Verstappen expected to be further behind in Italian GP qualifying

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Max Verstappen felt pleased with his performance in qualifying for the Italian Grand Prix despite finishing seventh and over 1.2 seconds off Lewis Hamilton’s pole time.

Verstappen and Red Bull arrived in Italy braced for a tough weekend, with the high-speed nature of the Monza circuit playing against the strengths of the RB12 car.

Teammate Daniel Ricciardo led Red Bull’s charge in Saturday’s qualifying session, finishing sixth as both Mercedes and Ferrari drivers pulled clear.

Both Red Bull drivers were also beaten by Williams’ Valtteri Bottas, who nailed his final Q3 lap to finish the session fifth-fastest.

Despite dropping to P7, Verstappen remained pleased with his display, saying he expected the gap to the other drivers to be bigger.

“I’m not disappointed at all. We always knew that this is a hard track for us, I think the worst of the season,” Verstappen told NBCSN.

“To be actually that close to them is not bad. I expected to be much further behind, but I think in the end we managed to have quite a good car in qualifying to find the right compromise.

“Not bad, we were close to fifth.”

Ricciardo set his sights on beating Bottas in Sunday’s race and finishing behind the Ferrari and Mercedes drivers, before having his interview cut short by a wasp.

The Italian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 7am ET on Sunday.

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.