Potential of another Raikkonen vs. Verstappen bout exists in Brazil

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In the crosshairs in the final laps at the Mexican Grand Prix and under the microscope really all season since his early season call-up to Red Bull from Toro Rosso, Max Verstappen could play a key role in Sunday’s Brazilian Grand Prix from fourth place on the grid.

And Verstappen’s season-long sparring partner, Kimi Raikkonen, will look to prevent him from doing that as he excelled on his final lap on the grid – one he didn’t even think was that good – to edge ahead in third.

This marks the first time since Monza’s Italian Grand Prix in September that a Red Bull, whether Verstappen or teammate Daniel Ricciardo, has not made it into third on the grid. That also marks the last race a Red Bull did not make it on the podium, as Sebastian Vettel came third there.

Raikkonen has matched his season-best grid position of third (China, Russia, Belgium) and was surprised to end as high as he did after a lap he didn’t think was good enough for the position.

“I struggled the whole qualifying but to be honest the last lap, it was pretty average. I guess it was enough to be third place,” Raikkonen said in the post-qualifying press conference.

“The Mercedes are a bit too far. I struggled warming up the tires up. The middle I wasn’t happy. But I don’t mind. We’ll see what we can do.”

Ever the wordsmith…

Verstappen, meanwhile, will roll off fourth, in a weekend where his own pursuit of his best result could potentially interfere with the championship contenders.

“I wasn’t surprised. I struggled in my last run,” Verstappen told NBCSN’s Will Buxton afterwards. “In general from one to the other set, the balance changed a lot. Don’t know what’s going on there.

“We don’t need to change much. That’s what happened in the last run. First sector was all good but the rear was gone in the second. A bit difficult but we’re still fourth. It’s not too bad.”

How these two get on with their races on Sunday may play a role in the outcome, with the likelihood that barring any mechanical issues for Mercedes that only one of them at best can stand on the podium.

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.