isn’t working right, he doesn’t let that faze him.”

Webb’s reaction to that description?

“Absolutely,” he said. “I take a lot of pride in that for sure. I feel like I have really good race strategies, and I just feel I have a lot of confidence in myself. Whether practice doesn’t go well, or I have a bad heat race or gate pick, or whatever the consequences are, I just feel like every time I line up on the starting line for a main event, I have a chance to go win.

“I think that’s hard to do at our level. It’s such a physically demanding sport, but it’s more even mentally demanding sport. Yeah, I feel like that’s a fair statement (by Carmichael). I’m not always the fastest, I’m not always the flashiest, but I feel like no matter what, when I’m on that starting line that I have a shot to win a race and be on the podium, so that’s what I try to pride myself and remind myself.

“This year, I think I’ve gotten a lot better as a racer and racecraft but also with my speed and technique. I think it’s all experience, too. Every season you complete you learn more, and I’m only 25, so I’m kind of just hitting those golden years.”

–He believes this could have been his third consecutive title: A nasty tumble in the Arlington, Texas, round last year briefly left Webb without feeling in his lower extremities, but he still finished 12th in the triple-moto event and rebounded to win three of the final seven races after a two-month break for the pandemic.

Webb said “the crazy crash I had, in my opinion, kind of took me away from (the 202 Supercross) championship” and a back injury later sidelined him from the motocross season.

“That’s racing, and you have those adversities,” said Webb, who overcame a 16-point deficit to Roczen through six races this year. “I always feel super rewarded when I can fight back from adversity and not lose that faith not only in myself but just that things are going to work out. This one has been a very trying year. It’s been a great year to obviously claw my way back into the points lead, but then be able to take the red plate and lead. If I can execute and keep things going as planned and win another (title), it would mean the world.”

Supercross Cooper Webb
Cooper Webb catches some air during Supercross Round 16 in Salt Lake City (Feld Entertainment, Inc./Align Media).

Will Power says IndyCar field toughest in world: ‘F1’s a joke as far as competition’


DETROIT – With the 2023 Formula One season turning into a Red Bull runaway, Will Power believes the NTT IndyCar Series deserves respect as the world’s most difficult single-seater racing series.

“It’s so tough, an amazing field, the toughest field in the world, and people need to know it, especially compared to Formula One,” the defending IndyCar champion told NBC Sports during a media luncheon a few days ahead of Sunday’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix. “Formula One’s a joke as far as competition, but not as far as drivers. They have amazing drivers. And I feel sorry for them that they don’t get to experience the satisfaction we do with our racing because that is the top level of open-wheel motorsport.

“I think Formula One would be so much better if they had a formula like IndyCar. I love the technology and the manufacturer side of it. I think that’s awesome. But from a spectator watching, man, how cool would it be if everyone had a Red Bull (car)?”

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It probably would look a lot different than this season, which has been dominated by two-time defending F1 champion Max Verstappen.

The Dutchman won Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix from the pole position by 24 seconds over seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton. It’s the fifth victory in seven races for Verstappen, whose 40 career wins are one shy of tying late three-time champion Aryton Senna.

Along with being a virtual lock to tie Senna’s mark for titles, Verstappen is poised to break his own record for single-season victories (15) that he set last year.

“You simply know Max is going to win every race if something doesn’t go wrong,” Power said. “Imagine being a guy coming out as a rookie, and you probably could win a race. It would be really cool to see. But you know that would never happen with the politics over there.”

Verstappen’s F1 dominance has been a stark contrast to IndyCar, where Josef Newgarden just became the first repeat winner through six races this season with his Indy 500 victory.

Team Penske (with Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin), Chip Ganassi Racing (with Palou and Marcus Ericsson) and Andretti Autosport (with Kyle Kirkwood) each have visited victory lane in 2023. Arrow McLaren (which has past winners Pato O’Ward, Alexander Rossi and Felix Rosenqvist) is certain to join them at some point.

Meanwhile, Verstappen and teammate Sergio Perez (two wins) have won every F1 race this season with the two Red Bull cars combining to lead more than 95% of the laps.

The primary differences are in the rulesets for each series.

While F1 teams virtually have complete autonomy to build their high-tech cars from scratch, IndyCar has what is known as a spec series in which the cars have a large degree of standardization.

IndyCar teams all use the Dallara DW12 chassis, which is in its 12th season. The development of the car largely has been maximized, helping put a greater emphasis on driver skill as a differentiator (as well as other human resources such as whip-smart strategists and engineers).

Alex Palou, who will start from the pole position at Detroit, harbors F1 aspirations as a McLaren test driver, but the Spaniard prefers IndyCar for competitiveness because talent can be such a determinant in results.

“Racing-wise, that’s the best you can get,” Palou said a few days before winning the pole for the 107th Indy 500 last month. “That’s pure racing, having chances to win each weekend.”

Of course, F1 is the world’s most popular series, and the 2021 IndyCar champion believes its appeal doesn’t necessarily stem from being competitive.

Though the ’21 championship battle between Hamilton and Verstappen was epic, F1 has grown its audience in recent years with the help of the “Drive To Survive” docuseries on Netflix that has showcased their stars’ personalities along with the cutthroat decisions of its team principals (IndyCar started its own docuseries this year).

“I don’t think the beauty of F1 is the race itself,” Palou said. “I’d say the beauty is more the development that they have and everything around the races, and that they go different places. But when we talk about pure spectacle, you cannot get better than (IndyCar).

“You can feel it as a driver here when you first come and jump in a car. When I was in Dale Coyne (Racing), we got a podium my rookie year. It wasn’t the best team, but we were able to achieve one of the best cars at Road America (where he finished third in 2020). It’s not that I was driving a slow car. I was driving a really fast car. I think we can see that across all the teams and the drivers.”

Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin, who will start second at Detroit, is in his third season of IndyCar after winning three championships in Supercars.

The New Zealander said recently that IndyCar has been “the most enjoyment I’ve ever had in my career. I had a lot of fun in Supercars, but there were still things like different uprights, engines, all that stuff. (IndyCar) is spec. Really the only things you can change are dampers and the engine differences between Honda and Chevy.

“I have a blast,” McLaughlin said. “Trying to extract pace and winning in this series is better than I’ve ever felt ever. I’m surprised by how satisfied it feels to win an IndyCar race. It’s better than how it ever has felt in my career. I’ve always liked winning, but it’s so satisfying to win here. That’s why it’s so cool. There are no bad drivers. You have to have a perfect day.”

Qualifying might be the best example of the series’ competitiveness tightness. The spread for the Fast Six final round of qualifying on Detroit’s new nine-turn, 1.645-mile downtown layout was nearly eight 10ths of a second – which qualifies as an eternity these days.

Last month, the GMR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course produced a spread of 0.2971 seconds from first to sixth – the fourth-closest Fast Six in IndyCar history since the format was adopted in 2008. Three of the seven closest Fast Six fields have happened this season (with the Grand Prix of Long Beach ranking sixth and the Alabama Grand Prix in seventh).

While the technical ingenuity and innovation might be limited when compared to F1, there’s no arguing that more IndyCar drivers and teams have a chance to win.

“The parity’s great, and no one has an advantage, basically,” Power said. “The two engine manufacturers (Honda and Chevrolet) are always flipping back and forth as they develop, but we’re talking like tenths of a second over a lap. There’s not a bad driver in the field, and there are 20 people all capable of being in the Fast Six every week. Maybe more. It’s incredibly competitive. There isn’t a more competitive series in the world. I’m sure of that.

“If you want the ultimate driver’s series, this is it I’m from a big team that would benefit massively from opening the rules up, but I don’t think (IndyCar officials) should. I think this should always be about the team and driver getting the most out of a piece of equipment that everyone has a chance to do so. That’s the ultimate driver series. Who wants to win a championship when you’re just given the best car? It’s just ridiculous.”

Power believes the talented Verstappen still would be the F1 champion if the equipment were spec, but he also thinks there would be more challengers.

“There’s got to be a bunch of those guys that must just be frustrated,” Power said. “Think about Lewis Hamilton, George Russell, Lando Norris, (Fernando) Alonso. Those are some great drivers that don’t get a chance to even win. They’re just extracting the most out of the piece of equipment they have.

“All I can say is if everyone had a Red Bull car, there’s no way that Max would win every race. There are so many guys who would be winning races. It’d just be similar to (IndyCar) and different every week, which it should be that way for the top level of the sport.”