Pirelli World Challenge begins 25th anniversary season this weekend

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WEEKEND SCHEDULE

Qualifying:
 Saturday, 8 a.m. ET
Race 1 (50 minutes): Saturday, 3:25 p.m. ET
Race 2 (50 minutes): Sunday, 11:25 a.m. ET

BROADCAST SCHEDULE

Live Broadcasts on World-ChallengeTV.com: Saturday, 3:10 p.m. ET and Sunday, 11:05 a.m. ET.
NBCSN Broadcast: Sunday, Apr. 6, 5:30 p.m. ET

CLASS BREAKDOWN: GT: 13 cars, GT-A: 12 cars, GTS: 28 cars.

FULL ENTRY LIST

DEFENDING ST. PETERSBURG CHAMPIONS: GT — Alex Figge/James Sofronas, GTS: Jack Baldwin.

DEFENDING SERIES CHAMPIONS: GT — Johnny O’Connell, GTS — Lawson Aschenbach.

TOURING CAR/TCA/TCB SEASON OPENER: April 25-27, Barber Motorsports Park, Birmingham, Ala.

KEY STORYLINES

Variety is the spice of life

The Pirelli World Challenge grid was already a diverse one, but with the inclusion of new FIA GT3-spec cars, the list of machines competing in this fast-paced sprint series has grown even further. Among the new cars on the PWC grid are the McLaren 12C, Lamborghini Gallardo FL2, BMW Z4, Ferrari 458 Italia, and Porsche GT3R.

At this point, it’s probably best to make a list of cars/manufacturers that isn’t involved in this series.

The class of extraordinary gentlemen

This year, the PWC has created a special subcategory, GT-A, which will serve to recognize the series’ gentlemen drivers in GT-spec entries. St. Pete will mark the debut for GT-A, but half of the 12 drivers listed for this weekend have past experience in the PWC. Sofronas’ GMG team will have the most GT-A representation in St. Pete with three machines.

The usual suspects

After a successful GT title defense, Johnny O’Connell is on the hunt for a three-peat in his familiar No. 3 Cadillac. But his title rival of one year ago, James Sofronas, is also back in his No. 14 GMG Racing Audi. Other notable names in GT include Anthony Lazzaro (No. 61 Remo Ferri Group Ferrari), Dane Cameron (No. 94 Turner Motorsport BMW), Peter Cunningham (RealTime Racing Acura) and Alex Figge (No. 9 K-Pax McLaren).

The GTS category also sees its top three drivers from 2013 returning to action: Class champ Lawson Aschenbach (No. 1 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevy), Jack Baldwin (No. 73 GTSport Racing/Goldcrest Porsche), and Mark Wilkins (No. 38 Kia Optima). But keep an eye on 16-year-old wunderkind Ernie Francis, Jr., who won seven times last year in Touring Car B-Spec but now goes to GTS in the No. 98 Breathless Performance Chevy.

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.