As Hulkenberg returns, Alonso and other Le Mans hopes come up Thursday in Austria

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It’s rare in a group of four Grand Prix winners and two young chargers where one of the young chargers enters as the center of attention in the Thursday press conference, but that was the case on Thursday in Austria.

Nico Hulkenberg, who enters Austria this week on the strength of winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans on Sunday, took center stage while flanked by Sebastian Vettel, Nico Rosberg, Fernando Alonso, Daniel Ricciardo and Carlos Sainz Jr.

Hulkenberg continued to reflect first on the week-plus that was, going from Montreal to Paris and Le Mans, then to Austria this week.

“Yeah, it was quite amazing obviously,” Hulkenberg said. “A very intense and long week. I flew from Montreal to Paris and then straight to Le Mans. But yeah, to come there, first attempt, and to win it with my team and my team-mates has just been incredible. You know, very emotional moments and a great experience that I don’t want to miss obviously, so very proud about what we’ve achieved there.”

With Hulkenberg present, an inevitable follow-up question for the other drivers assembled was whether any of them had Le Mans hopes of their own.

Alonso answered first, and noted he was close to a deal this year, which reportedly was with Porsche.

“Yes, I considered to race in Le Mans,” said Alonso, who actually was the race starter in 2014.

“In the future – and when in the future I don’t know – I just said it was very close this year, so maybe next year. I don’t know.”

The fact Porsche was winning at Le Mans while Alonso is enduring a nightmare, and thus far scoreless season with McLaren-Honda had to sting the Spaniard.

Rosberg dismissed his own chances while Ricciardo, Vettel and Sainz all took a crack at answering whether they’d want to one day drive in the June endurance classic.

“Yeah, it would be fun. I watched quite a lot of it actually, about 18 hours. I’m a fan! Yeah, it was cool,” Ricciardo said.

“Racing is what we do, it’s fun, it’s nice to have a weekend off but when I was watching it I was obviously thinking it would be nice to be racing as well, on this weekend off. So, if we could manage to do more, like they did in the old days as well, there was drivers jumping from categories.

“Fortunately Nico’s made us all look good and I think he’s made it all seem possible for us now. So, maybe we’ll get the praise from our teams to venture into these things for the future.”

Vettel said, “I think it’s great to watch, especially as everyone has the impression that, a 24-hour race, people tend to take it easy because the race is so long and so many things can happen, but it was great to see the guys were actually flat out from the first lap. For all of the race, basically. So, I think as racing drivers that’s what we’re after, to push every single lap and for a long time, obviously that means more fun. So, might be something in the future to think about. Obviously massive respect for what Nico did.”

Sainz, the youngest in the group of six, said he’d likely prefer to wait until post-his F1 career and didn’t seem overly enthused at the prospect.

“If an offer comes, why not take it,” he said. “For sure, it’s professionally one of the most prestigious races in the world and, to participate in that, after participating in F1, it would be something mega. Of course, I’m more than open. Anything that has four wheels and a steering wheel and an engine I would like to drive – so whatever.”

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.