Did final half-hour ruin an otherwise great Rolex 24? (UPDATED)

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IMSA officials were surely hoping this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway would be an awesome debut for the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship and a new era of North American sports car racing.

And outside of the horrific crash yesterday that sent drivers Memo Gidley and Matteo Malucelli to the hospital, it was looking like just that going into the final hour of the race today, with tight battles for victory ensuing in nearly all of the classes.

But instead of being hailed as an out-and-out classic, this year’s Rolex (won by Action Express Racing) will likely be remembered by some for its chaotic finish, which evolved over the final half-hour and transformed the race into something more akin to a NASCAR-style “green-white-checkered” rush.

With about 22 minutes to go, Leh Keen had just taken the No. 22 Alex Job Racing Porsche out of the pits but then slid off the track at Turn 2, and bounced into the nearby tire barriers.

The impact inflicted some front-end damage, but Keen was able to keep the car going out of that and almost immediately came back onto the track. However, that didn’t stop IMSA from throwing a full-course yellow in surprisingly quick fashion – bunching up the field for what would turn out to be a final, eight-minute dash when the green returned.

In hindsight, Keen’s incident meriting a full-course yellow was iffy at best, considering how fast he was able to get his wounded Porsche on course again. But while that may have caused an eye-roll or two, the conclusion to the GTD duel between Level 5 Motorsports’ Alessandro Pier Guidi and Flying Lizard Motorsports’ Markus Winkelhock would prove more stunning.

After the two had made contact in the bus stop chicane shortly following the green flag, Pier Guidi overshot the same corner on the penultimate lap but took the lead back from Winkelhock as the white flag came out. Then in the infield, Winkelhock and his Audi came up to battle side-by-side with Pier Guidi in his Ferrari.

The two gave no quarter to the other but didn’t appear to make contact before Winkelhock went off-course, allowing Pier Guidi to pull away for the win. Instead, IMSA chose to give Pier Guidi and the No. 555 team a time penalty for avoidable contact, which meant Winkelhock and his No. 45 squad were dubbed GTD class winners.

The decision was met with surprise and shock, and MotorSportsTalk’s man on the ground, Tony DiZinno, confirmed that IMSA officials were discussing the final outcome in GTD. Several hours after the finish, IMSA announced that they would reverse their original decision and declare the No. 555 team as GTD class winners after a review of the last-lap incident.

Article 48, Section 3 of IMSA’s TUDOR Series rulebook says that any driver who is found by the Race Director to have caused “avoidable contact with another competitor, whether or not such contact interrupts the other competitor’s lap times, track position or damages other competitor’s Cars, and whether or not such actions result in actual contact, may be warned or penalized.”

So, IMSA was within its right to issue the original penalty, even if you may think the rule is misguided because their was no contact on the final lap.

But it begs the question of why that penalty wasn’t issued right after the two had come together in the bus stop. So, even though IMSA officials have decided to overturn their call on Pier Guidi and give the No. 555 the class victory, they still appeared to have missed one.

It’s a shame we’ve had to focus on this, because outside of this and the Gidley-Malucelli crash, the 2014 Rolex was really fun to watch. And the fact that there was a very sizable crowd to attend the festivities bodes well for the new TUDOR Championship. They have several positives to build upon as they continue deeper into their inaugural season.

But one can’t help but wonder if today’s finish has put a damper on an otherwise great event.

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.”