Fredrik Noren excited to join Honda Muscle Milk Motocross team at RedBud

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When Fredrik Noren’s van arrives at the track one final time this weekend at RedBud, he will officially be stepping into a whole new life – a life which may have seemed like a pipe dream until a few weeks ago.

Seeing a top rider sidelined for the season is always unfortunate, but sometimes it opens up a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a hard-working, deserving rider. Such is the case for Noren, the privateer from Sweden who was signed by the Honda Muscle Milk team this week to fill in for Justin Barcia for the rest of the season.

If you’ve been following the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship closely this season, Noren’s promotion shouldn’t come as much of a shock. He has easily been the top privateer in the 450 Class, continually knocking on the door of the top-ten despite the lack of funding or factory support. Noren’s results have long been notable, but this year he is stronger than ever.

Noren opted to leave Sweden to come to the United States in 2011 and attempt to make a career for himself here but had to do so as a privateer, funding his own travel and expenses for nearly four full years.

“It’s been good,” Noren said of his privateer days. This year he has been traveling cross-country in a van to all the races. “I get to see a lot of the country. Not just the tracks.”

At the track, Noren, like most privateers, has been responsible for everything but has had one other important member on his team. He’s been receiving assistance in the pits over the years from his girlfriend, Amy.

“She knows how I work,” Noren said of Amy. “It’s nice, I feel really comfortable with her.”

Among Amy’s responsibilities at the track were packing Noren’s line at the starting gate, getting his goggles and washing the bike. On the mechanical side, Noren says he’s been fortunate not to have really had any major issues with the bike.

This past year, Noren took the time to ride his bike in the winter for the first time – a factor that he attributes his improved results to. He also claims he had more power in his bike this season after making a switch to KTM.

Despite some struggles in the Supercross season, Noren came out strong once the outdoor season began. Ever since a 29th-place finish in the opening moto of the season, he has scored points in all nine motos since then, highlighted by 12-13 moto results at Hangtown and 14-13 moto scores at High Point.

By the time High Point had wrapped up, Noren had caught the eye of the Honda Muscle Milk team, which was down a rider after Justin Barcia was ruled out for the remainder of the season with foot and ankle injuries.

“We started talking a little bit after High Point,” Noren recalled, “and obviously they were looking for a rider – everyone knew that. They asked me if I was interested, and I said ‘Heck yeah!’”

During the downtime between High Point and Tennessee, Noren had the opportunity to test the bike. “They wanted me to come try the bike out first, see how it worked,” Noren said. “So they flew me out to California.”

Although he had been on a KTM this season, Noren saw the Honda as a great fit for him. “I like the Hondas a lot,” he said. “It’s a bike that I liked in the past, it’s a really good bike and the people on the team are really cool people too. They’re really friendly.”

With the contract signed, Noren will officially join the team on Saturday. No more driving cross-country in a van, no more setting up his own bike after that – something that comes as a relief to the 22-year-old. “I can just kind of show up and race and don’t have to worry about my suspension being right or washing or driving or anything like that,” he said.

It’s tempting to set sky-high expectations for this year’s Cinderella story, but Noren knows that the first order of business is to get comfortable on the new bike. “This weekend now at RedBud, I haven’t really been riding the bike before now,” he said. “I hope that I’ll be where I’m at on my KTM, same spot. After that, I hope to be top-ten, but I don’t know. We’ll see what happens.”

There are seven rounds left in the season, and top-ten finishes would not only be a great result for the Muscle Milk Honda team, they would also help the future prospects of Noren, who admits that he hasn’t really thought much about 2015 yet but knows that he wants to race the 450 Class in both Supercross and the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship.

“I don’t think it would be hard going back to the van life,” he said. “But it would be nice if I wouldn’t have to.”

To find out how Noren performs in his first opportunity with a factory team, tune in to the Red Bull RedBud National today. Coverage starts at 10:30 A.M. ET with the second practice session, followed by the pre-race show at 12:15 P.M. ET. Both are airing online exclusively on ProMotocross.com and NBC Sports Live Extra.  Live coverage of all four motos begins at 1 P.M. ET with the first moto in the 450 Class. Click here to watch the Live Extra stream.

NBC will also carry live television coverage of the final 450 Class moto at 3 P.M. ET. NBCSN will pick up the action at 4 P.M. ET with the final 250 Class moto.

Ricky Brabec wins 2017 Sonora Rally (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

Ricky Brabec wins Sonora Rally. Photo: Sonora Rally
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Honda rider Ricky Brabec, who won a stage at this year’s Dakar Rally, has captured the victory in last week’s Sonora Rally, held March 21-24 in Sonora, Mexico.

He led all four of the special stages in a start-to-finish romp for victory.

Despite Joan Barreda and Steve Hengeveld’s injuries that ruled them out of the rally, Brabec still had to focus on the job at hand.

“You are really racing against yourself out here, against the terrain,” he said in a release.  “I’m much more familiar now with open up a course than I was back in January at Dakar when I had to do it for the first time.”

Fellow Honda riders Mark Samuels and Andrew Short completed the podium. Samuels won the Sonora Rally’s Dakar Challenge, which presents a free opportunity for a rider to enter the 2018 Dakar Rally.

“The hard work of getting to Dakar is still ahead of me, but I will do everything in my power to make America proud,” Samuels said.

Polaris ATR rider Dave Sykes won the UTV class, with Eric Pucelik and Mike Shirley winning the Cars class.

On background, the Sonora Rally is the only event of its kind in North America. The rally raid format requires street legal vehicles to transit along untimed “liaison” sections and timed “special stages” over multiple days, with the lowest combined time winning the event. Now in its third year, the Sonora Rally realizes the vision of founders Scott Whitney and Darren Skilton to bring a world class rally raid event to these shores (2016 recap).

Brabec’s winning ride is captured in the below video, via Race-Dezert.

Meanwhile, because photos do this event more justice than words do, those are below (All Photos: Sonora Rally)

Webber: Alonso may not see out the season with McLaren

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Mark Webber never had the easiest time in Formula 1, particularly his latter years as the number two driver at Red Bull Racing to Sebastian Vettel.

That being said, he was never on the verge of leaving it directly until he announced his plans to move to Porsche’s LMP1 Team, where he raced for three years from 2014 to 2016 before retiring at the end of last season.

But the Australian pondered whether Fernando Alonso might not be able to see out the season with McLaren Honda, if the team and manufacturer’s woes continue.

“Alonso may not stay with the team,” Webber told Belgian outlet Sporza. “Maybe Stoffel (Vandoorne) soon will have a new teammate.”

“I could see it happen that Alonso does not drive out the season. He is very frustrated. Fernando doesn’t start for a sixth or seventh place; he wants to fight for the podium.”

Webber added that for Vandoorne’s sake, starting in a team with lower expectations might not be the worst thing for him. It may allow the Belgian rookie to learn without extra pressure, since the onus is focused on the team.

For Alonso though, time is of the essence for what’s left of his career in F1. This is his last season under contract with McLaren Honda and he made no secret of his frustration for how well he drove at Melbourne, yet the car wasn’t up for it.

“Well the race was good, one of my best races driving like that,” Alonso told NBCSN post-race. “The car’s uncompetitive and to be close for a point was a nice surprise. It was good fuel saving as well. I was surprised to keep it in the points. A suspension (issue) stopped us from getting this point.

“I feel very well prepared, driving at the best of my career, and I’m fighting for one point. That’s disappointing and frustrating. But so long as I’m driving at my best, it’s a problem for the team… not me.”

Rosberg, Button soak up their first weekends out of F1 (PHOTOS)

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Since 2008, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel have won seven World Championships. The two drivers that won titles in that period not named Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel – Nico Rosberg (2016) and Jenson Button (2009) – were both enjoying their first weekends not on a Formula 1 grid as full-time drivers for the first time in more than a decade this weekend as the 2017 season commenced at Melbourne’s Albert Park.

Rosberg made a visit to preseason testing in Barcelona a few weeks ago for his first appearance as spectator since winning the World Championship. But he watched from home this weekend with his family and posted a few thoughts during both qualifying and the race:

We’re now quite familiar with Rosberg’s home TV set and coffee table. This is the first time Rosberg has been out of an F1 race since 2005, the year he won the first GP2 championship.

Button meanwhile paid a visit to California for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series weekend at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana… once he got off his couch. He checked in with seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson at Fontana.

Do you guys know if there's anything good to watch on tele this weekend? @storm_and_rogue_pomskies

A post shared by Jenson Button (@jensonbutton_22) on

Given McLaren Honda’s struggles, Button is probably smart to have got out when he did. He’d been on the grid since 2000, save for a couple races out in 2005 when BAR-Honda was barred from competing after being disqualified from the San Marino Grand Prix.

Meanwhile for Rosberg, he watched as Mercedes was unable to win the season opener for the first time since 2013.

DJR Team Penske wins three of four Supercars races at Melbourne

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DJR Team Penske has won its first Virgin Australia Supercars Championship races over the weekend during the Australian Grand Prix, with Scott McLaughlin and Fabian Coulthard taking the first three wins in the four-race, non-championship race weekend.

While Penske’s teams have long succeeded in North America and have had some international success, notably a Formula 1 win at the 1976 Austrian Grand Prix with John Watson, success has thus far eluded them since arriving in Supercars two years ago as majority shareholders of Dick Johnson Racing.

McLaughlin had the honor of beating Coulthard to the first win in race one of the weekend, before Coulthard doubled up with wins in races two and three. The first two races were one-two finishes, though, and McLaughlin said he’d received a text from Roger Penske in the wake of the victory.

“I got a text from Roger straight away and they’re all pretty happy,” McLaughlin told Supercars.com.

“They’re thanking me but I should be thanking them for giving me the opportunity.”

The first race was marred by this incident between Nick Percat and Lee Holdsworth, Percat having lost his brakes entering Turn 1 and crashing into Holdsworth, who was an innocent bystander.

But once the race resumed, McLaughlin held off Coulthard for the victory.

Coulthard led from start-to-finish in race two after his second straight pole position. He did the same in race three, albeit not in a Penske 1-2 as Jamie Whincup came second for Red Bull Holden Racing Team Commodore. McLaughlin was third.

A left-front puncture stopped Coulthard making it three in a row in the fourth race, and with steering damage, McLaughlin was resigned to 17th. Chaz Mostert took the win his Supercheap Ford, ending his own winless spell that dated to August of 2015.

Also of note from the weekend, ex-IndyCar driver Simona de Silvestro in her Team Harvey Norman Nissan Altima finished 13th in race one, her best finish yet in her first full season in the series.

The Supercars series is back in action at Symmons Plains Raceway on April 7-9.  Coulthard sits second in the series championship, 51 points back of Whincup’s teammate, Shane van Gisbergen.