Sports cars: Porsche, Aston Martin WEC lineups; Level 5 out of TUSC

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A few bits and pieces from the world of sports car racing, across the FIA World Endurance Championship, TUDOR United SportsCar Championship and Pirelli World Challenge:

  • Porsche has, officially, confirmed the lineups of its two 919 Hybrids it will run in the WEC for its top-line prototype return. Romain Dumas will share the No. 14 entry with Neel Jani and Marc Lieb; Dumas’ longtime co-driver Timo Bernhard anchors the sister No. 20 alongside Mark Webber and Brendon Hartley.
  • Aston Martin Racing has confirmed most of its drivers for its GTE Pro and GTE Am class entries in the WEC. Darren Turner and Stefan Mucke share the lead Pro car, the No. 97 Vantage. Meanwhile the new Interush-supported Bamboo Engineering group joins up with AMR for the second Pro car, the No. 99,  to be driven by Fernando Rees (Brazil), WTCC driver Alex MacDowall (England) and Craft Racing AMR’s Darryl O’Young (Hong Kong).
  • A quartet of Danes will rotate around the Young Driver AMR No. 95 Am class car, with David Heinemeier Hansson in for the full season and a combination of either Kristian Poulsen, Christoffer Nygaard and Nicki Thiim joining at selected events. Paul Dalla Lana’s is the team’s lone confirmed driver on its second WEC Am car, with Bruno Senna confirmed only for the team’s third Pro car and fifth in total at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
  • Level 5 Motorsports has made waves in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship by confirming it will withdraw its Ferrari 458 Italia GT3s from the series, effective immediately, before the next round of the season at Sebring March 15. Level 5 won the GT Daytona class at the Rolex 24 at Daytona following the overturning of a penalty that had been issued for avoidable contact. Compared to past years, Level 5 was running a customer program in 2013, and team manager David Stone told Sportscar365.com the decision was entirely his, and he had “no ill will or negativity” toward the series. The revised TUDOR Championship program for Level 5’s only pair of confirmed drivers, Bill Sweedler and Townsend Bell, is expected to be revealed soon.
  • Once Level 5’s two Ferraris are removed, they’ll drop from the latest rundown of the Sebring entry list. Aston Martin, which ran a single GT Le Mans class Vantage at Daytona, has also withdrawn. Combined with the GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing withdrawal, there will be several changes to the field by the time the race weekend actually occurs. But the field should still be north of 60 cars.
  • Michael Shank Racing with Curb/Agajanian will team with DreamWorks Studios to promote the upcoming Aaron Paul action flick “Need For Speed.” More here from IMSA’s website.
  • Nick Esayian, longtime RealTime Racing driver, has shifted to the TRG-AMR Aston Martin program in the Pirelli World Challenge GTS class. Esayian’s longtime teammate Peter Cunningham will advance into the series’ GT class ranks in RealTime’s new Acura TLX. A full entry list for the season-opening doubleheader weekend at St. Petersburg is linked here, via the series website.
  • Russia’s first Formula One driver, Vitaly Petrov, has confirmed a deal to race with Mercedes in the DTM in 2014. Petrov competed in F1 from 2010 to 2012, the first two years with Renault before switching to Caterham. He finished third at the 2011 Australian Grand Prix, becoming the first Russian driver to stand on an F1 podium.

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.”