MRTI: Friday practice sessions in the book at Mazda Raceway

Franzoni led both USF2000 sessions. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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MONTEREY, Calif. – Six practice sessions are complete for the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires’ Soul Red Finale weekend at Mazda’s spiritual home of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, in advance of deciding the championships and the Mazda advancement scholarships.

Victor Franzoni led both sessions in Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, while Ed Jones and Dean Stoneman split the two Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires practices and Will Owen and Aaron Telitz split the two Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires sessions.

Quick recaps are below.

Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires

It’s going to be an intense qualifying session tomorrow if today’s two practice sessions for the Mazda Indy Lights Grand Prix of Monterey Presented by Cooper Tires are any indication.

Championship contenders Dean Stoneman and Ed Jones led the two sessions. Jones led in the morning before Stoneman dropped the hammer in the afternoon with the fastest time of the day, 1:16.098. Jones’ morning time was a 1:16.509 at the 2.238-mile Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca circuit.

Beyond Stoneman, the returning Sean Rayhall was second in the No. 2 Team Pelfrey car at 1:16.329, with Shelby Blackstock an impressive third in the No. 51 Andretti Autosport car at 1:16.805. Jones (No. 11 Carlin, 1:16.810) and Garett Grist (No. 3 Team Pelfrey, 1:16.898) completed the top five.

Points leader Santiago Urrutia was seventh in the No. 55 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian entry.

The second practice session was less eventful than the first, although it still featured one red flag when Heamin Choi ran off course in the No. 77 SPM car.

Jones led the opening 30-minute practice earlier in the day. The Dubai-based Brit clocked a best lap of 1:16.509, more than a half second quicker the rest of the field. Stoneman was second at 1:17.012, while Rayhall was third at 1:17.023.

Urrutia was sixth, but lost his front wing after running wide in Turn 9 of the course. He brought the car back to the pits with no other damage.

Two red flags interrupted the already short 30-minute first practice session, both for Zachary Claman De Melo. He stopped on course in the opening minutes past Turn 6, then after restarting later lost control off Turn 3 and nosed into the tire barriers.

Indy Lights times are linked here.

Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires

The Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires had a pair of practice sessions for the Pro Mazda Grand Prix of Monterey Presented by Allied Building Products, and once Aaron Telitz got earlier mechanical issues sorted from the morning session he led in the afternoon.

The championship leader, driving the No. 82 Team Pelfrey car, had a clutch, oil leak and tire puncture in the first session and therefore only completed four laps. The Juncos Racing trio of Will Owen, Jake Parsons and Nicolas Dapero were 1-2-3 with Nico Jamin fourth for Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing. Owen’s best time was 1:24.677, which stood as best of the day in the cooler conditions.

Telitz led the afternoon session but at a slower best time of 1:25.2311. Parsons and Owen were second and third. Telitz’s teammate Pato O’Ward was fifth in both sessions.

Times from both sessions are linked here.

USF2000

Ordinarily you’d expect Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing to be at the top of the timesheets but it was ArmsUp Motorsports that flexed its muscle in both practice sessions on Friday in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, ahead of the Cooper Tires Grand Prix of Monterey Powered by Mazda.

Victor Franzoni topped both sessions in his No. 9 car, and the likable young Brazilian topped the charts in both sessions. The morning session best time was 1:26.7907, which stood as the fastest USF2000 time of the day, while in the hotter and slower conditions of the afternoon, the best time was 1:27.758.

Cape was second, third and fourth in the morning with championship contenders Parker Thompson and Anthony Martin ahead of an impressive Nikita Lastochkin.

In the afternoon, Franzoni led Luke Gabin (JAY Motorsports), Thompson, Jordan Lloyd (Pabst Racing) and Cameron Das (JAY).

USF2000 times are linked here.

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.