‘Inside the double’ How the field fared at Detroit’s twin-bill

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As the lone doubleheader event on the Verizon IndyCar Series calendar, the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix Presented by Lear presents one of the most unique challenges of any event on the calendar.

And with a full slate of points on the line in both races, finishing well in both is imperative in the overall championship picture.

With that in mind, some drivers enjoyed successful outings in Detroit, while others will need to rebound in the coming races.

The Good

Graham Rahal: Most obviously, Rahal had, by far, the best results of anyone. The 28-year-old won Race 1 from the pole, won Race 2 from third, and collected 107 of a possible 108 points. That performance vaulted Rahal from 15th in the championship to sixth.

What’s more, prior to this weekend, Rahal sat 101 points behind then championship leader Helio Castroneves. Leaving Detroit, Rahal now sits 52 points adrift of new championship leader Scott Dixon. Having cut his championship deficit nearly in half, Rahal is in prime position to make a championship push.

Josef Newgarden: Newgarden may not have been in victory lane in Detroit, but he did have one of the strongest weekends out of anyone on the grid. Newgarden’s finishes of fourth (Race 1) and second (Race 2) are his best since his victory at the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park, and were a welcome change after a tough 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, in which he qualified 22nd and finished 19th after a lap 183 crash.

Takuma Sato: Race 1 was solid, but unspectacular for Sato, who finished eighth. However, Race 2 was a little bit of a different story, as the Andretti Autosport driver started from the pole and drove a strong race to finish fourth.

Sitting in third position in the championship before the weekend started, Sato remains in third and trails leader Scott Dixon by 11 points (coincidentally, that’s the same gap he was down at the start of the weekend, though to Helio Castroneves). In so doing, Sato has firmly entrenched himself in the championship battle.

Scott Dixon-Every time you leave a race weekend as the championship leader, you know it has been a strong weekend. If you do it while nursing an injury, then it could be described as a great weekend.

Dixon may not have won either of the Detroit races, but with finishes of second (Race 1) and sixth (Race 2), he did more than enough to take the championship lead at the end of the weekend, albeit by a scant eight points over Helio Castroneves.

Regardless, given that he is still nursing an injured ankle, contested two races on a notoriously bumpy street circuit, scored strong finishes of second and sixth, and took over the championship lead, one could argue that Dixon may have had the best weekend of everyone.

 

The Bad

Ryan Hunter-Reay: Ryan Hunter-Reay entered Detroit in need of points after a blown engine at the Indy 500 left him 27th in the race and 12th in the championship, 93 points out of the lead.

Detroit wasn’t much better for the 2012 IndyCar champion and 2014 Indy 500 winner. He languished back in 13th at the end of Race 1, and while things looked much better for Race 2 after he qualified second, things quickly soured on lap 10 after contact with Helio Castroneves damaged Hunter-Reay’s front wing. Hunter-Reay could do no better than 17th in Race 2.

Through eight races, Hunter-Reay only has two finishes inside the top 10 (fourth at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and third at the INDYCAR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course), and now sits 13th in the standings, 120 points out of the lead.

JR Hildebrand: Hildebrand has endured a difficult season with Ed Carpenter Racing. A third-place finish at the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix at Phoenix Raceway is his best finish of the 2017 season, but it is his only finish inside the top 10 this year.

Detroit was more of the same for Hildebrand. A penalty late in Race 1 for crossing the pit exit line too early after his final pit stop dropped him to 17th, and a cut tire while battling Ed Jones in Race 2 meant he could do no better than 18th.

While he had enough pace to finish in the top ten in both races and is showing improved form at every race, the finishing results continue to leave he and Ed Carpenter Racing wanting for more.

Spencer Pigot: On driving prowess, Pigot has been one of the shining stars this year and has demonstrated a big improvement on form over last year. However, he has also suffered two of the most dramatic mechanical failures of the season.

His brakes exploded while entering his pit stall in St. Petersburg and his engine expired in a billowing cloud of smoke in Race 2 at Detroit. While he finished a solid tenth in Race 1, the engine failure in Race 2 saw a disappointing end to the weekend.

With Ed Carpenter getting back behind the wheel of the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet at Texas Motor Speedway, Pigot’s next race will be the KOHLER Grand Prix at Road America (June 25 at 12:30 p.m. at NBCSN).

 

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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.”