MRTI Barber Notebook: Friday

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
0 Comments

The Mazda Road to Indy is only slightly less busy at Barber Motorsports Park than it was at St. Petersburg back in March. With the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires not competing this weekend, that leaves two of the three rungs on the ladder in competition this weekend.

Of course, this is in no way an indication of a lack of action. Friday featured practice for the Indy Lights presented by Cooper tires, while the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda featured qualifying and race action. And the young guns of open wheel racing continued to shine.

Askew Makes it Two-in-a-Row

Oliver Askew made it back-to-back wins in the early portion of the 2017 season (he won Race 2 at St. Petersburg) with a commanding drive on Friday at Barber Motorsports Park. The 20-year-old native of Florida started from pole, bolted away at the start, and led all 19 laps on his way to victory. On the surface, it was a dominant performance, at least until one looks at the margin of victory. Askew beat second-place Kaylen Frederick by a scant .227 seconds, with the 14-year-old keeping Askew honest while on his way to his first career podium.

Oliver Askew leads the field to start Race 1 Barber Motorsports Park. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Still, Askew kept the youngster at bay to secure a well-earned victory. “I trick myself into thinking it’s just a practice session, because if you think too much, that’s when mistakes happen – and I couldn’t have that with Kaylen right behind me,” Askew said of his battle with Frederick.

The victory extends Askew’s points lead (he leads Rinus Veekay by 31 points after three rounds), but he was quick to deflect credit to his Cape Motorsports team for the early success. “The Cape Motorsports guys are doing a great job and I’m learning every time I’m at the track,” he detailed. “I really appreciate the opportunity from Mazda. This is everything I’ve ever hoped for. I’ve waited for this opportunity for several years so to be where I am right now is really special – hopefully we’ll just keep doing what we’re doing.”

USF2000 podium, Race 1 Barber Motorsports Park. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

For their part, Frederick and Veekay are enjoying strong starts to their own campaigns. Frederick has finishes of fourth, fifth, and second in the opening three races, while Veekay has not been off the podium, with finishes of third, second, and third.

As a result, both Frederick and Veekay are positioned nicely to challenge for the championship. “It’s a cliché but I hope this is the first of many more to come!” Frederick said of his first podium. “Hopefully we can get the pole tomorrow so I don’t have to work so hard to get around Oliver. I struggled at St. Pete since it was (my) first street course. I had to learn a lot and improve a lot but the team definitely gave me a good car there and here as well.”

Veekay was slightly frustrated, noting that a poor start left him playing catchup, but he expressed optimism going forward. “It’s good as a rookie to be in the top three in the championship after three races, so I’m happy with that,” he said of the result. “I didn’t have a great start but I think it was the best I could get out of my position. It is hard to pass here but I was one of the quickest cars so that bodes well for tomorrow.”

The USF2000 Championship continues tomorrow with qualifying for Race 2 at 10:25 a.m. ET (9:25 local time) while the race rolls off at 5:45 ET (4:45 local time).

Blackstock tops practice for Indy Lights

Belardi Auto Racing’s Shelby Blackstock led the opening Indy Lights practice, bettering Carlin’s Garth Rickards by five hundredths of a second to do so. Zachary Claman De Melo, Kyle Kaiser, and Colton Herta rounded out the top five. Aaron Telitz, who won Race 1 at St. Petersburg, was mired down in 11th, just behind Santi Urrutia. The entire Indy Lights field was covered by 1.1 seconds, and the close grid will put a premium on qualifying well for both races.

Indy Lights leads things off on Saturday with Race 1 qualifying at 9:40 a.m. ET (8:40 local time), with the race seeing the green flag at 3:00 p.m. ET (2:00 local time).

Follow Kyle Lavigne.

Ken Roczen signs with HEP Progressive Ecstar Suzuki for 2023

Roczen Progressive Ecstar Suzuki
Align Media
0 Comments

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.