Ken Roczen wins Moto 2 at Muddy Creek, takes third 450 Class Motocross overall victory

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James Stewart may have stolen the headlines recently for both on-track and off-track reasons, but at the Red Bull Tennessee National, it was Ken Roczen returning to his early-season form and showing why he’s the current points leader. On the heels of a solid second-place finish in the first 450 Class moto, Roczen took the victory in Moto 2 to secure his third overall victory of the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship season.

Roczen and his Red Bull KTM teammate Ryan Dungey were the head of the class in both motos at Muddy Creek Raceway. Roczen had a strong opportunity to win the first moto after moving past Eli Tomac on the opening lap to take over the lead, but a series of mistakes hampered Roczen’s chances throughout the race. The young German went down on Lap 2, giving up the lead and getting passed by Dungey in the process. Dungey and Roczen would end the moto 1-2.

The second moto was all about Roczen though. Despite the fact that Dungey raced to the MotoSport.com Holeshot, Roczen was soon right up on his rear wheel applying the pressure. The two teammates went back-and-forth during the first lap, racing side-by-side at times, and Roczen ultimately emerged in front and shut the door on Dungey. From there, Roczen would go on to lead the rest of the moto wire-to-wire, locking up both the moto win and the overall win for the day. Dungey kept it close throughout, but the two riders left the rest of the field in the dust.

“Felt good out there,” Roczen said after his moto win. “Happy it’s over. Another good weekend and [I] kept the points lead steady.”

Had Dungey been able to pass Roczen in Moto 2, he would have been able to take a huge chunk out of Roczen’s points lead, but he just couldn’t match the speed of his teammate. “Man, I pushed it the whole second moto,” Dungey remarked afterwards. “We gave it all we had, and that’s all I can do.”

Because he and Dungey swapped 1-2 finishes today, Roczen’s points lead over Dungey will hold steady at 16 points. The two riders were able to distance themselves a bit from James Stewart though, who had been inching closer but endured crashes in both motos en route to disappointing 5-11 moto finishes.

One rider who did perform well today was Eli Tomac. Coming back from a broken collarbone, the GEICO Honda rider was impressive in his first-ever race in the 450 Class. Hours after posting the fastest lap in qualifying, last year’s champion of the 250 Class raced to third-place finishes in both motos to secure a spot on the overall podium and could be even more of a factor as the season winds on.

Red Bull Tennessee National 450 Class Overall Results
1. Ken Roczen (2-1)
2. Ryan Dungey (1-2)
3. Eli Tomac (3-3)
4. Trey Canard (4-4)
5. Andrew Short (6-8)
6. Weston Peick (10-5)
7. Brett Metcalfe (9-7)
8. James Stewart (5-11)
9. Josh Grant (11-6)
10. Justin Brayton (8-15)
*Moto 1 and Moto 2 results in parenthesis

Cooper solidifies PWC GT presence with Callaway Corvette

Callaway, Cooper, Gill. Photo: PWC
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Pirelli World Challenge could use a “face” of the series from a driving standpoint, and American Michael Cooper is a good candidate to fill that role for 2018.

Cooper, 27, has won PWC Touring Car, GTS and, most recently the SprintX GT titles within the series and has quickly blossomed into one of the series’ top GT stars.

It’s been a rapid rise for the Syosset, N.Y. native, entering into a world filled with series stars and champions such as Johnny O’Connell, Patrick Long, Alvaro Parente and a host of others.

But under O’Connell’s tutelage, Cooper admirably filled the rather gaping shoes vacated by Andy Pilgrim at Cadillac Racing, steering the Cadillac ATS-V.R to multiple race wins in the last two years – including a sweep of this year’s season finale weekend at Sonoma.

Cooper and Jordan Taylor were the model of consistency in SprintX this year, winning once at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and surviving contact at Circuit of The Americas to take that title.

With Cadillac withdrawing its ATS-V.R program at the end of the year though, Cooper was left a free agent for 2018. Fortunately with one door closed another opened, in the form of the GM-blessed but full Callaway Competition USA effort with its Callaway Corvette C7 GT3-R that will come Stateside next year. Cooper and Daniel Keilwitz will be in the team’s two cars for the full season; the car was fully unveiled last week at the PRI Show in Indianapolis.

The Callaway is a proven commodity in Europe but couldn’t run in the U.S. unless the path was cleared by one of GM’s factory programs to end a direct, potential head-to-head competition.

Moving from the Cadillac to the Callaway Corvette should be a natural transition, Cooper said last week.

“It worked out incredibly well that GM decided to allow Calloway to run the car in the United States and it created an opportunity for me that wouldn’t have been there otherwise,” he told NBC Sports. “I talked to a lot of other GT teams and at the end of the day, I felt like this was the best direction for me to be competitive next year and to also continue furthering my career with General Motors.”

Indeed Cooper has graduated from the Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R in GTS to the Cadillac and now to the Callaway Corvette. Cooper hailed the Cadillac team for what they did for his career growth.

“Working with Cadillac Racing has been instrumental in developing my abilities both on and off the track,” he said. “So I’m definitely a much more well-rounded driver now and have a lot of experience in the World Challenge GT field, so I kind of know what to expect going into that first race and going into that first corner in St. Pete.”

As noted, the car’s success in Europe means it’s a well-oiled machine by the time Reeves Callaway has worked with PWC to bring it Stateside next year. And as Cooper explained, discussions had been underway for a bit of time to ensure his presence in this car and team.

“I think the car is going to be extremely capable. It’s already won championships and races in Europe. I think, in bringing it over here, we’re going to hit the ground running straight away,” he said.

“Calloway had wanted me to come drive for them in July or August. We always kept in touch since then, and there was a lot of work trying to put together a program before they decided that they were going to do a fully fledged factory program. So once they made that decision, I think the pieces were kind of in place already, and the conversations had been had to be able to say ‘You’re going to be our guy.’”

December is late for IMSA programs to get finalized, but it’s relatively early for PWC, with the season not starting until mid-March in St. Petersburg. An extensive testing program should follow, as Callaway establishes its U.S. base and infrastructure.

“It’s definitely early for a Pirelli World Challenge program to be announced in December when we start racing in March. So that’s very good,” he said. “But, the team has a lot of work ahead of them in terms of getting infrastructure set up here in the United States, because a lot of their racing program has been in Europe. So, there will be a testing program, but they have to get the infrastructure in place first. But, we’ll be well prepared for St. Pete, I’m certain of it.

“Last year was the first year when I could sit back, kick my feet up, and know what I was doing next year. So, to be able to have everything done and be able to announce it this early on makes my life less stressful and now I can just focus on preparing myself and my team for next year.”