‘My God, we needed this so bad’: Andretti delivers powerful rebound in Long Beach

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LONG BEACH, California – The lasting impression of Andretti Autosport after the IndyCar season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 5 was from a camera on the team’s pit stand that showed team owner Michael Andretti dealing with a series of frustrations.

Whether it was Devlin DeFrancesco going airborne in the infamous first-lap crash in Turn 3 to Kyle Kirkwood also going airborne over Jack Harvey in a multicar crash in Turn 4 on Lap 41, each time the camera caught Andretti reacting in frustration.

But wait, there’s more.

FIRST-TIME WINNER: Kyle Kirkwood wins Long Beach

FULL STATS PACKAGE: Results and points from Long Beach

Colton Herta hit the tire barriers on Lap 50 — leaving pole-sitter Romain Grosjean as Andretti Autosport’s last hope of saving the day for the team.

But then Grosjean got caught in a side-by-side battle with Scott McLaughlin for the lead, the two cars touched, and both ended up in the Turn 4 tire barrier.

The lasting memory of that race for Andretti Autosport was Michael Andretti pounding his fist onto the counter of the timing stand, taking off his headset and slamming it on the counter.

Four cars, four crashes and an “Oh-for-Four” performance to start off the season.

Six weeks later, Andretti Autosport achieved redemption on the streets of Long Beach.

Kirkwood started on the pole and drove to his first career NTT IndyCar Series victory, leading 53 laps to win in his third IndyCar start for Andretti Autosport.

Grosjean was 0.9907 seconds behind as the runner-up in a 1-2 sweep for Andretti Autosport.

The team also claimed three of the top four positions as Herta took fourth, just behind Chip Ganassi Racing driver and NTT IndyCar Series points leader Marcus Ericsson.

When the 48th running of the most prestigious street race in North America had concluded, the lasting image was Andretti celebrating in Victory Lane.

“Those last 30 laps were very long, but that was awesome,” Andretti told NBC Sports just after the checkered flag waved. “Awesome.

“My God, we needed this so bad. Hopefully now, we are back on track. I’m so excited. Kyle Kirkwood is the real deal, but Romain also drove a very smart race. I couldn’t be happier.

“With Colton Herta finishing fourth, I’m extremely happy with that right now.”

For anyone who believes the NTT IndyCar Series is a battle between Team Penske and Chip Ganassi, Andretti Autosport proved they remain a powerful force after the impressive effort Sunday on the streets of Long Beach.

“Hopefully, we can sneak up on them now,” Andretti said.

Team owner Andretti calls the race strategy for Grosjean but is always able to celebrate when one of his drivers wins the race. Josh Freund is one of two IndyCar team managers at Andretti Autosport along with Paul “Ziggy” Harcus. Freund works on the No. 28 pit stand for Grosjean.

He took a big picture view of Grosjean’s second-place performance on Sunday and what that means for success in 2023.

“We just have to execute,” Freund told NBC Sports. “We want to go after race wins. We did that today, but we will keep working it and working on the championship.

“Long Beach is a special one and I couldn’t be happier to get a 1-2 finish out of this race. We’ve had great cars all year. We have to keep putting them together like this.

“It was a great day for Andretti Autosport.”

The week before the April 2 PPG 375 at Texas Motor Speedway, team owner Andretti and Chief Operating Officer Rob Edwards made the decision to take Colton Herta’s father and race strategist, Bryan, off his son’s timing stand and pair him with Kirkwood. Scott Harner would take over the race strategy role for Herta.

At Texas, nobody at Andretti Autosport wanted to talk about the move, giving the perception there were some hard feelings with the switch.

There was a method to the madness, though, as the Herta-Kirkwood combination paid off with a victory in just their second race together. The Harner-Colton Herta pairing also paid off with an impressive fourth place finish after Herta started the race seventh.

“It’s all driver,” Bryan Herta told NBC Sports after the race. “It’s an honor and a privilege to be on the 27 team with these guys. To be part of Kyle Kirkwood’s first pole and now Kyle Kirkwood’s first win, those are really special moments in any driver’s career, and I feel honored to be part of that with him.

“Kyle did a great job today. I’m happy to be part of this team and do the best job I can for them. It was a great team result – 1-2-4, competitive cars all weekend. I’m really happy with that.”

“This is what we talked about; this is what we need to do as a team if we want to say we are one of the big three teams. This is the type of thing we need to do if we are going to prove that.”

Edwards was a key believer in making the switch in race strategist. Sunday at Long Beach, the team proved his point.

“It’s a great team effort,” Edwards said. “We looked at some things after St. Pete and came here and needed to make things right,” Edwards told NBC Sports. “I’m very happy for everyone. We had reasons we made the switch that we did and hopefully this is the start of getting on roll.”

Colton Herta was happy, not only for his fourth-place finish, but to see his teammate get his first career IndyCar victory.

“We were all similar pace in that race,” Herta told NBC Sports. “Congrats to Kyle on his first win, that’s really cool, and Romain for the podium. I wish I could have moved up one more spot to get a full Andretti podium. That would have been the second full Andretti sweep for me. The first one was 2020.

“It was a good day for me. I made up some places and got the car better than yesterday, so I’m happy with it.

“This definitely gives you confidence. We’re happy where we are with the cars. I’ve been talking the cars up all during the offseason. Hopefully, this shows a little insight into what we can do. We need more consistency, but I’m happy with it.”

He also said his relationship with Harner is good and “everyone is on the same page.” That momentum and chemistry is important, especially as the month of May approaches at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

That confidence can give the team a big boost at the most important time of the season in the NTT IndyCar Series.

“This shows it’s an incredible effort from everybody,” Herta said.

Over in Victory Lane, Grosjean celebrated his podium finish with the winner and third-place Ericsson. He told NBC Sports that in the closing laps when he was narrowing the gap to Kirkwood, he wasn’t going to push the issue.

“I decided to play it safe because there was no point in throwing away what would be a great finish for the team,” Grosjean told NBC Sports. “We had to pit early and didn’t have enough fuel in the tank for the last few laps, so I couldn’t use my push-to-pass.

“But Kyle drove a champion’s race. He didn’t make any mistakes. I didn’t want to take any risk and finishing 1-2 was better than making a mistake that could have taken us both out.”

That attitude impressed his team owner, who orchestrates the race on Grosjean’s pit stand.

“Romain drove really well and was a team driver,” Michael Andretti said. “We did everything that we needed to do. Romain was smart enough to not push it and we didn’t need to tell him what to do.

“Kyle has won a lot of races in other series. I had all the confidence in the world that he was going to get it done today.”

As a youngster, Kirkwood said in Victory Lane that he always dreamed of winning the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. It was extra special that his first career IndyCar victory came in the biggest street course race in North America, and the second biggest street race in the world behind Formula One’s Grand Prix of Monaco.

“I’ve always wanted to win here,” Kirkwood said. “Andretti Autosport, everyone on the No. 27 car, they crushed it.

“Andretti Autosport, and Honda together, we can go and win a lot of races. We made a big step. Hopefully, you will be seeing us four drivers in Victory Lane a lot more.

“We’re looking forward to the rest of the season. Michael Andretti got his first career win here and hopefully; I can emulate him.”

Long Beach will also be special to Michael Andretti because it is where he got his first and last IndyCar wins. But on Sunday, he saw his team bounce back from the first street race of the season, that ended in bitter disappointment and frustration.

“It’s huge, really huge,” Andretti said. “We needed this bad. We knew we had fast cars, but we had to get the job done and today we did.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

Motocross 2023: Results and points after SuperMotocross Round 18 at Hangtown

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For the second consecutive week, Jett Lawrence had perfect results in the Pro Motocross round at Hangtown in Rancho Cordova, California with a pair of moto wins and the overall victory, only this time he didn’t have Chase Sexton, who sat out the round with a concussion, to keep him honest in the second race.

Jett Lawrence’s performance in the first two Motocross rounds has him thinking of a rookie championship. – Align Media

Lawrence led all 16 laps of both races after taking the holeshot in the second moto and grabbing the lead from Dylan Ferrandis in Turn 2 of Moto 1. Lawrence claimed a four-second lead in Moto 1 and five seconds in Moto 2, but as dominant as it seems on paper, there were some exciting moments during the weekend. In the second race, Lawrence wanted to build an advantage that would allow him to maintain his pace and he nearly high-sided a couple of times in heavy ruts.

RESULTS: Click here for full 450 Results; Click here for 250 Results

In his second race back from a concussion, Ferrandis finished in the runner-up spot with a second in Moto 1 and a third in Moto 2. While his finish of second overall goes into the record books, Pro Motocross points are rewarded for each individual race and that meant Ferrandis lost eight points in championship battle to Lawrence. With Sexton failing to mount up for the race, Ferrandis advanced to second in the standings with an 18-point gap to Lawrence. Equally important, Ferrandis gained ground in the SuperMotocross World Championship (WSX) points and now has a gap of 44 over 21st-place Justin Starling.

Cooper Webb is also in his second round since returning from a Supercross injury suffered in Nashville at the end of their season. Claiming results of fourth and second in the two races, Webb earned 40 SuperMotocross points at Hangtown and closed in on Sexton in the WSX battle. Sexton entered Hangtown with a large enough lead that he could not be overtaken, but he is now only 38 points up and could face a difficult decision next week at Thunder Valley in Lakewood, Colorado if he wants to hold onto his lead.

Moto 1 Results | Lap Chart | Fastest Segment Laps | Moto 2 Results | Lap Chart | Fastest Segment Laps | Consolation Race

Aaron Plessinger had an adventurous weekend in which he seemed to close on Lawrence in his second race before crashing and dropping to fourth. Coupled with a fifth-place finish in Moto 1, he earned 35 points and was credited with fourth overall.

Cashing in on confidence he gained in the final rounds of the Supercross season, Adam Cianciarulo earned his first top-five of the Pro Motocross championship after narrowly missing out last week with a sixth. He earned the distinction with consistent results of fifth in Moto 1 and fourth in Moto 2.

Click here for 450 Overall results | Rider Points | Manufacturer Points


Hunter Lawrence showed his back to the competition at Hangtown, just as he did the week prior at Fox Raceway. – Align Media

The Lawrence brothers made history last week as the first siblings to win in two Pro Motocross divisions on the same day. Fans should get accustomed to seeing this happen with some regularity as Hunter Lawrence posted identical results in Hangtown to those he had at Fox Raceway in the season opener.

In both races, Lawrence got off to a slow start in Moto 1 and had to claw his way back to the podium. He dominated Moto 2 in both rounds to earn the overall victories.

Justin Cooper did not allow Lawrence to gain much of an advantage in the Motocross points’ standings, however. Finishing second in both motos, the earned only one point less than Lawrence. His modest showing in Round 1 of the outdoor season has him 12 points out of first in the championship standings.

Moto 1 Results | Lap Chart | Fastest Segment Laps | Moto 2 Results | Lap Chart | Fastest Segment Laps | Consolation Race

Haiden Deegan scored his first moto win in just his fourth start in the series. In the first race of the day, he had to withstand constant pressure from Cooper, but when his teammate closed in on him, Deegan reached down and found a little more speed. Now that he’s won one of these races, he has his sight set on challenging Lawrence for the title. Deegan is second in the Pro Motocross championship standings with a 10-point deficit to the leader.

Haiden Deegan scored podiums in both Motocross rounds of 2023. – Align Media

Tom Vialle tied his career-best finish of fourth overall with a seventh-place finish in Moto 1 and a third in Moto 2. Vialle was fourth last week in overall ranking and has one fourth-place finish in the Supercross series that came in the Triple Crown format at Arlington.

Click here for 250 Overall results | Rider Points | Manufacturer Points

RJ Hampshire rounded out the top five with a pair of fifth-place results and 32 points for the round. Even though the deficit is a whopping 61 points, Hampshire climbed to second in the SuperMotocross championship standings now that Jett Lawrence has moved to the big bikes.

Jalek Swoll struggled last week and finished 21st overall at Fox Raceway. This week, he finished on the cusp of 10th in both races with a ninth in Moto 1 and 11th in Moto 2. In the SuperMotocross standings, he has a lot of ground to make up. He currently sits 49th on the chart with a 70-point gap to Chance Hymas, who is on the bubble to earn a guaranteed position in the SMX Mains for the three playoff races that will be held on September.

2023 Motocross Results

Round 1: Jett Lawrence, Hunter Lawrence win

2023 Supercross Results

Round 17: Chase Sexton, Jett Lawrence win
Round 16: Chase Sexton, RJ Hampshire win
Round 15: Chase Sexton, Hunter Lawrence win
Round 14: Justin Barcia, Max Anstie win
Round 13: Chase Sexton, Hunter Lawrence win
Round 12: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence win
Round 11: Eli Tomac bounces back with sixth win
Round 10: Chace Sexton wins, penalized
Round 9: Ken Roczen wins
Round 8: Eli Tomac wins 7th Daytona
Round 7: Cooper Webb wins second race
Race 6: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence win
Race 5: Webb, Hunter Lawrence win
Race 4: Eli Tomac, Hunter Lawrence win
Race 3: Chase Sexton, Levi Kitchen win
Race 2: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence win
Round 1: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence win

2023 SuperMotocross Power Rankings

Week 18: Jett Lawrence rockets to the top
Week 16: Chase Sexton takes SX title
Week 15: Eli Tomac is back on top
Week 14: Justin Barcia, most of top 20, hold steady
Week 13: Barcia leapfrogs the Big Three
Week 12: Eli Tomac gains momentum
Week 11: Cooper Webb, Tomac overtake Chase Sexton
Week 10: Sexton leads with consistency
Week 8: Sexton unseats Tomac
Week 7: Jason Anderson narrowly trails Tomac
Week 6: Perfect Oakland night keeps Tomac first
Week 5: Webb, Sexton close gap
Week 4: Tomac retakes lead
Week 3: Ken Roczen takes the top spot
Week 2: Roczen moves up; Sexton falls
Week 1: Tomac tops 450s; Jett Lawrence 250s