The 2017 edition of Petit Le Mans enters the final two hours

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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BRASELTON, Ga. – A few more incidents peppered the fifth through eighth hours of Motul Petit Le Mans, the season finale for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup (first five hours linked here).

RESULTS: Hour 5, Hour 6, Hour 7, Hour 8 (by class and overall)

The top six cars in Prototype were within one lap at the eight-hour mark, but the complexion of the race changed again just before the clock hit that number when the No. 16 Change Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 stopped on course in Turn 1. That brought out the 12th full course caution of the race.

The Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPis will see Pipo Derani (No. 22) and Brendon Hartley (No. 2) finish the race, while Team Penske will deploy Juan Pablo Montoya in its No. 6 Oreca 07 Gibson to the finish. At the moment, Ryan Dalziel is staying in the No. 2 car. Action Express Racing installs Joao Barbosa in its No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R.

Most of the leaders were in just after the eight-hour mark for a likely second-to-last stop.

There were a few incidents in this stanza. Contact between Nick Heidfeld in Rebellion Racing’s Oreca and Kyle Masson in the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca FLM09 in the Esses cost the Performance Tech team nearly 20 laps, and very likely has ended its hopes of a perfect season in Prototype Challenge. The contact also spoiled Rebellion’s win hopes, and a particularly impressive drive from Heidfeld’s teammate Gustavo Menezes.

Bad luck struck the No. 93 Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 too, with contact between former KIA Pirelli World Challenge teammates Nic Jonsson (in No. 54 CORE autosport Porsche 911 GT3 R) and Mark Wilkins sending Wilkins hard into the tire barriers and out of the race.

A second incident of contact between the No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson and one of the Nissan Onroak DPis, the No. 22 car, saw the JDC-Miller car lose its rear wing, hit by the No. 57 Stevenson Motorsports Audi R8 LMS. Stevenson endured a nightmare team finale with various mechanical issues, Andrew Davis stopping on track in Turn 1 and needing to reverse, and then this contact.

The No. 90 VISIT FLORIDA Racing Ligier JS P217 Gibson is fighting through alternator issues as well.

NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell pulled off the likely save of the race, completing a 360-degree pirouette in his No. 23 Alex Job Racing Audi R8 LMS on the front straight.

“Man that was, hero to zero to hero. I thought I had my turn in right. And I had it wrong,” Bell told IMSA Radio. “I got the right front on the curb and the grass. I was hanging on with oversteer, like mad, and it got away from me. I looked left and right. I did a ‘Starsky and Hutch’ and prayed.”

Just after the eight-hour mark, a nasty accident occurred as Robert Alon lost control of his No. 14 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3 and crashed heavily into the tire barriers at Turn 12. That put the race under its 13th full course caution.

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.”