Neel Jani brings Rebellion pole position for Petit Le Mans

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Neel Jani will seek to defend his 2012 Petit Le Mans title from the pole position after he took the No. 12 Rebellion Racing Lola B12/60-Toyota to the pole for tomorrow’s 10-hour odyssey at Road Atlanta.

Jani, who won last year’s Petit for Rebellion with co-drivers Nicolas Prost and Andrea Belicchi, threw down a lap of 1 minute, 9.254 seconds to claim his fourth career pole in the American Le Mans Series. For this year’s Petit, Jani (pictured, middle) will drive the No. 12 with Prost (pictured, right) and former Formula One competitor Nick Heidfeld (pictured, left).

In qualifying, Jani out-hustled Lucas Luhr, one-half of the ALMS’ back-to-back P1 champions from Muscle Milk Pickett Racing. Luhr turned in a time of 1 minute, 10.397 in the No. 6 Honda Performance Development ARX-03c, which he’ll share with his regular teammate Klaus Graf and Romain Dumas.

As for the remaining classes, the P2 pole went to David Brabham, who is helping to send-off the ALMS in its final race at Road Atlanta before merging with GRAND-AM into the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship. Brabham posted a time of 1 minute, 12.668 seconds in the No. 01 Extreme Speed Motorsports HPD ARX-03b that he’ll share with Scott Sharp and Anthony Lazzaro.

Sharp is chasing Level 5 Motorsports’ Scott Tucker for the P2 driver’s championship, in which Tucker currently holds a six-point edge at 149-143. Tucker will co-drive the No. 551 HPD ARX-03b with Marino Franchitti and Ryan Briscoe, who appeared as if he’d won the P2 pole but lost his fastest lap, a 1:12.490, after he ran out of fuel late in the session; as a result, his qualifying time was reset to 1:12.792, good enough for second in class.

Also earning class poles:

Prototype Challenge – No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA FLM09 (Dane Cameron/class points leader Mike Gausch/David Cheng), 1 minute, 14.955 seconds

GT – No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 458 Italia (Matteo Malucelli/Olivier Beretta/Robin Liddell), 1 minute, 18.861 seconds

GT Challenge – No. 45 Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 Cup (Spencer Pumpelly/Nelson Canache, Jr./Madison Snow), 1 minute, 24.118 seconds

The 10-hour, 1,000-mile Petit is slated to begin tomorrow morning at 11:30 a.m. ET.

SuperMotocross: Ken Roczen urgently needed change

Roczen change
Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media
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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.

How it ended was in stark contrast to how it began. Roczen’s 2022 season got off to the best possible start. He won the Supercross opener at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California by more than seven seconds over the 2021 champion Cooper Webb.

That would be his last podium and he scored only one more top-five in the Glendale, Arizona Triple Crown.

MORE: Ken Roczen sweeps top five in Anaheim 2 Triple Crown

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.

Roczen Motocross Round 3
Ken Roczen won Round 3 of the outdoor season in 2022 at Thunder Valley after finished second in Moto 1 and first in Moto 2. Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

Winds of Change

Roczen’s offseason was dramatic. Citing differences over his announcement to compete in the World Supercross Championship, he split with Honda HRC and declared himself a free agent. It wasn’t a difficult decision; Roczen was signed only for the Supercross season.

That change had the desired effect. Roczen won the WSX championship in their two-race, pilot season. More importantly, he proved to himself that he could compete for wins.

Late in the offseason, Roczen announced he would also change manufacturers with a move to HEP Progressive Ecstar Suzuki. He won the 2016 Pro Motocross title for Suzuki with nine wins in 12 Nationals and finished no worse than second. He easily outran the competition with an advantage of 86 points over second-place Eli Tomac.

“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.

Supercross Round 1 results
Ken Roczen raised expectations with his season opening win at Anaheim but did not stand on the box again in the Supercross series. Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

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.”