IndyCar: Filippi looks to spoil the regulars’ party once again in Houston

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One of my favorite parts of this or any Verizon IndyCar Series season is when one-off or part-time entries appear in the field, and see where they stack up against the regulars.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has Luca Filippi on board its second car, the No. 16 Honda, for two weekends, the two remaining doubleheaders at Houston and Toronto.

He’s got experience at Houston, where last year he scored his first career series top-10 finish in Race 1 and also set the fastest lap in Race 2.

“For me it was a great event because I was competitive all the time, especially Race 1 where I was fighting for the podium and we were caught by a yellow and the pits closed at the wrong moment,” Filippi said in the team’s advance release, heading into the weekend. “But the pace was good and I finished in the top-10 for the first time in an Indy car.

“In Race 2, I had to start from the back of the grid because qualifying was cancelled and it went by entrant points. My pace was strong but maybe I was a little too fired up because I had already finished in the top-10 and I made a little mistake after running as high as 12th and I was probably one of the fastest cars on the circuit. I lost a lap and the race as basically over for me but still I managed to run the fastest lap of the race. I have good memories of Houston which is probably the best place for me to get back in an Indy car.”

Filippi actually praised the back half of the M.D Anderson Cancer Center Speedway at NRG Park circuit, where there’s a transition between surfaces.

“I like the section (of the track) after the back straight where you have a changing of direction and changes of surface. Where you go from concrete, to tarmac and back to concrete. It’s nice and challenging and probably where you can make up the most time from your lap time,” he said.

Additionally, he comes into doubleheader weekends knowing it’s similar to his GP2 history.

“I’m used to doubleheaders from racing in GP2,” he said. “It’s the normal format there although there is only one qualifying session and the race on Sunday is shorter. I like this format better because you have two big events and once you race Saturday you have another chance the day after. It’s challenging, especially for me since I obviously have to get used to the team and the car.”

For Filippi, although expectations will probably be modest since this is his first time back in an IndyCar since this weekend last October, there’s still two targets he could achieve.

If he beats teammate Graham Rahal in either qualifying or the race, he’ll raise his stock once again.

“I think Luca will be very fast and should be right up front,” Rahal said. “I hope he can bring as much to the table as Oriol (Servia)has for us.”

Additionally, Filippi has his first head-to-head shot against Jack Hawksworth, the rookie who’s starred on the road and street courses in the No. 98 Integrity Energee Drink BHA/BBM with Curb-Agajanian Honda entry. Filippi was presumptive favorite for the seat in the offseason before Hawksworth ultimately was named to that ride.

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.