Kyle Larson wins at Thunderbowl, Californians sweep the weekend with Giovanni Scelzi also victorious.

Larson Scelzi California Outlaws
Trent Gower / World of Outlaws

The six-night “Spring Swing” for the World of Outlaws gave California natives an opportunity to beat the best sprint car drivers in America as Giovanni Scelzi and Kyle Larson swept the first two nights at Thunderbowl Raceway in Tulare, California on Friday and Saturday.

Granted, neither of these drivers is an unknown entity for the Outlaws. Scelzi is racing with them full time in 2022; Larson entered the weekend with 24 Outlaw wins, four of which came in 2021. Despite being a part time driver with them in 2020, Larson had the most wins that season of 12.

The theme of California dreaming was prevalent at Thunderbowl. On Friday, Scelzi finished ahead of Connecticut’s David Gravel, but Elk Grove’s Larson was third and St. Helena’s Rico Abreu finished fourth to give the state three of the top-five finishers. Saturday night, Larson and Abreu finished in the top five. And while Fresno’s Dominic Scelzi eventually finished seventh, he was the driver Larson had to pass on Lap 19 to take the lead.

Night 1 featured a fierce battle at the front after rookie contender Spencer Bayston spun from the lead and handed it to Gio Scelzi. As the leaders sliced through traffic, throwing sliders, executing crossover moves and banging along the boards, Larson and Abreu unofficially held the lead for portions of laps without being credited at the flag stand.

“You can go ahead and tally one for California over the Outlaws,” Scelzi said in a release. “Seriously, though, this is really cool. I’ve never won a race this big in front of my home crowd. I haven’t been back in a long time, so to feel this support is incredible.”

After starting the night ninth, Larson may have used up some of his equipment getting through traffic.

“This has always been my favorite track,” Larson said on Friday. “It’s great to be back after such a long time and put on a show like that. I felt like we were good enough to win, but I just made too many mistakes on my part. Hopefully, we can get a better start to our night tomorrow and we’ll be in good shape.”

After qualifying seventh for the Cup race at Phoenix Raceway, (a position he has to relinquish after fixing a steering problem), Larson flew to California in time to make the show for Night 2.

He did not get a much better start Saturday night, and rolling off the grid sixth meant that it took 18 laps to get to the front. Once in the lead, Larson refused to give it up.

“Central California fans are some of the best in the country,” Larson said after earning his fifth Outlaws victory in the state of California. “I always love getting to race in front of these people, especially at places I grew up at.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve been here, but it was technical and kind of old school the way I remember Tulare. This is amazing.”

The 25th win in his 114th start gives Larson sole possession of 25th on the all-time wins’ list – for the moment at least. One of the drivers he broke away from is Sheldon Haudenschild, who already has two wins this season and is destined for more.

Californians may not be done wowing the home crowd. After finishing fifth on Night 1 and second on Night 2, last year’s Outlaws champion Brad Sweet leads the series to Merced Speedway, a quarter-mile bullring 170 miles away from his hometown of Grass Valley.

Lessons learned in three rounds of Extreme E pay huge dividends in the Copper X Prix for Tanner Foust

Foust Copper X Prix
McLaren Racing

To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long, unique trip it’s been for Tanner Foust in his first season with the Extreme E series as he took his early season lessons to Chile to compete in the Copper X Prix. And he’s learned his lessons well.

In February, McLaren announced they would expand their motorsports program with an Extreme E entry. They signed two talented rally drivers in Foust and Emma Gilmour – and paired them for the opening round in Neom, Saudi Arabia with just a few days of testing under their belts. Baked by the Arabian desert sun, it was trial by fire.

The duo performed well in their debut, advancing into the final round and finishing fifth. As Extreme E headed to another desert halfway across the globe for Round 4, it was a good time to catch up with Foust and ask about McLaren’s progress. The Copper X Prix was held this past weekend in one of the most extreme regions in the world: the Atacama Desert.

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“The shock going into the first race was the speed,” Foust told NBC Sports. “It was much higher than we had tested. We spent a lot of time around 100 miles per hour [in race trim] and our testing speeds were more in the 60 to 70-mile range. Then, once we sort of got around that, the car got updated so you can drive it even faster.”

In rally racing, some incidents are out of a driver’s control. Even peeking around another car can be dangerous because of potholes that have recently been gouged in the ground or large bushes that seem to sprout up between laps. A couple of rollovers brought Foust back to earth – but the pace was there and that was important.

“We had some challenges this season,” Foust said prior to the Copper X Prix. “We had a good start; made the final, which is a difficult thing to do in this series. I had two rolls in the first three events, but I have improved each time. Now we come into Round 4 in Chile in a pretty strong position. We have competitive times as a team. We are communicating really well and have our heads around this Odyssey vehicle.”

Foust’s words proved to be prophetic.

He won the Crazy Race – Extreme E’s version of a Last Chance Qualifier – and did so after passing the field. It was the same manner in which he qualified for Saudi Arabia’s finale, but this time things would be better. There were those hard-earned lessons on which to lean – and Foust had reps under his belt. He was not going to be caught off guard by any random obstacles.

Tanner Foust passed Sebastien Loeb heading to the Switch Zone in the Copper X Prix. (Photo by Sam Bagnall / LAT Images)

In the Copper X Prix finale, he pressured one of the best rally drivers in the history of the sport.

Pitching sideways through a tight left-hander late in his stint, Foust put his McLaren Extreme E Odyssey at the head of the pack in front of Sebastien Loeb as they headed to the Switch Zone. There, he would turn the car over to his co-driver Gilmour.

The Extreme E series pairs male and female drivers with both taking a turn behind the wheel.

After the driver change, Gilmour lost the lead momentarily to Loeb’s teammate Cristina Gutierrez, but as they charged toward the finish line, she surged ahead and crossed under the checkers first.

“What an improvement for the team over this year,” Foust said after the race. “We have struggled through some of the events, being in our first year in competition. We showed true pace this weekend; overtaking Sebastien Loeb was a highlight.

“Emma put in a great run in the Final. I was fortunate to go from last to first in the Crazy Race and then first in the Final but with some flag penalties, we had 20 seconds added to our time, which put us into fifth. It was a great feeling crossing the line first, I love this wide style track and the NEOM McLaren Odyssey was fantastic here.

“Hopefully we can continue that momentum into Uruguay.”

Loeb and Gutierrez were elevated to the top of the podium, but no one can take away the feeling of crossing under the checkers first.

Racing Responsibly

Since cars were first invented, racing has played a socially responsible role by improving safety. As Earth reaches a tipping point with climate change, racing needs to adapt to these new needs and requirements, which is where Extreme E’s unique strategy becomes increasingly important.

The Extreme E experience is more than simple racing. Each race is accompanied by a legacy program designed to offset damage done by climate change and to erase the footprint caused by the events.

Foust, a biology major from the University of Colorado, was given the chance to rekindle his interest and give back to the environment ahead of the Copper X Prix.

The Atacama is the oldest desert in the world at 150 million years. It is the driest place on earth and has the highest degree of ultraviolet light. And yet somehow life perseveres through underground rivers with oases dating back to Incan times. Foust participated in preparing a local habitat for the reintroduction of a critically endangered water frog to Chile’s longest river, the Loa, which snakes its way through the desert.

“I’m loving the experience,” Foust said. “I’m putting on a lot of Chapstick, a lot of sunscreen. What a fascinating part of the world. I never would have come here otherwise.

“I honestly am very honored to be a part of this sport. I am a huge believer in the fact that motorsports has done us good in the last 100 years. I think we benefit every single time we put our seatbelts on and drive down the road to the lessons learned in racing since the turn of the century. And I really hope motorsports continues that tradition.

“I think that motorsports like [Extreme E] does it in a responsible way, a gender-neutral way and a carbon-neutral way.”