Motocross: Can Roczen slow Dungey’s momentum Saturday at Unadilla?

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The final off-week of the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship season could not have come at a better time for Ken Roczen.

Four weeks ago, Roczen had managed to build up a 26-point lead on his Red Bull KTM teammate Ryan Dungey in the 450 Class championship standings. In just two rounds since then, Dungey has managed to nearly cut that lead in half. The turning point seemed to occur two weeks ago at Washougal, where Dungey swept both motos and trimmed the gap down to 14 points.

The momentum is suddenly shifting away from Roczen, and he seems to know it. At the post-race press conference in Washougal, he acknowledged that he’s not racing at the same level we’ve seen that he’s capable of:

Obviously, right now I’m not riding like I did in the beginning of the year, so I’m just trying to get back there. There’s just some sacrifices that I have to make. I’m still kind of all over the place. I go play golf, I go jump in the pool, and this and that. I think I just got to take a bit more rest. I’m willing to do anything to be able to keep that red plate, so I’m going to go work on a few things and maybe come back swinging.

It’s clear from Roczen’s quote that he isn’t taking this challenge lightly. Whether or not he was able to use the off-week to make the necessary changes – both to his bike and to himself – to return to the top of the podium is the biggest question that will be answered Saturday at the Red Bull Unadilla National.

Here’s a few other storylines to keep an eye on when the gates drop.

Who’s out?
The 450 Class will be missing two of this season’s moto winners from the starting gate, as James Stewart (undisclosed) and Josh Grant (concussion) will both miss their second race in a row. Stewart and Grant are currently fifth and sixth, respectively, in 450MX points.

Who’s in?
GEICO Honda’s Zach Osborne will return to action in the 250 Class after recovering from a torn thumb ligament that he suffered in the second moto of the season. He was a top-five rider last year and was expected to contend for moto wins this season before being injured. Darryn Durham (250 Class, concussion) and Jake Weimer (450 Class, back) are also among this week’s notable returns.

A shot at redemption?
There’s another rider back in action this week – Michael Byrne. Byrne is making his season debut riding for Chad Reed’s TwoTwo Motorsports team. It was right here at Unadilla two years ago that Byrne’s career was altered. While he was leading the first 450 Class moto, he got caught in a rut and broke his leg. It was a devastating injury that he has struggled to recover from. Byrne is reportedly feeling healthier now though and will surely be motivated to turn in a good outing in the 450 Class.

New recruits
The pros may have had an off-week, but down in Tennessee, the top amateur racers in the country were at the Loretta Lynn’s Amateur Motocross Championships. Every year, a few of the top amateurs graduate to the pro ranks in time for the last few nationals of the season. This year, there are three riders to keep an eye on. RJ Hampshire (GEICO Honda) is the cream of the crop after sweeping all six motos he raced at Loretta Lynn’s and winning two championships, but Luke Renzland (CycleTrader.com/Rock River Yamaha) and Chris Alldredge (Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki) come with plenty of hype and accolades this year as well.

The other championship battle
In the 250 Class, Jeremy Martin holds a comfortable points lead over Cooper Webb and Blake Baggett. With another solid outing at Unadilla, Martin could position himself to wrap up the title early at next week’s Indiana National. On the flip side, one bad moto from Martin could completely alter the complexion of the title fight.

Coverage from Unadilla starts at 10:30 AM E.T. with the second practice session in the 450 and 250 Classes, followed by the pre-race show at 12:15 PM E.T. Both can be streamed online through ProMotocross.com and NBC Sports Live Extra.

First motos in both classes will stream live online beginning at 1:00 PM E.T., followed by second motos at 3:00 PM E.T. NBC and NBCSN will also have television coverage, with the final 450 Class moto airing live on NBC at 3:00 PM E.T., and the final 250 Class moto live on NBCSN at 4:00 PM E.T.

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.”