Force India focused on continuing its form in Austria

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Since its relatively lackluster start with only eight points achieved from the first four Grands Prix, Sahara Force India has been on a roll since the start of the traditional European season in Spain, having banked 51 points and two podiums from Sergio Perez in the last three races.

They’ve vaulted back to fifth in the Constructor’s Championship as a result, with the upgrades that debuted at Barcelona proving positive.

The team remains focused on 2016 despite talks that the focus could shift to its 2017 package instead. At 31 points back of Williams, fourth is not an unachievable target for the Silverstone-based team.

“There has been a lot of talk about the team switching focus to 2017, but this doesn’t mean we won’t be strong for the rest of 2016,” team principal Vijay Mallya said in the team’s pre-race release. “There is a lot of performance still to be extracted from our current package and I am confident we can put on a good show in the races to come. Having scored two podiums in three races, we’ve got a taste for success and I would like to see us pick up more silverware before the end of the year.”

Perez, who now sits eighth in the Driver’s Championship, has been quick at Austria before and could well continue his run of form this weekend.

“I am still smiling about the podium we scored in Baku,” he said. “It was an amazing weekend for us. We got the calls right; we executed our race plan perfectly and we finished in the top three on merit. I feel very proud of my team and I think it was one of my most competitive races in Formula One. It wasn’t a completely smooth weekend with the gearbox penalty pushing us backwards on the grid, but we were able to overcome the difficulties, which made it an even sweeter result.

“I travel to Austria on a high and determined to deliver another strong result. This race is one of my favourites because the track is nice to drive and I enjoy the atmosphere with the fans camping around the circuit. There are lots of elevation changes and some challenging corners: you cannot make mistakes in any of them or it will cost you a lot of time on the straights. It’s also a short lap so the gaps between the cars are always very small and that makes for a very tight grid.”

Nico Hulkenberg, meanwhile, will look to emulate or better his sixth place result in Austria last year as he looks to get ahead of Perez this weekend.

“I love racing in Spielberg and it’s a great addition to the calendar,” he said. “The backdrop to the track, with the Alps, is spectacular, and there is an old school vibe to the circuit, which I enjoy. The atmosphere is very relaxed and lots of German fans make the short trip over the border so it almost feels like a home race for me.

“We look strong coming to Austria but we’re not taking anything for granted. The track is fun and it has a very nice flow, but it can easily catch you out, especially the last few corners, which are quite technical. I had a great race in Austria last year and have a good feeling about this weekend. The car is working well and we’ve taken a big step forward since the start of the year so there is the potential for another good result.”

SuperMotocross: Ken Roczen urgently needed change

Roczen change
Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media
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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.”