Sato on top in IndyCar St. Petersburg second practice

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ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. –  Takuma Sato led the second round of practice for the Verizon IndyCar Series’ season opener, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Sato, who qualified second in this race a year ago, posted a flier of 1:02.5615 in the No. 14 ABC Supply Co. Honda for A.J. Foyt Racing. It occurred on his 22nd and final flying lap.

He was third in the morning session and this backed the pace up, even though he said the track seemed a little slower this year.

“I am very excited to back in St. Petersburg and excited to be on track,” said Sato, who has a best finish of fifth in four previous St. Pete races (2011). “The conditions were not very representative as usual for St. Petersburg, but still the car worked really well and we made good progress during this session. Let’s hope this continues and we will work on speed for (qualifying).”

Graham Rahal got the No. 15 National Guard RLL Honda up to second at 1:02.6122, with four-time defending St. Petersburg pole sitter Will Power third in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet at 1:02.6443.

Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud rounded out the top five. Practice 1 leader and defending race champion James Hinchcliffe was seventh.

The 45-minute practice session was peppered with red flag interruptions; Sebastian Saavedra, Juan Pablo Montoya, Josef Newgarden and Jack Hawksworth all had minor off-course excursions but nothing that produced serious damage.

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.