Ken Roczen wins 450 Class Motocross championship Saturday in Utah

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It wasn’t Ken Roczen’s best race of the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship season, but it may have been his smartest one. A third-place finish in the first moto and a fourth-place finish in the second moto at Saturday’s Utah National were enough to secure the 450 Class title in the final race of the season.

Although Roczen – who led his Red Bull KTM teammate Ryan Dungey by 20 points entering the day – intended to come into Saturday’s race with the mindset that he needed to keep the pressure on and go for the win, in reality he could have cruised to a championship with a pair of top-five moto finishes, and that’s what ended up happening.

Roczen got a great start in the first moto, putting himself into second place behind Trey Canard and setting himself up for a chance to take over the lead. Roczen briefly pressured Canard for the top spot but couldn’t make the pass, and as Canard began to open up a gap, a pivotal battle for second came to fruition once Dungey caught Roczen. The position changed hands three times, with lapped riders a factor on several occasions. Dungey – who finished second behind Canard – ended up with the spot and beat Roczen but still faced a substantial points deficit to overcome in the second moto.

The second moto started off much the same way as the first one. Canard and Roczen emerged as the top two, and after Roczen’s challenge for the lead was denied, he was content to let Canard ride away with the top spot. Roczen soon fell into the clutches of both Dungey and Eli Tomac but didn’t put up a fight as they moved past him, and Roczen then settled into fourth place – easily good enough for the 450 Class rookie to lock up the championship.

Watch the recap of the 450 Moto 2 race:

“I’ve been trying to play it cool [all weekend] but I’m not going to lie, I’ve been really nervous about today,” Roczen admitted after the race. “I just didn’t want to talk about it and [wanted to] go out there and ride. I just pumped myself up for the motos and went, but it was honestly hard to put it out of my mind. I just went out there and did what I needed to do and made it happen, which is a huge accomplishment.”

While Roczen celebrated the first Lucas Oil Pro Motocross title of his career, Canard had reason of his own to celebrate. With a sweep of both motos, Canard earned the first overall win of his 450 Class career. He also closed the year out strong, winning four of the season’s final five motos. Prior to that streak, he had never won a 450 Class moto since moving up to the premier division several years ago.

“I’ve gotten more comfortable [the last few weeks],” Canard noted. “It’s no secret we made bike changes and it was instant for me in gaining more confidence. I really have to attribute that to the team and I’ve had a lot of fun. I’ve been through such a roller coaster career, I thought that if I didn’t win today then it would be hard to win [ever]. I just wanted to put two motos together to give us [momentum] going into next year.”

Ryan Dungey (2-2 moto results) finished second overall for the day, and Eli Tomac (4-3 moto results) edged out Roczen for the final podium spot.

The 2014 season is over, but don’t expect a quiet offseason. Several top riders will be switching to new teams, with official announcements still to come, then the preparation for the 2015 Supercross season – which starts in January – will begin.

Utah 450 Class Overall Results
1. Trey Canard (1-1)
2. Ryan Dungey (2-2)
3. Eli Tomac (4-3)
4. Ken Roczen (3-4)
5. Brett Metcalfe (7-5)
6. Ryan Sipes (9-6)
7. Andrew Short (6-12)
8. Fredrik Noren (10-9)
9. Weston Peick (13-7)
10. Justin Brayton (12-8)
*Moto 1 and Moto 2 results in parenthesis

450 Class Final Point Standings
1. Ken Roczen, 532
2. Ryan Dungey, 518
3. Trey Canard, 468
4. Brett Metcalfe, 334
5. Eli Tomac, 319
6. Andrew Short, 302
7. Weston Peick, 290
8. Josh Grant, 259
9. James Stewart, 226
10. Fredrik Noren, 207

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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