Cindric keeps door open to Indy, sports cars for JPM – if he wants it

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The natural question with today’s official confirmation that Josef Newgarden will be in Team Penske’s fourth full-season entry in the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2017 was what comes next for Juan Pablo Montoya.

And while Montoya is testing the waters from a full-time IndyCar perspective – he has been linked to a couple different possible teams and scenarios, including replacing Newgarden at Ed Carpenter Racing – Team Penske president Tim Cindric said the door remains open to him at Penske if he wants it.

Cindric publicly acknowledged that Montoya could be run in a fifth IndyCar at the Indianapolis 500 or, more crucially, in a potential Team Penske sports car program.

New prototype regulations are on the horizon in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with the Daytona Prototype international platform entering in 2017 – teams will run one of the four homologated LMP2 chassis with manufacturer branded body styling. Meanwhile, the FIA World Endurance Championship remains a tantalizing prospect in LMP1 as well, although the hybrid class there is subscribed only by full factories.

“When we sat down with Juan at Toronto, we weren’t prepared to do what we did until the end of the season,” Cindric told reporters in a media teleconference. “We were up front with him about the whole situation.

“We’d like him to be part of the team… it just doesn’t mean the 2 car full-time. We have a seat for Indy if he wants one. If we do a sports car program, we want him to be involved.

“But he wants to drive another season in IndyCar. He said, ‘This year, I feel I have some unfinished business.’ So he’s exploring different options… he’s trying to find out if there’s a full-season ride available.

“We’d love for him to continue with our team… but do we position ourselves for another year with him and miss the opportunity to have Josef for us? Juan has been a big part of our success. He’s been a great guy to work with.

“The ball is in his court. It’s not the first choice for him… but we’d like to continue if it makes sense for him.”

The greater sports car component comes after Penske himself touched on the possibility at the Sonoma season finale, while also tiptoeing around the driver situation.

“I’ll say what Tim has said, we’ve wanted to run sports cars for a number of years when we were in with Porsche,” Penske said.

“Hopefully there’s an opportunity. We’ve had a chance to talk to two or three different manufacturers. That has some bearing on what we might do, vis-a-vis with the IndyCar also.”

It’s very interesting that Montoya, 41, and Newgarden, 25, will be linked in IndyCar history because of this decision.

Montoya is one of the drivers of his generation, having won in F1, IndyCar and NASCAR with two Indianapolis 500s and the 1999 CART title among his many racing accolades.

Newgarden is the prime up-and-comer in the championship, having won three races with Ed Carpenter Racing between 2015 and 2016.

This year, the two raced head-to-head on a number of occasions, notably at Road America battling over seventh, and then with Montoya hopeful he could have been in Newgarden’s zip code at Iowa before a mechanical issue.

“I felt we’d be really strong. But I don’t know if we had a car for Josef,” Montoya told NBC Sports at the time. “I would have liked to find out. We race each other clean. We have a lot of respect for each other.”

Cindric, too, is wary of the prospect of needing to beat Montoya if he finds another full-time seat.

“Replacing Juan Montoya with anyone is a difficult call. If he doesn’t end up racing for us… he still may beat us,” Cindric said.

“He’s not done. But we have to do what’s best for us, short- and long-term. This is where we are.”

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.”