Schmidt, Herta squads threaten Honda hierarchy in Barber

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Honda got its groove back Friday at Barber Motorsports Park and leading the charge besides its flagship Chip Ganassi Racing squad were the efforts from Sam Schmidt’s and Bryan Herta’s teams.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports rookie Tristan Vautier paced Friday’s first practice, then ended the day third fastest with Schmidt Hamilton teammate Simon Pagenaud in fourth. An off for Vautier at the end of practice one interrupted what had been a good day.

“It was disappointing at the end of the first practice to cause a red because of a mistake, but no, I’m very happy with the car that the team has given me today,” Vautier said. “I think that I still have some room to keep improving, and we need to carry the momentum from today into tomorrow.”

Pagenaud estimated there were still gains to be made as the car struggled in some portions of the track.

“We still have quite a bit to do, as we are losing a lot in very important sectors; otherwise the car would be golden,” said Pagenaud. “There’s still a little bit of work to do but overall whether it’s Honda, whether it’s the team, and working with Tristan, this weekend has all been quite enjoyable.”

Schmidt told IndyCar Radio he hoped Honda had done its homework after both cars suffered exhaust problems at St. Petersburg, but remained cautious until the race concluded on Sunday.

Meanwhile at Herta’s Barracuda Racing, driver Alex Tagliani ended Friday in second place and put in an early candidate for quote of the year given his position on the timesheets.

“I am really proud of what the team accomplished here this weekend,” he said. “Obviously we are accustomed to being in the Firestone Fast 6 last year. I really didn’t like using the Port-a-Potty in the back of the grid. It feels good and hopefully we can have a good qualifying and it’s a tough race to pace here, so qualifying will be key.”

Ken Roczen signs with HEP Progressive Ecstar Suzuki for 2023

Roczen Progressive Ecstar Suzuki
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ANAHEIM, California – Ken Roczen will make the move from HRC Honda to H.E.P. Motorsports with the Progressive Ecstar Suzuki team, ending a long and eventful offseason that saw his split from his longstanding team after he committed to running World Supercross (WSX).

“H.E.P. Motorsports is thrilled to announce that the team has signed Ken Roczen as its premier rider for the 2023 season,” the team announced on Instagram. “Former AMA Motocross champion Roczen will be aboard a Suzuki RM-Z450. Roczen, who won his most recent championship on a Suzuki, will be reunited with the brand and bring his exciting style, determination, and grit back to the RM Army.

“Ken Roczen will compete in the upcoming 2023 Supercross and Motocross Championship series which is set to start on January 7 at Anaheim Stadium in Southern California.”

For Roczen, it is a return to the bike of his youth and on which he had some of his greatest professional success.

“This thing has been going on for weeks and weeks and weeks in the making, but there was so much uncertainty,” Roczen told NBC Sports during Monster Energy Supercross Media Sessions. “It was a very unique situation. I just finally signed two nights ago, so it’s really only legit once the ink hits the paper. It’s been in the works for a long time, but there were just a lot of questions and a lot of input from a lot of other teams too.

“Good things take time, and I’m okay with that. I grew up riding Suzuki. Ot’s like a homecoming. It’s a special feeling”

Roczen won the 2016 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship on a Suzuki before making the move to Honda. That year he won nine of 12 Nationals and finished no worse than second as he easily outpaced Eli Tomac by 86 points. He finished third in his next Pro Motocross outing in 2018 after sitting out the outdoor season in 2017.

“I am beyond excited to reconnect with Suzuki for the 3rd time in my career. We’ve had a lot of success in the past and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish together in our future.” Roczen said in the Instagram post.