Indy 500 notes: Alonso arrives; ROP, refresher test underway

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INDIANAPOLIS – The first day of official practice for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil is underway.

Here are notes gathered from the track and paddock (Gasoline Alley) so far.

  • Fernando Alonso arrived in Indianapolis last night straight from Spain for the Spanish Grand Prix, where he was greeted by fans at the Indianapolis airport. In his first run through the paddock this morning, dozens of fans at least stood outside his garage, awaiting the chance for his autograph. Alonso has been signing; here’s a photo from Trackside Online at close range, and here’s one from me from further range. Besides Alonso, McLaren’s Zak Brown and Eric Boullier have also made it to Indianapolis. Once the first on-track action began, his pit was more populated than anyone else’s. It’s only the first day of practice and so far, what I’ve seen of Alonso, the people here have a pretty good idea of who he is and will work to mob him at every opportunity.
  • Rookie Orientation Program and refresher testing is underway, which is what Alonso completed on May 3. Drivers have to go through 10 laps of 205-210 mph, then 15 laps of 210-215 mph, then 15 laps at 215 mph-plus to complete the ROP. The three other rookies participating are Ed Jones, Zach Veach and Jack Harvey. Drivers eligible to participate in the refresher program include Oriol Servia, Sebastian Saavedra, Sage Karam, Pippa Mann and Jay Howard. Servia, Karam and Mann were in last year’s ‘500 while it’s been since 2015 (Saavedra) and 2011 (Howard) for the other two. At the start of the session, temperatures were 77 degrees ambient and 106 on track.
  • Jack Harvey’s start to his day in the No. 50 Michael Shank Racing with Andretti Autosport Honda has gotten off to a slow start with clutch issues. The car has sponsorship from SiriusXM, AutoNation and Gap Guard among other longtime Shank partners.
  • Jay Howard told NBC Sports he was happy to shake the cobwebs off at his first IndyCar running in six years at the Gateway test. As of 12:40 p.m., he had also completed his first phase of his refresher test.
  • Sebastien Bourdais’ No. 18 Sonny’s BBQ Honda for Dale Coyne Racing is now its planned oval chassis, starting today. The team rebuilt the road course chassis for the INDYCAR Grand Prix this weekend, and that chassis is the team’s lone backup car for all three entrants.
  • Buddy Lazier and some members of his Lazier Racing Partners team are here, though as of the first practice time, there was no signage listed above their garage in Gasoline Alley and no sign of the car as yet. It would be a surprise to see Lazier on track today.
  • Bell Racing has 18 of the 33 helmets entered in this year’s field. Full season drivers are Josef Newgarden, Helio Castroneves, Conor Daly, Carlos Munoz, Marco Andretti, Sebastien Bourdais, Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter, Graham Rahal and Ed Jones. Indianapolis additions are Pippa Mann, Jack Harvey, Gabby Chaves, Zach Veach, Fernando Alonso, Sage Karam, Buddy Lazier and Sebastian Saavedra.

More notes will follow throughout the day.

Ken Roczen signs with HEP Progressive Ecstar Suzuki for 2023

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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.