Digesting a busy day of IndyCar driver news: Business is business

4 Comments

Today has been arguably the busiest day of Verizon IndyCar Series driver news this year, with three major updates coming out heading into both this weekend’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach and the upcoming month of May in Indianapolis.

We’ll start in chronological order, starting with this morning’s confirmation of Oriol Servia in a second Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in the Indianapolis 500.

RLL has made a wise choice bringing back Servia – one of this generation’s more underrated drivers – alongside Graham Rahal. The two have past history both last year and in 2009, and Servia is also now reunited with some of the ex-Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing personnel they both worked with in ’09.

Servia’s a development ace, a consistent driver and someone who’s renowned for outperforming the machinery at his disposal. Considering RLL has been off to a strong start in 2015, the Servia addition makes sense on nearly every level.

Next up was the mid-morning shocker that Sebastian Saavedra would be joining Chip Ganassi Racing Teams, sharing the No. 8 Chevrolet with CGR development driver and 2013 Indy Lights champion Sage Karam for the balance of the season.

Purely on merit, it’s a questionable move. Saavedra has a less than distinguished career record in IndyCar, as in 56 career starts from 2010 to 2014 he has not scored a single top-five, only three top-10s while failing to finish 20 starts.

Arguably his two most notable moments in IndyCar have been because of accidents – he made it into his first Indianapolis 500 as a teenager in 2010 from a hospital bed following an accident and other cars withdrawing their times. Meanwhile following a surprise pole at last year’s inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis, his car was struck after failing to engage from the standing start, as part of a big crash.

The knock on Saavedra is his inconsistency. He has flashes of brilliance, but they’re rarely sustained.

On the whole, he’s a nice enough individual and he’s enjoyed the longtime personal and financial support of AFS’ Gary Peterson – the paddock is better for having both of them engaged in some capacity – but in a Ganassi-prepared car, he has his best chance to perform and zero excuses if he doesn’t.

On a positive note, this keeps CGR at a four-car lineup through the remainder of the season, after it had been in doubt for much of the offseason. It keeps the crewmembers busy and at the track, and it keeps another car on the grid. As a Leaders Circle entrant, the No. 8 car would need to run the full schedule to ensure full payments.

This also ensures Karam will have a chance to improve after two ragged races to open his 2015 campaign. Knowing you have more races is a built-in confidence booster, and even if this means Karam won’t have a full 16-race slate to go for rookie-of-the-year honors, he still has a better shot than he did 24 hours ago. Just look at the improvement Luca Filippi has made in two races knowing he has a full complement of road and street races, compared to his roller coaster starts in 2013 and 2014.

On the subject of four-car lineups though, it’s with a bit of sadness to write that Simona de Silvestro won’t be racing at Long Beach this weekend, a team spokesperson confirmed, after running the opening two rounds for Andretti Autosport in the team’s No. 25 Honda.

It’s not for a lack of effort on either the driver or team’s part.

Per multiple Andretti personnel, the team was working up until the moment the trucks were leaving for California to assemble a fourth car for de Silvestro, who is still part of the team’s long-term plans.

There’s a “near certainty” that de Silvestro will be in further races this year beyond the Indianapolis 500, her next scheduled race in the team’s No. 29 TE Connectivity-backed Honda.

Following a fourth place at NOLA Motorsports Park, de Silvestro currently sits sixth in points, best of Andretti Autosport’s four drivers. But the car is not a Leaders Circle entry, and unless it’s fully funded for that particular race, it won’t run.

Is it unfortunate? Yes. But, business is business, and ultimately, that’s what all of today’s three bits of IndyCar driver news have in common.

SuperMotocross: Ken Roczen urgently needed change

Roczen change
Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media
0 Comments

Change can be frightening, but it is often exhilarating and Ken Roczen, a rider in his ninth season on a 450 bike, it was urgently needed.

Roczen ended the 2022 Supercross season with his worst performance in five years. After finishing outside of the top five in seven of his last eight rounds in the stadium series, well down the points’ standings in ninth, he decided to put that season on hold.

How it ended was in stark contrast to how it began. Roczen’s 2022 season got off to the best possible start. He won the Supercross opener at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California by more than seven seconds over the 2021 champion Cooper Webb.

That would be his last podium and he scored only one more top-five in the Glendale, Arizona Triple Crown.

MORE: Ken Roczen sweeps top five in Anaheim 2 Triple Crown

Before 2022, Roczen was a regular challenger for the championship despite being plagued by major accidents that required surgery in 2017 and 2018. On his return, he was diagnosed with the Epstein-Barr virus, which presents with symptoms of heavy fatigue, muscle weakness and loss of appetite and last year he tested positive for COVID-19.

Against those odds, he finished second in the outdoor season in 2019 and third in 2020. In the Supercross series, he finished third in 2020 and second in 2021.

But the abbreviated season of 2022 signaled a need for change for Roczen.

“I needed the change urgently,” Roczen said in last week’s post-race press conference at Angel Stadium. “I did a pretty big change in general.”

Those comments came three races into the 2023 with him sitting among the top three finishers for the first time in 10 Supercross rounds. It was the 57th podium of his career, only six behind 10th-place Ryan Villopoto. It was also the first for Suzuki since 2019 when Chad Reed gave them one in Detroit 63 rounds ago.

Taking time off at the end of the Supercross season had the needed effect. He rejoined SuperMotocross in the outdoor season and immediately stood on the podium at Fox Raceway in Pala, California. Two rounds later, he won at Thunder Valley in Lakewood, Colorado. The relief was short lived and he would not stand on the podium again until this year.

Roczen Motocross Round 3
Ken Roczen won Round 3 of the outdoor season in 2022 at Thunder Valley after finished second in Moto 1 and first in Moto 2. Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

Winds of Change

Roczen’s offseason was dramatic. Citing differences over his announcement to compete in the World Supercross Championship, he split with Honda HRC and declared himself a free agent. It wasn’t a difficult decision; Roczen was signed only for the Supercross season.

That change had the desired effect. Roczen won the WSX championship in their two-race, pilot season. More importantly, he proved to himself that he could compete for wins.

Late in the offseason, Roczen announced he would also change manufacturers with a move to HEP Progressive Ecstar Suzuki. He won the 2016 Pro Motocross title for Suzuki with nine wins in 12 Nationals and finished no worse than second. He easily outran the competition with an advantage of 86 points over second-place Eli Tomac.

“I just think change overall made it happen – and these overseas races – it’s really just a snowball,” Roczen said. “You start somewhere and you feel like something works out and I got better and had more fun doing it. Working with the team as well and working on the motorcycle to get better and actually see it paying off. It’s just, it’s just a big boost in general.”

The return to Suzuki at this stage of his career, after nearly a decade of competing on 450 motorcycles, recharged Roczen. He is one of three riders, (along with Cooper Webb and his former Honda teammate Chase Sexton), with a sweep of the top five in the first three rounds of the 2023 Supercross season.

But last week’s podium really drove home how strong he’s been.

“I think we’re all trying to take it all in,” Roczen said. “I wouldn’t say it came out of nowhere really, but before the season starts you think about – or I thought of how my whole last season went – and it’s been a long time since I’ve been on the podium.”

Roczen’s most recent podium prior to Anaheim 2 came at Budds Creek Motocross Park in Mechanicsville, Maryland last August in Round 10 of the outdoor season. His last podium in Supercross was the 2022 season opener that raised expectations so high.

Supercross Round 1 results
Ken Roczen raised expectations with his season opening win at Anaheim but did not stand on the box again in the Supercross series. Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

The change Roczen needed was not just a different team and bike. More importantly, he needed the freedom to set his own schedule and control his training schedule.

“It’s long days, but I’m really into it at the moment,” Roczen said. “Overall, I felt [that] throughout this off season and now my health has been really well, really good, so that helps. It’s needed to get to the top. I’m pretty confident that we’re, we’re doing the right thing – that I’m doing the right thing.

“I’m doing all my training on my own and I’m planning out my entire week. And I feel like I have a really good system going right now with recovery and putting in some hard days. Right now, I don’t really have anybody telling me what to do. I’m the best judge of that.

“It’s really hard to talk about how much work we’ve put in, but we’ve been doing some big changes and riding a lot throughout the week, some really, really late days. And they’re paying off right now; we’re heading in the right direction. We’re all pulling on the same string, and that helps me out big time.”