Here’s how unpredictable this 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series season has been:
You have had four first-time winners – James Hinchcliffe, Takuma Sato, Simon Pagenaud and Charlie Kimball – emerge from the pack and take the next step in their respective careers.
You had a guy in Mike Conway who was basically left for the IndyCar scrap heap after deciding, and bravely I might add, he didn’t want to race ovals anymore. Then he came into the most heavily derided car on the grid (Dale Coyne’s second car) without so much as a test day and kicked ass in Detroit.
And you have the championship rivals of 2010 and 2011 – the champion, Dario Franchitti and the challenger, Will Power – having gone winless thus far in 2013.
What do you make of the nature of this topsy-turvy season where predictions are about as reliable as a weatherman’s in the Midwest?
Is this level of parity, and unpredictability, good for IndyCar or is it a sign where the current car allows drivers who might not be considered top-shelf, top-caliber pilots to punch above their weight?
Those questions I’ll leave for the comments section. But speaking objectively, having followed this series since I grew up following IndyCar in the 1990s and having covered it since 2006, I have to rank this season top three in the last 20 years. And we haven’t even got to the climax of the final few race weekends yet.
The nature of this field – compared to Formula One’s for example – is that you have a legitimate 15 or so contenders on any given weekend, depending on the track. Nine different drivers from seven teams have won in the 14 races. Seventeen different drivers from nine teams have scored at least one podium finish. The ones who haven’t yet have threatened the establishment at at least one race this year.
And for once, to this point at least, you don’t have the political morass or B.S. of off-track attempting to weave its way in and interrupt the on-track product. Way too often, it seems the permeating stench of politics and agendas seeps into the paddock, leaving media, competitors and fans disgruntled.
When the worst things off-track are questions over aero kits and changing the engine formula to just twin-turbos, rather than the usual leadership tumult at the top, it’s not a bad year. There remain challenges going forward, as always, but the on-track product has quieted the angst for most of the year.
I tweeted after the Indianapolis 500 that when Tony Kanaan won, on a day he was reunited with three of his best friends, Franchitti, Max Papis and the incomparable Alex Zanardi in Victory Lane, that it felt like 1998 all over again.
These are the new glory days in IndyCar. Enjoy the ride.
Change can be frightening, but it is often exhilarating and Ken Roczen, a rider in his ninth season on a 450 bike, it was urgently needed.
Roczen ended the 2022 Supercross season with his worst performance in five years. After finishing outside of the top five in seven of his last eight rounds in the stadium series, well down the points’ standings in ninth, he decided to put that season on hold.
Before 2022, Roczen was a regular challenger for the championship despite being plagued by major accidents that required surgery in 2017 and 2018. On his return, he was diagnosed with the Epstein-Barr virus, which presents with symptoms of heavy fatigue, muscle weakness and loss of appetite and last year he tested positive for COVID-19.
Against those odds, he finished second in the outdoor season in 2019 and third in 2020. In the Supercross series, he finished third in 2020 and second in 2021.
But the abbreviated season of 2022 signaled a need for change for Roczen.
“I needed the change urgently,” Roczen said in last week’s post-race press conference at Angel Stadium. “I did a pretty big change in general.”
Those comments came three races into the 2023 with him sitting among the top three finishers for the first time in 10 Supercross rounds. It was the 57th podium of his career, only six behind 10th-place Ryan Villopoto. It was also the first for Suzuki since 2019 when Chad Reed gave them one in Detroit 63 rounds ago.
Taking time off at the end of the Supercross season had the needed effect. He rejoined SuperMotocross in the outdoor season and immediately stood on the podium at Fox Raceway in Pala, California. Two rounds later, he won at Thunder Valley in Lakewood, Colorado. The relief was short lived and he would not stand on the podium again until this year.
“I just think change overall made it happen – and these overseas races – it’s really just a snowball,” Roczen said. “You start somewhere and you feel like something works out and I got better and had more fun doing it. Working with the team as well and working on the motorcycle to get better and actually see it paying off. It’s just, it’s just a big boost in general.”
The return to Suzuki at this stage of his career, after nearly a decade of competing on 450 motorcycles, recharged Roczen. He is one of three riders, (along with Cooper Webb and his former Honda teammate Chase Sexton), with a sweep of the top five in the first three rounds of the 2023 Supercross season.
But last week’s podium really drove home how strong he’s been.
“I think we’re all trying to take it all in,” Roczen said. “I wouldn’t say it came out of nowhere really, but before the season starts you think about – or I thought of how my whole last season went – and it’s been a long time since I’ve been on the podium.”
Roczen’s most recent podium prior to Anaheim 2 came at Budds Creek Motocross Park in Mechanicsville, Maryland last August in Round 10 of the outdoor season. His last podium in Supercross was the 2022 season opener that raised expectations so high.
The change Roczen needed was not just a different team and bike. More importantly, he needed the freedom to set his own schedule and control his training schedule.
“It’s long days, but I’m really into it at the moment,” Roczen said. “Overall, I felt [that] throughout this off season and now my health has been really well, really good, so that helps. It’s needed to get to the top. I’m pretty confident that we’re, we’re doing the right thing – that I’m doing the right thing.
“I’m doing all my training on my own and I’m planning out my entire week. And I feel like I have a really good system going right now with recovery and putting in some hard days. Right now, I don’t really have anybody telling me what to do. I’m the best judge of that.
“It’s really hard to talk about how much work we’ve put in, but we’ve been doing some big changes and riding a lot throughout the week, some really, really late days. And they’re paying off right now; we’re heading in the right direction. We’re all pulling on the same string, and that helps me out big time.”