Red Bull GRC: Daytona offers first chance at familiarity in 2016

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Last year’s first two races of the Red Bull Global Rallycross season were at Ft. Lauderdale and the X Games in Austin, the latter of which was a non-points race.

Then the series headed to the infield road course at Daytona, for what proved to be two barnburner races won by Tanner Foust and Sebastian Eriksson. Eriksson, then a rookie, secured his first and thus far only final round win in Red Bull GRC.

The story is a bit similar this year. The series’ first two race weekends have come at Phoenix and Dallas, two tracks that weren’t on the calendar last year.

And now, the series heads to Daytona this weekend for Rounds 4 and 5 (airs Sunday, 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC, hosted by Rick Allen, Anders Krohn and Kristen Kenney), for its second doubleheader weekend of the year and first where familiarity will be an important factor.

Patrik Sandell won the series’ most recent round in Dallas to move into second place in the championship behind Foust, who swept the Phoenix doubleheader.

The driver of the No. 18 Kobalt Tools Ford Fiesta ST for Bryan Herta Rallysport says his team needs to maximize its early weekend pace throughout a double race weekend, since they’ve noticed teams have caught up to them quickly.

“We haven’t really figured out yet why it’s been that way!” Sandell told NBC Sports. “Normally we’re very quick and very fast in the first 2-3 laps. Normally we come to an event and know where the setup will be. It’s been 90 percent good straightaway.

“But we have to learn … and we did in Dallas, where we’d work on details, and had different launch maps there. We have to do things like that in Daytona as well. You have to watch when we get more rubber down, when there’s water down vs. not, so there’s many things we need to keep track of. We have to change the car and try to make it better for each session, even if we know the track.”

Eriksson, meanwhile, who drives the No. 93 Red Bull Honda Civic Coupe for Olsbergs MSE, has a bit of familiarity for the first time in his GRC Supercars career. The young, talented Swede is still learning his new car that OMSE has developed but comes into Daytona with the momentum from winning here last year.

“For us, racing at Daytona is really cool because of the history of the track,” Eriksson said in Honda’s pre-race advance. “To defend my first victory in Red Bull GRC in the Honda Civic would be special. The team has worked really hard coming into this weekend and we expect to be up at the front and running hard all weekend long.”

Another driver who can use this race as a potential springboard to success is SH Rallycross’ Jeff Ward. Ward, who will drive the No. 07 MET-Rx SH Rallycross/DRR Ford Fiesta ST on Saturday before the car shifts to WIX Filters primary sponsorship on Sunday (360fly remains on the car in an associate role for both races), raced here last year and was fun to watch, particularly in race two when he had a big battle with then-teammate Steve Arpin.

Foust and Scott Speed, of course, in the Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross Beetles, are always tough to beat. Speed, in particular, will look to avenge a nightmare Daytona 2015 weekend.

The other six Supercars entries are Arpin and Brian Deegan in the two Chip Ganassi Racing Fords, Eriksson’s teammate Joni Wiman, and then Austin Dyne and Rhys Millen before Sebastian Saavedra makes his return to the field for his second race start.

A 15-car GRC Lites field is highlighted by the team debut of CORE autosport, with two cars for Jon Bennett and Colin Braun.

Entry lists for both divisions are linked here.

Ken Roczen signs with HEP Progressive Ecstar Suzuki for 2023

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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.