Eli Tomac wins Supercross Triple Crown Round 5; Hunter Lawrence gets first in 250s

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For the ninth time in Monster Energy Supercross history, the series used the Triple Crown format in Glendale, Ariz. and Eli Tomac won under this system for the fifth time after emerging victorious in the first two races and finishing third in the final event of Round 5.

The criticism on Tomac throughout his career has been directed at slow starts. That was not an issue in Glendale as he earned the holeshot in the first two races and then lead start to finish in those motos. Tomac did not sweep the starts, but came out of the first turn in third in Race 3. Tomac climbed as high as second in the final race before settling into the rhythm that gave him the overall victory.

“Good execution through the rut after the gate.” Tomac told NBC Sports’ Will Christien after Race 2. “That’s where I feel I’m getting it tonight; I’m really good after the gate, the first few feet there and then making a good shift. It’s this big fast straightaway and my bike is hauling the mail tonight.”

With five Triple Crown overall victories, Tomac stands head and shoulders above the competition. Cooper Webb has two wins under this format. Jason Anderson and Ken Roczen have one apiece.

“We just put ourselves in such good position in the first two (races),” Tomac said at the end of the night. “Obviously the first one was a holeshot, and I’m like ‘alright, let’s do this again.’ And I did it again in Moto 2. I had a little wheelie in Moto 3, but it was such a fun night of riding and racing.”

Malcolm Stewart finished a career-best second overall with consistency. He finished 3-2-4 and easily outpaced the third-place contender Chase Sexton and fourth-place Anderson who each scored two podiums in the three races.

“This is my first ever podium for a Triple Crown and I’m beyond stoked,” Stewart said.

Sexton and Anderson had one poor race each. Sexton fell twice in Race 1 and finished 11th. He rebounded for a third in the second moto and earned the holeshot and victory in Race 3.

That gave him one point on Anderson, who finished off the overall podium for just the first time in the Triple Crown format.

Anderson’s undoing was Race 2 when he crashed hard after failing to execute a triple. Anderson got hung up on a Tuff Blox while running second and lost 30 seconds trying to extricate his bike. He finished 12th in that race.

Ken Roczen, who swept the Triple Crown races on this track in 2020 and is the only rider to do so, rounded out the top five with a best finish of fourth in Race 1.

Click here for complete 450 results

Hunter Lawrence scored his first 250 win and did so after riding with consistency. Finishing second in the first moto and winning Race 2 put him in a position where he could dictate the outcome in the final event of the night. He didn’t need to win that race, but could not fall any further back than second as Christian Craig was only two points behind him when the gate dropped.

Lawrence credited the energy of the crowd for his win.

“We work our butts off for nights like this, and as good as I feel, in all honesty I’ve got to give it up to the crowd,” Lawrence told NBC Sports’ Will Christien. “For the past two years with Covid, it sucked without everyone (in the stands). It’s awesome. The crowd was electric.”

Craig finished second, but felt the night was taken from him after an overly aggressive pass attempt by Vince Friese in Race 2 almost knocked him out of the park. Friese divebombed Craig early in that race in the sand section and propelled Craig off his bike, over the Tuff Blox and into a metal door.

“I believe in my ability to win, so when something gets taken away from you that’s not in your control with another rider: that one stings,” Craig said after the race. “Especially with how I was riding tonight. A win was within reach.”

The measure of a champion is how he reacts to adversity. After getting cleaned out by Friese, Craig was able to climb back to fourth at the end of Race 2, but that was enough to open the door for Lawrence.

Craig’s misfortune in the middle race also created an opportunity for Michael Mosiman, who was trying to mount a comeback after crashing on Lap 1 of Race 1 and finishing 10th.

Mosiman rebounded to finish second to Lawrence in Race 2, but disaster struck as time was running off the clock in the final moto. Mosiman missed the landing on a tabletop and crashed hard. He limped back to his bike and finished 15th, but the combined score in the Triple Crown left him ninth overall and dropped him to 23 points behind Craig in the standings.

Jo Shimoda swept the top five and finished third overall.

Garrett Marchbanks finished fourth overall with a 4-6-6 as Friese rounded out the top five with a 3-10-4.

Click here for complete 250 results


RACE RECAPS

ROUND 1, Anaheim: Ken Roczen renews battle with Cooper Webb by winning the opener

ROUND 2, Oakland: Jason Anderson wins for first time since championship season

ROUND 3, San Diego: Chase Sexton (450s) and Michael Mosiman (250s) deliver first career wins

ROUND 4, Anaheim: Four races, four winners as Eli Tomac solidifies points lead

The Thermal Club wants an IndyCar race, and series executives liked its initial impact at test

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THERMAL, Calif. – Many teams in the NTT IndyCar Series questioned the relevancy of having a two-day preseason test at The Thermal Club.

The team owners, drivers and engineers believed the 17-turn, 3.067-mile race course that winds and twists its way through a gated private community (about 45 minutes southeast of Palm Springs) had no relevance to any track on the 17-race schedule.

To the leaders of IndyCar, however, there was plenty of relevance to hosting its “Spring Training” at a sort of motorsports country club that caters to extremely wealthy residents who also are automotive enthusiasts.

“Both with our stakeholders and the media that covers IndyCar, we wanted them to know that we are going to do things differently,” Penske Entertainment CEO Mark Miles told NBC Sports from the private VIP viewing area that overlooks the long straights and twisting turns of the course. “This is going to be a year when we expect our growth to go to a whole new level.

“What better way to send that message than to be at a place we have never been that is exceptional?

“The quality of this place; the facilities are off the charts. The customer service, the welcoming feeling you get from the staff here. The track itself is fast. The drivers are having a great time on it.

FRIDAY SPEEDSThird session l Fourth session l Combined

‘AN AMAZING PLACE’: IndyCar and its big plans for Thermal

“It really sent a message to our other promoters and our drivers and team owners that something is up. We want fans around the country and the sports industry to know that something is going on with IndyCar this year.”

The Thermal Club is a concept driven by Tim Rogers, who made his fortune by supplying gasoline to 7-Eleven stores in 36 states. He wanted to create a private community that mixed multimillion-dollar homes and luxury villas with a high-speed race course.

The two-day IndyCar “Spring Training” was the most ambitious motorsports project yet for The Thermal Club.

Rogers wants it to be the first step in a long-term goal for the community.

“Our endgame is we want to host an IndyCar Series race at The Thermal Club one day,” Rogers told NBC Sports as IndyCar hit the track again Friday morning. “This was a good trial to see how the facility can handle it and if the facility works for them.”

Felix Rosenqvist makes laps in the No. 6 Arrow McLaren Dallara-Chevrolet during the first day of NTT IndyCar Series testing (Andy Abeyta/The Desert Sun / USA TODAY Sports Images).

The two-day test was closed to the general public. It was open only to credentialed news media, members of the Thermal Club and a limited number of their guests.

With the spectacular backdrop of the Coachella Valley that is rimmed with snow-capped mountains, The Thermal Club could provide a great setting for an NBC telecast of an IndyCar Series race (and possibly line up a big sponsor for a return on its investment with a larger than normal audience during a ripe time such as the first weekend of February).

NASCAR is using that same model Sunday at the Los Angeles Coliseum by hosting the Busch Light Clash. The National Football League’s AFC and NFC Championship games were last weekend and next Sunday is the Super Bowl.

“That could work, but we have room where we could separate the public and the private members area, too,” Rogers said. “We could accommodate 4,000 or so of the general public.

“This would be a premium event for a premium crowd.”


Rogers’ dream of The Thermal Club began 11 years ago. He will talk to IndyCar about a return for Spring Training next year with hopes of getting a date on the schedule for 2025.

“Whatever fits,” Rogers said.

Miles and Penske Entertainment, the owners of IndyCar, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the Indianapolis 500, realize Rogers has an ambitious dream of getting a race on the schedule.

Miles, however, isn’t ready to indicate that a race at Thermal is part of IndyCar’s future (though drivers seem open to the concept).

“Tim and everybody at The Thermal Club have done a phenomenal job of being hosts here for this test,” Miles said. “Everybody is very happy we are here, and I expect we will find a way to continue to be here. Whether that means a race and when is really a bridge we aren’t ready to cross yet.

“We really like opening the championship season each year in St. Petersburg, Florida. We’ll have to see. But it’s a great way to start the season in this way, and right now, we are happy to be here.”

Indycar Series Test - Day 1
Defending IndyCar champion Will Power takes laps at The Thermal Club during the first day of the track’s first test (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

On track, it was a successful two-day test session with 27 car/driver combinations that will compete in IndyCar in 2023. It’s the largest field for IndyCar since the 1990s. There were a few spins here and there but no major incidents across 2,560 laps.

Kyle Kirkwood led the final session Friday while getting acquainted with his new No. 27 team at Andretti Autosport. Kirkwood has replaced Alexander Rossi at Andretti, whom Kirkwood drove for in Indy Lights.

His time of 1 minute, 38.827 seconds (111.721 mph) around the 3.067-mile road course was the fastest of the fourth and final session. But the fastest speed over two days was defending Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson of Chip Ganassi Racing in the Friday morning session (1:38.4228, 112.182 mph in the No. 8 Honda).

Callum Ilott of Juncos Hollinger Racing was second in the final session at 1:38.8404 (111.707 mph) in the No. 77 Chevrolet. Rookie Marcus Armstrong of New Zealand was third at 1:38.8049 (111.707 mph) in the No. 11 Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing. Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing was fourth at 1:38.8718 (111.672 mph) in the No. 10. Defending NTT IndyCar Series champion Will Power of Team Penske rounded out the top five at 1:38.9341 (111.602 mph) in the No. 12 Chevrolet.

Ericsson was the fastest in combined times followed by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Christian Lundgaard at 1:38.5682 in the No. 45 Honda, Kirkwood, Ilott and Armstrong. Positions 3-5 speeds were from the final practice session on Friday.

Indycar Series Test - Day 1
With members’ houses in the background, Romain Grosjean navigates the turns of The Thermal Club in his No. 28 Dallara-Honda (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

Drivers didn’t know what to expect before hitting the track. After the two-day test was over, NBC Sports asked several drivers what they learned from The Thermal Club.

“I think it’s a first-class facility, no doubt,” two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden of Team Penske said. “I think the entire facility here at Thermal really rolled out the red carpet for us. They did a tremendous job.

“It was a fairly flawless test, I would say, for two days. I think the great thing about this was we had a two-day test, which was fantastic. You got to have this warmup; this preseason build. That was the biggest positive for me, is that we were here, we were running cars. It was a great facility to do it at.

IndyCar Thermal Club test
Josef Newgarden said his No. 2 team (which has a new lead engineer) used The Thermal Club test as an opportunity for building cohesion (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).
Indycar Series Test - Day 2
Josef Newgarden (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

“I think the track was a lot more fun than we anticipated. It was challenging, definitely technical. I don’t know how relevant it is. For us, it wasn’t really relevant to anywhere we’re going, but that’s OK.”

But even though the track has no sector particularly similar to any road or street course on the schedule, there still were benefits.

“In a lot of ways, it is relevant,” Newgarden said. “For us it was relevant for building the team up, trying to work in a competitive environment, be competitive together. That’s everything. So regardless of is the setup going to apply to a certain track or another, (it) doesn’t really matter.

“For us, it was applying the principles of how we’re going to work together. From that standpoint, it was very productive for everybody. Raceability-wise, it’s hard to say. It was chewing tires up. Big drop-off from run one to two. I think from a race standpoint, that would be quite positive. You’d have big tire deg here.

“You’d have to do more work on runoff areas if we wanted to race here, but it’s possible. I don’t think it would take much effort to do the things to run an actual race.”


Indycar Series Test - Day 1
Will Power (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images)

Kirkwood found speed in his Andretti Autosport machine, but he used the test to create a smooth working relationship with his new crew.

“I wouldn’t say that we found something here that is going to translate to anywhere, right?” the 2021 Indy Lights champion said. “This is a very unique track, although it was a lot of fun to drive, and it kind of surprised me in the amount of grip that it actually produced.

“It was quite a bit faster than what we expected.”

Many of the NTT IndyCar Series teams will test later this month at Sebring, Florida, as they prepare for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg to kick off the season March 5.

“It’s a very nice facility, a nice area, it’s pretty cool to have two days of testing here with a lot of high-profile people,” two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Will Power of Team Penske told NBC Sports. “It’s a very technical, tough track.

“It’s pretty good.”

Indycar Series Test - Day 2
IndyCar drivers turns laps on the second day of testing at The Thermal Club, which is nestled in the Coachella Valley that is ringed by mountains in Southern California (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

The Thermal Club received rave reviews, welcomed IndyCar and provided exposure to the movers and shakers of the business community that own the luxury villas and homes in this ultra-rich community.

Could it be a venue of the future for a series that sells lifestyle as much as on-track competition?

“This is a fantastic facility and the circuit is a fast circuit,” team owner Bobby Rahal told NBC Sports. “It’s pretty exciting to watch the cars run around here. I think it would be attractive to people.

“I’ll leave that up to Mark Miles and (IndyCar President) Jay Frye and everybody else whether we have a race here, but why not?

“It’s a great place.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500