McLaren Honda disappoints at 2nd home in Japan

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SUZUKA, Japan (AP) An underwhelming performance in the Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday was a setback to a McLaren Honda team that was feeling upbeat after securing points in the previous race in Malaysia.

Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso put up a spirited battle at the Suzuka circuit to take the fight into the midfield, but was never in a position to challenge for points. He eventually finished 15th.

Jenson Button started 22nd on the grid after the team elected to change his power unit components before the race, incurring a penalty. Starting so far back meant expectations were limited. Despite pulling off a couple of satisfying passing moves, he finished 18th.

“It’s been a very tough weekend,” Button said. “It’s a shame that Suzuka is our bogey track because it’s our second home. Still, we have to take the rough with the smooth: we haven’t been quick here, but we hope to be quicker at the next race.”

McLaren Honda racing director Eric Boullier didn’t try to hide his disappointment with the latest setback.

“There’s no point denying that we’re thoroughly disappointed, because we are,” Boullier said after Sunday’s race. “Having scored points with both cars last weekend in Malaysia, to finish 16th and 18th here in Japan is hard to take, frankly.”

McLaren Honda was hoping for better things in Japan after last season when Alonso was heard over the team radio criticising the Japanese-built engine.

The lone Japanese F1 engine manufacturer had been bolstered by recent good results but Sunday’s performance felt like another setback.

“We’ll put this forgettable weekend behind us straight away and refocus our attentions and ambitions on the next race,” Boullier said.

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.