Munoz: Fontana draft in versus Toronto a “totally different” situation

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Details as to why E.J. Viso was taken out of his Andretti Autosport seat for this weekend’s IZOD IndyCar Series season finale still remain murky at best. Viso did tweet late Friday, “Wishing the best to @CarlosMunoz026 driving my car this weekend. Trying my best to recover from food poisoning. So frustrated.”

But regardless of what the situation was, the team still had to figure out a backup plan, and had the best possible choice ready to go with its Indy Lights driver Carlos Munoz.

Munoz now has the unique opportunity of being a Colombian driver stepping into the No. 5 Team Venezuela/Andretti Autosport/HVM Chevrolet. Additionally, he’s the only driver of the 38 who have started an IndyCar race this year to have driven three different cars (Nos. 26 and 5 for Andretti, No. 4 for Panther Racing).

It’s the second time he’s been called on as a replacement driver this year, having also filled in for the injured Ryan Briscoe at Toronto Race 2 for Panther Racing. The situations, however, could not have been more different.

“It’s a totally different situation actually,” Munoz explained to me after qualifying. “The first practice here was really tough and difficult after Indy lights. It’s a different track, with different line to run, so you’re trying to learn that. Toronto was the day of race and I had a morning warmup. But I think rookie drivers struggle more on the ovals.”

It was interesting to hear Munoz say that because the Colombian dominated the Indy Lights race here a year ago. But, IndyCar and Indy Lights are about as similar at Fontana as are apples and oranges.

Munoz now has the unintentional bonus of being the second straight Andretti Autosport driver to do the 600 miles of Indianapolis and Fontana in the same year, following Sebastian Saavedra last year. But, he agreed these are totally different situations as well.

He qualified 14th on Friday and should move up at least two more spots on the grid with 10-grid spot engine penalties to Scott Dixon (seventh) and Josef Newgarden (10th) to be enforced.

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.