Revamped Belle Isle kicks off big stretch for IndyCar (VIDEO)

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The Indianapolis 500 has come and gone, and now the real fight for the IZOD IndyCar Series championship can begin.

This weekend’s Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit (Saturday and Sunday, 3:30 p.m. ET; check local listings) not only marks the first-ever doubleheader weekend for North America’s top open-wheel series but also begins a run of five races in four weekends. It’ll be a tough stretch for everybody involved and it gets started with the island course at Belle Isle Park on the Detroit River.

The circuit has been overhauled following last year’s embarrassing track surface problems that caused the distance of the race, won by Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon, to be shortened by a third (60 laps instead of the scheduled 90). Over 100,000 square feet of new concrete and 50,000 square feet of new asphalt has been put down to ensure that such a scenario won’t play out again, but just as importantly, the track has gone to a 2.3-mile configuration that was used during the event’s days under CART sanction.

This has brought in a new straightaway of about one half-mile connecting Turns 2 and 3 – adding a much-needed passing zone to a course that has been maligned repeatedly over the years as unexciting.

It cannot be stressed enough just how important physical conditioning and managing mental stress is going to be this weekend for the drivers and teams in Detroit. Two 70-lap races on a bumpy, narrow street circuit is going to be hard for them, but with the series championship now front-and-center after the “500,” they’ll all have to keep their eyes on the prize.

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.