U.S. F4 champ Kirkwood’s awesome Austin F1/F4 experience

All photos: Team USA Scholarship
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Kyle Kirkwood captured this year’s F4 U.S. Championship Powered by Honda for Cape Motorsports, the series of which concluded at Circuit of The Americas last month in Austin.

Kirkwood, the 2016 Team USA Scholarship recipient, recaps that weekend for F4 racing on the F1 weekend, below in his latest Team USA Scholarship blog.

F4 US Championship/Rounds 19-20
Circuit of The Americas, Austin, TX USA
Sunday 22 October 2017
Meet and greet with Kyle Kirkwood
World Copyright: Gavin Baker/LAT Images

Hey everyone, what a year it has been. This has been by far the most successful and enjoyable season of my career so far. We started off with 40 positions of penalties — what a disappointing situation, but the setback only ignited a fire in me. Cape Motorsports and I gave it our all to get back on top, and we did just that. We came back to sweep two consecutive weekends, take nine wins, 15 podiums and nine poles throughout the season! I really couldn’t have asked for more.

The F4 U.S. Championship powered by Honda drivers have been so fortunate to run in support of amazing series, including IMSA, NASCAR, Trans-Am, World Endurance Championship and even Formula 1! It has been incredible to say the least. My favorite race weekend was this past one at the Circuit of The Americas Formula 1 United States Grand Prix. It was actually my first time at an F1 event and it really blew me away! There were so many amazing opportunities and I stayed very busy the entire weekend.

As soon as I arrived at the track Thursday, I could feel the magnitude of the event from the thousands of fans and hospitalities scattered throughout the giant CoTA facility. I instantly made my way to the F1 paddock to view the cars – seeing them on TV doesn’t do them ANY justice. I then had the opportunity to be amongst the representatives during the launch of 2018 F3 Americas, speaking in front of many FIA members including Charlie Whiting! I typically don’t get nervous anymore but for THAT I definitely was.

That night I was invited to the annual “Buxton Bash” hosted by NBCSN’s Will Buxton along with Speed City Broadcasting. This event was at a quaint open-roof club in downtown Austin. When I arrived there, the line stretched across two city blocks and around a corner. Fortunately, I was dragged in through the fans by Speed City’s own Jonathan Green. I was only expecting to socialize with the fans and the other F4 drivers who arrived, but about 30 minutes later I found myself on stage with Will Buxton addressing the crowd immediately after Santino Ferrucci, Lance Stroll and Romain Grosjean! My excitement was through the roof and, honestly, I could hardly sleep that night.

Friday was our first day on track and it was time to get serious. The previous event at CoTA with WEC was a bit of a struggle and we fought to hang on to top-three finishes. Cape Motorsports and I had a whole month to analyze what we lacked and I was extremely confident with the car going into the first practice. The conditions in practice were very strange. It was wet early on and the curbs were freshly painted. We ended up just outside the top 10 but we made changes while the track was at its peak, so I was still positive we had everything right. In Qualifying our pace showed quickly when we jumped up to the top around Lap 5 and stayed there until the checkered flag came out.

F4 US Championship/Rounds 19-20
Circuit of The Americas, Austin, TX USA
Sunday 22 October 2017
Kyle Kirkwood (Winner), Dakota Dickerson (second) and Skylar Robinson (third) on the podium after round 20
World Copyright: Gavin Baker/LAT Images

Starting on the pole for Race One, I could feel the energy from all the fans on the grid. I looked left to see Charlie Whiting, Zak Brown and Michael Andretti standing trackside with myself on the massive TV screens all around the track. This was an extremely nerve-racking moment, but as soon as the lights came on I was back in the zone. I got the jump and held the lead for over half the race. I fought off Benjamin Pedersen, who nearly swept the last event at WEC, for many laps but he snuck around the outside of me on the back straight with about five laps to go. I finished the race in P2. Luckily for us, a huge cold front came through bringing rain to create uneven track conditions for Race Two. By the time of the race, it was intermediate conditions and all the drivers were forced to run rain tires. Our setup was absolutely perfect for the conditions and I was able to get the jump from our off-pole starting spot and consistently pulled a larger gap every lap till the end. We stretched an over 10-second lead by the checkered flag! It felt amazing to take the win in front all of the F1 teams and fans just hours before the USGP.

The F4 races may have been done but it was time to watch my first ever Formula 1 race. I stood in Turn Five for the start and the noise coming from the crowds in Turn One and across the track were louder than the actual cars! To add to my incredible weekend, about halfway through the race I walked down to the paddock to meet with the Speed City crew and they gave me the chance to announce the last few laps over the track audio! So, about 200,000 people were hearing my input on the track and strategies from a driver’s perspective. I actually announced Max Verstappen’s last-lap pass on Kimi Raikkonen for third!

What a weekend to cap off the year. Huge thank-you Cape Motorsports, Firstex, Bell Helmets, Team USA Scholarship, SAFE is FAST, and my family because none of this would be possible if it wasn’t for ALL of them.

Thanks for reading — I’ll keep you updated on what’s next!

Kyle

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.”