New McLaren-Honda era starts badly as Button and Magnussen occupy back row of the grid

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The greatly-heralded new era for McLaren and Honda got off to the worst possible start in qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix on Saturday as Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen qualified on the back row of the grid.

The Honda power unit is reported to be over 200bhp down on its Mercedes equivalent in Australia, limiting Button to P17 and Magnussen to P18 as they occupied the final row of the grid following Manor’s no-show.

However, Button wasn’t surprised by the result, having said on Friday that anything better than the back row would be an achievement.

“This level of performance wasn’t a surprise for us,” Button said. “We knew from winter testing that the pace wasn’t there, so we knew we weren’t going to be competitive here.

“However, there’s a good feeling about the car. I know we’re so far off, but the basic car is there beneath me, and we’re adding to our experience and learning with every lap we do.

“And that’s really impressed me – we’ve gone through our first race weekend together, and we’ve managed to solve each issue that’s confronted us. There’s just a lot of work needed to add power and downforce – but this is an important car for the future of McLaren-Honda.”

Kevin Magnussen believes that points are out of reach for McLaren in Australia, with the team instead focusing on merely getting to the line.

“Things were going well on my first run in Q1,” Magnussen said. “Then, on my second run, I had a slight problem with the engine – it didn’t really matter, as we’d have needed a bit of luck to get into Q2.

“For tomorrow’s race, we’re not really focused on getting points. They’re not really on the cards for us. But we’ll go racing tomorrow to try and learn.

“We haven’t done a full race distance yet, so progress tomorrow will be important. If we can finish, we’ll learn a lot; and, even if we don’t, there’ll still be something useful to take home.”

Honda chief officer of motorsport Yasuhisa Arai confirmed that the Japanese marque had taken the decision to limit the power of the engines in a bid to keep them fresh for later in the year.

“Unfortunately, today’s higher temperatures didn’t help the conservative data mapping settings that we chose to run this weekend,” Arai said. “From the outset, we took the decision not to gamble any engines away in the opening race, so there’ll be more to come from us.

“McLaren and Honda have come a long way together since the beginning of this project, but we still have a long way to go. However, I’m sure that we’ll continue to make progress – and that first step starts in the race tomorrow.”

You can watch the Australian Grand Prix live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 12:30a ET tomorrow.

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.