A new attitude for Adam Cianciarulo: ‘My life’s fine’

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Sitting on the sidelines will change perspective for an athlete, and with Adam Cianciarulo, it brought a new attitude.

In 2020, Cianciarulo was propelled onto dirt bike racing’s biggest platform. After winning the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship in 2019 and finishing second in the 250 West division of Monster Energy Supercross – strong showings that ended a streak of five consecutive podiums in the combined championship standings. – he landed one of the most coveted rides in the sport.

Cianciarulo climbed onto a factory Kawasaki as a teammate to Eli Tomac in 2020 and finished second to Justin Barcia in the season opener.

In the first seven rounds of that season, he ran well and led a lot of laps. But he also had a tendency to push too hard and crashed a lot.

Round 7 at Tampa epitomized his rookie season. He took the lead on the first lap of that race, led the majority of it until Tomac passed him and then crashed hard in the whoops trying to make up the lost ground. The only thing that mattered at the time, was that he earn his first 450 SX win.

The next week in Arlington, Texas, he crashed in qualification and injured his shoulder. He would not return until one of the final races at Salt Lake City after the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the season.

Adam Cianciarulo considered retirement during his long absence from Supercross and Motocross, but a new attitude slowly took effect. Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

“I kind of feel like I got momentum going that first year in 450s, a few hiccups, but still kind of rolling.” Cianciarulo told NBC Sports. “And then the last couple years, I feel have kind of been unfortunate – just kind of stopped my momentum, stopped my progression and now it’s kind of like back to the drawing board.

“I would be an idiot to come into this season being like, ‘Oh, now it’s time to win the title, right?’ It’s like I haven’t really raced in a while.”

Cianciarulo returned to run the full motocross season in 2020 and finished second in the standings. That has been enough to prove his worth both to himself and Kawasaki, but the past two seasons have challenged his resolve.

Cianciarulo once again made eight starts in 2021 Supercross before suffering an injury. In July of the outdoor season, he exited the to repair an ulnar nerve.

He came into 2022 with a lot of confidence despite healing from a shoulder injury during the off-season. That didn’t last long as he made just two rounds before declaring he would not race the remainder of the season with an injured knee.

“Coming from that place to where I’m now, I’m just super-stoked to be here.” Cianciarulo said. “More grateful, but feeling like I don’t have to do anything.

“That’s the worst type of mentality to go on the racetrack with: To feel like you have to win, have to do this, have to do that.

“Of course, being on factory team, there’s pressure. I’m still results driven and still determined to do my best. But I have more of an inner peace. I’m excited to be here and not so goal reliant.”

Adam Cianciarulo has learned that more mistakes come when a racer has a “winning is the only thing” mentality. In 2020, he crashed while trying to chase down his teammate Eli Tomac at Tampa. Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

Life’s Still Fine

But that is only part of the story – and a small part at that.

Eight months of self-reflection between his knee injury and the beginning of off-season testing for 2022 gave Cianciarulo a lot of time to think. Understandably, he considered retiring. Turning 26 in October in a sport where 30 is considered old brings those thoughts to the front of one’s mind – especially when the thought-process is clouded by pain.

This would be a completely different story if Cianciarulo had not figured a few things out and developed his new attitude.

“There’s always been this negative self-talk and like this super load I put on myself with all that stuff,” Cianciarulo said. “I found a spot where it’s like I failed so many times in row and it’s like rock bottom, but it kept getting lower and lower and lower.

“And then one day I looked around and it’s like, ‘my life’s still fine’. I’m still okay. I’ve still got people. When you just get older and you realize there’s a little bit more, you just get a little perspective really. It sounds crazy, but when you’re so in it from so young, it’s like [you have to] retrain everything.

“It’s either sit there and wallow in self-pity and feel bad or figure it out. Obviously, I still have a lot to learn, but I just feel like I’m not so reliant on this for everything. I’m not one of those athletes that’s like, so down on perspective – like this has taken away from my determination or my love for [racing]. I’m not bitter at it. I still want it so bad. I still want to do really good and there’s many things that I feel I can accomplish, but I had to find that perspective in order to survive.”

The most important thing for Adam Cianciarulo is to keep his bike upright and finish all of the races in 2023. Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

A positive attitude was easy at first for Cianciarulo.

He won his first pro race in Arlington at the age of 17 – almost a decade ago, which began a streak of five first- or second-place finishes. It was easy to feel enthusiastic, energized and strong enough to take on the world. When he crashed in that race, he popped his shoulder back into its socket and gutted out the remainder of the laps.

Cianciarulo finished fifth in the 250 West points’ standing that year.

“I think of some of the lessons I learned,” Cianciarulo said. “I don’t know how cool my place in the business is, but I’ve learned some things. In my childhood I was a training machine. Go out and win and everything’s okay. If not, it sucks. Figure it out.

“Your value is directly connected to all of this, which is what funnels you into this little place where if you fail, everything sucks. The sky’s falling. And then you win and you run around like a six-year-old kid. This part of my career has forced me to do is like kind of deal with all that stuff most people deal with in retirement. You have to retrain that whole value system.

“That’s what I did like these last couple years because the feedback was gone. I couldn’t race.”

But it’s not time to retire. There is still a lot of unfinished business and a drive to show his untapped potential is still worthy of his respected standing in the sport.

“I just need to get back in there and I need to race all the races,” Cianciarulo said. “That’s my goal first. My big thing has always been winning is all there ever was for me since I was a kid.

“So it’s kind of getting away from the win-or-crash mentality. In the past I would just legit kill myself to try to win a race. There’s no filter in there. But there’s a filter now. I’m older. These last couple years have definitely changed my outlook on things.”

Ford unveils a new Mustang for 2024 Le Mans in motorsports ‘lifestyle brand’ retooling

Ford Mustang Le Mans
Ford Performance
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LE MANS, France — Ford has planned a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its iconic Mustang muscle car next year under a massive rebranding of Ford Performance aimed at bringing the automotive manufacturer “into the racing business.”

The Friday unveil of the new Mustang Dark Horse-based race car follows Ford’s announcement in February (and a ballyhooed test at Sebring in March) that it will return to Formula One in 2026 in partnership with reigning world champion Red Bull.

The Mustang will enter the GT3 category next year with at least two cars in both IMSA and the World Endurance Championship, and is hopeful to earn an invitation to next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The IMSA entries will be a factory Ford Performance program run by Multimatic, and a customer program in WEC with Proton Competition.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, also an amateur sports car racer, told The Associated Press the Mustang will be available to compete in various GT3 series across the globe to customer teams. But more important, Farley said, is the overall rebranding of Ford Performance – done by renowned motorsports designer Troy Lee – that is aimed at making Ford a lifestyle brand with a sporting mindset.

“It’s kind of like the company finding its own, and rediscovering its icons, and doubling down on them,” Farley told the AP. “And then this motorsports activity is getting serious about connecting enthusiast customers with those rediscovered icons. It’s a big switch for the company – this is really about building strong, iconic vehicles with enthusiasts at the center of our marketing.”

Ford last competed in sports car racing in 2019 as part of a three-year program with Chip Ganassi Racing. The team scored the class win at Le Mans in 2016 in a targeted performance aimed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford snapping Ferrari’s six-year winning streak.

Ford on Friday displayed a Mustang with a Lee-designed livery that showcased the cleaner, simplified look that will soon be featured on all its racing vehicles. The traditional blue oval with Ford Performance in white lettering underneath will now be branded simply FP.

The new mark will be used across car liveries, merchandise and apparel, display assets, parts and accessories and in advertising.

Farley cited Porsche as an automaker that has successfully figured out how to sell cars to consumers and race cars in various series around the world while creating a culture of brand enthusiasts. He believes Ford’s new direction will help the company sell street cars, race cars, boost interest in driving schools, and create a merchandise line that convinces consumers that a stalwart of American automakers is a hip, cool brand.

“We’re going to build a global motorsports business off road and on road,” Farley told the AP, adding that the design of the Mustang is “unapologetically American.”

He lauded the work of Lee, who is considered the top helmet designer among race car drivers.

“We’re in the first inning of a nine inning game, and going to Le Mans is really important,” Farley said. “But for customer cars, getting the graphics right, designing race cars that win at all different levels, and then designing a racing brand for Ford Performance that gets rebranded and elevated is super important.”

He said he’s kept a close eye on how Porsche and Aston Martin have built their motorsports businesses and said Ford will be better.

“We’re going in the exact same direction. We just want to be better than them, that’s all,” Farley said. “Second is the first loser.”

Farley, an avid amateur racer himself, did not travel to Le Mans for the announcement. The race that begins Saturday features an entry from NASCAR, and Ford is the reigning Cup Series champion with Joey Logano and Team Penske.

The NASCAR “Garage 56” entry is a collaboration between Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and is being widely celebrated throughout the industry. Farley did feel left out of the party in France – a sentiment NASCAR tried to avoid by inviting many of its partners to attend the race so that it wouldn’t seem like a Chevrolet-only celebration.

“They’re going right and I’m going left – that NASCAR thing is a one-year deal, right? It’s Garage 56 and they can have their NASCAR party, but that’s a one-year party,” Farley said. “We won Le Mans outright four times, we won in the GT class, and we’re coming back with Mustang and it’s not a one-year deal.

“So they can get all excited about Garage 56. I almost see that as a marketing exercise for NASCAR, but for me, that’s a science project,” Farley continued. “I don’t live in a world of science projects. I live in the world of building a vital company that everyone is excited about. To do that, we’re not going to do a Garage 56 – I’ve got to beat Porsche and Aston Martin and Ferrari year after year after year.”

Ford’s announcement comes on the heels of General Motors changing its GT3 strategy next season and ending its factory Corvette program. GM, which unlike Ford competes in the IMSA Grand Touring Prototype division (with its Cadillac brand), will shift fully to a customer model for Corvettes in 2024 (with some factory support in the IMSA GTD Pro category).