IndyCar notes: Rahal’s questionable penalty, one-off drivers, rookies have tough days

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Beyond the top runners, other stories emerged from Sunday’s Verizon IndyCar Series’ season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg we didn’t hit in the last two days. Here’s a quick roundup:

  • Rahal’s penalty call: Of the three avoidable contact penalties called on Sunday, the one assessed to Graham Rahal was easily the most questionable. Charlie Kimball’s car became something of a target halfway through the race when first Simon Pagenaud got into Kimball heading into Turn 4. Kimball, trying to limp back to the pits with left rear bodywork dangling, then turned into Turn 10 when Rahal’s nose clipping him. Rahal took to Twitter after the race to note both his supporters – and haters – with the call earning more scorn than not. “Kimball had a broken car and I didn’t know what he was doing,” Rahal said post-race. “He was so slow off of Turn 9 that I thought he was pulling over and then he accelerates into the kink. He had a broken car and was slow. I went inside of him and then he broke deep. He was cranking in well before the apex so I was trying to bail out and I just tapped him. Sure enough, I dive inside him and he comes over. It’s a shame because the car was good today.”
  • Letterman makes an appearance: Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing co-owner David Letterman made his annual visit to Florida for the season opener. The retiring host of CBS’ “The Late Show,” said during a picture taken with his driver, “Look, it’s Graham Rahal with his grandpa.”
  • Karam’s Ganassi debut: One finish, zero tearoffs used: The goal for Chip Ganassi Racing Teams rookie Sage Karam, in his IndyCar team debut and second overall start in the series, was to bring it home to the finish. He did, but discovered post-race he hadn’t used any of the visor tearoffs on his helmet. “I was so focused on taking care of the car and running good laps, I totally forgot. But all in all, I just tried to do what the team told me to, which was keep the car in one piece and run all the laps,” he said.
  • Contact crushes Chaves, de Silvestro’s days: The other two avoidable contact penalties were issued when Gabby Chaves and Simona de Silvestro (started 11th) hit the pair of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammates; Chaves hit James Hinchcliffe and de Silvestro hit James Jakes, both at Turn 14. Chaves and Marco Andretti also had contact, while de Silvestro collided with her Andretti Autosport teammate, Carlos Munoz. “The incident with Carlos kind of started the whole downhill of our day,” de Silvestro said. “We lost a lot of pace after that incident and then we were kind of behind the ball a little bit. At the end, you just kind of keep going – you adapt to it (how the car changes after an incident). Then, it was unfortunate with (James) Jakes; he seemed to brake really early into the last turn and I couldn’t really avoid him.” Said Chaves of his day: “I learned so much today. The incident with the 5 car (Hinchcliffe): I saw an opening, but it closed up. I tried hard to avoid it, even getting down in the grass, but just couldn’t avoid it.”

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.