Three-way Indy Lights title fight heads to Iowa oval

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

The Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires heads to its third – and last – oval round of the 2016 season this weekend at the 0.894-mile Iowa Speedway.

It’s a 115-lap race, the longest of the year race distance wise for the teams (race will air on Wednesday, July 13 on NBCSN at 6:00 pm ET).

Qualifying will likely be most important for the series because passing was difficult on the only other short oval of the season, the 1-miler at Phoenix International Raceway. Kyle Kaiser took his first series win from pole back in April for Juncos Racing.

Last year, the Carlin teammates finished 1-2 at Iowa with Max Chilton scoring an emotional victory from pole a day after the death of his former Manor F1 teammate Jules Bianchi, leading home Ed Jones.

Jones has been a bridesmaid in each of the last three oval races at Iowa, Phoenix and the Freedom 100 – the latter by just 0.0024 of a second to Dean Stoneman – and the Dubai-based Brit will look to deliver his first oval victory this weekend, which would be pivotal in the title chase.

Of course, Jones, Stoneman and Santiago Urrutia – the three top drivers in the series – enter under a greater microscope this weekend since all three were placed on probation by Indy Lights Race Director Tony Cotman after an eventful weekend in Road America.

Further sanctions will be imposed on any of the three if their on-track behavior continues to draw the ire of Race Control.

“The notices issued do not preclude a driver from racing hard but serve as a reminder on how to race over the final eight rounds of the championship,” Cotman said in a series release.

Jones leads Stoneman by 19 points and Urrutia by 24 (213-194-189) heading into Iowa.

Kaiser, fourth in the points but with only one top-three finish in the last seven races after three in the first three, has 174 points and can use this weekend as a clawback weekend if any or all of the top three hit trouble.

Felix Serralles is also one to watch, having banked a short oval win at Milwaukee last year; the same is true for Zach Veach, who won the first of two races at Road America two weeks ago. These two are fifth and sixth in points, at 169 and 168 points respectively, and the last two still with remote title hopes.

Andre Negrao and Shelby Blackstock sit seventh and eighth in points heading into the weekend, with the balance of the 13-car field comprised by Zachary Claman De Melo, Juan Piedrahita, Dalton Kellett, Neil Alberico and the returning Heamin Choi.

Ken Roczen signs with HEP Progressive Ecstar Suzuki for 2023

Roczen Progressive Ecstar Suzuki
Align Media

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.