Photo courtesy of IMSA

Q&A: Kenton Koch on solidifying status with P1 Motorsports

Leave a comment

One of the emerging sports car talents in North America is Kenton Koch, who we’ve chronicled for several years throughout his growth and development through the sports car ladder system.

A veteran Mazda driver, Koch was a champion at the MX-5 Cup and Prototype Lites series levels, fought through a challenging 2016 season without a full-time seat even though he won the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the PC class on debut, but took on a greater role with J.C. Perez’s new P1 Motorsports group in 2017, leading the team’s Ligier JS P3 LMP3 effort in IMSA’s Prototype Challenge series.

With P1 Motorsports advancing its IMSA plans for 2018 and Koch riding high on life after a couple key items, including getting married to his fiancée Dani and moving from Glendora, Calif. to Charlotte, we thought it a good time to catch up with him for a year-end Q&A.

MotorSportsTalk: After a year where you seemed to bounce around but not get solidified, how key was this year with P1 Motorsports in the LMP3 field?

Kenton Koch: “Yeah it’s awesome to have consistency, as sometimes it can be hit or miss. We’d hoped with the Mazda relationship there was still something there, but they announced their plans for this year and I wasn’t part of it, so we kept looking.

“Going to the Roar (test) with helmet in hand, networking, I’d met a friend of mine named Alberto Pena – which brings back the Mazda connection because we were friends from when I spotted for SpeedSource and other previous things we did together. So we’d had an established relationship.

“Little did we know that he’d started a team with one of the clients from his previous shop, who’s now the team owner, J.C. Perez! It turned out they wanted to do P3 for this whole season and map out their business plan for the following years.

“I have to thank Alberto for putting my name in the hat to test, and eventually become part of the program. Obviously it came together after Sebring so we missed the first race, but, we hit the ground running from the off and I was able win the first race for the team at Barber. You could already tell it was a well-oiled machine and great group of people, and we built on it all season.”

Photo courtesy of IMSA

MST: You’re used to running open-top prototypes in both P Lites and PC, so how big of an adjustment was the LMP3 chassis at first?

KK: “The funny thing is you can’t see out of right side of car! You wish the A-pillar was out of the way, and at certain right handers you can’t see the apex. After you drive it for a bit though, you learn how to put the pieces together. You kind of learn to adapt. Once you get going and a couple days, it ended up not being a factor. But for the first little bit, it’s definitely interesting.”

MST: With seven wins from 11 starts, you still almost won the title despite missing the first race weekend. Was that bittersweet or was it a case that you and the team had overachieved?

KK: “Obviously it would have been great to win the championship, but we knew it was a tall order having missed the first race. I think we proved what P1 Motorsports could do having won the Team Championship.”

“It was also amazing to finally get a break like this. It was something I never would have expected. You always hope to get this break, then capitalize on that, and make it into something more. This year was that, and more. It’s been a blessing of a year. Next year looks even better. It’s cool to start to snowball and continue that momentum. It’s huge from a confidence standpoint to know that everything you knew deep and down inside of you, to have other people see that, and be able to I guess know that other people see what you’ve felt.”

MST: Beyond your full-season LMP3 role, you also got the chance to race the car in Europe with another team and reprise your MX-5 career in the Global MX-5 event at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. How do you reflect on those?

KK: “I’d met Joel Janco before and we’d kept in touch, but I didn’t think it would come to anything for a race chance. But I’d received a recommendation from a mutual friend and he wanted to race with me. I was super ecstatic and pumped, getting to drive Paul Ricard and Spa. The circumstances there were tough but I had a blast there, experiencing Europe and seeing some epic tracks.

“Coming home to the Global MX-5 race, it felt like old times! In race two it was just a perfectly timed start. The rest of field started leaving me out of the hairpin and I was accelerating. Right as I was about to lift to slow back down again to get back on the bumper, the green flag flew and I popped, so I had so much momentum from three or four car lengths back! The inside line then opened up and it created a three-in-one deal at least. So I wound up gaining seven positions, going from ninth to second and battling for the lead out of Turn 2. It was a stunning start and the race didn’t end well unfortunately, but that was a blast as well.”

MST: Can you give a quick update on your 2018 plans and framework?

KK: “J.C.’s invested a lot with this team. So he wants to do GTD and get his feet for the long races, so that’s the plan for the team is to do those with the Mercedes-AMG GT3 and see what that means for 2019.

“For me, since I’d been in at the beginning, they wanted to put me in the car since it’s a logical thing to do. We’d worked really well together and it made it easier for them since we know each other. I’m grateful to be in this position.

“J.C. burst onto the racing scene from nowhere. He’s involved in multiple businesses and is learning the racing aspect. He trusts this group of people. He started racing two and a half years ago from track days, but this is his first year of being committed to racing and cars.

“There is a certain level of comfort with what things have become now. With being comfortable to me doesnt mean laziness, I always want to do more, learn more and be the best person I can be.”

Koch with P1 Motorsports. Photo courtesy of IMSA

Supercross: Eli Tomac has the long game in mind

Feld Entertainment, Inc.
Leave a comment

Racing is reaction. A split-second hesitation means missing the holeshot. A decision about how hard to charge into a corner, side-by-side another rider, is made without bothering to engage one’s consciousness. The tiniest things make the biggest difference. With a late-race pass at Daytona in the Monster Energy Supercross series, Eli Tomac wrested the lead from Ken Roczen and broke a tie atop the points standing. But just barely.

Tomac is the defending winner of the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross championship. In fact, he enters with the last three titles to his credit, but the Supercross championship has eluded him.

“This wouldn’t be about beating Ken,” Tomac told NBC Sports. “This would be about getting that first Supercross title. I feel like it’s the most wanted title that we have currently in our racing. It’s the one sponsors look at the most, so I want it really bad. It doesn’t matter who I’m battling with, I want to be that guy with the (red) plate at the end of the year.”

Daytona was Round 10 of what was supposed to be a 17-round Supercross season. After a winner was crowned in the indoor arenas, the riders would have moved to longer, faster outdoor tracks. They would have had two weeks to prepare for Motocross.

If the past three seasons are an example, the Motocross season is of little concern. Tomac dominated that series and has amassed 23 career wins there.

The story has not been the same in Supercross. He finished second in the 2015 and 2017 standings. He was third in 2018 and then back up to second last year. But while he keeps coming close, he’s had to watch as two new winners were crowned in the past two years.

Jason Anderson took the title in 2018, which was a bit of a surprise.

Last year was even more shocking as Cooper Webb entered the season without a single Supercross victory and left with the championship.

Tomac has the wins. Daytona was his 32nd in Supercross series. He’s simply missing the big red plate that signifies the championship to hang on his wall.

“I’ve been able to accomplish everything I can except get the championship,” Tomac said. “I have so many race wins and I look at those more than the second-place finishes in the championship. Second-place in the championship, people don’t remember. Some people remember race wins.

“Most of the time, they remember the championship.”

Eli Tomac’s pass on Ken Roczen at Daytona might well be the pivotal point in his season. Feld Entertainment, Inc.

Daytona was pivotal.

One week earlier, Tomac took a significant points lead into Atlanta and saw it evaporate. He got off to a slow start and was mired in traffic. One of his split-second decisions proved to be the wrong one and he crashed midway through the race before mounting a charge to return to the top five. Tomac finished fourth. Roczen won after getting a fast start.

They left Atlanta tied for the lead.

At Daytona, the story was the same for most of the race. Roczen led Lap 1. Tomac got a slow start and had to battle his way to the front.

“Going back to the Daytona race, it’s a track that requires a lot of patience, even though I didn’t start up front,” Tomac said. “You’re always going to make mistakes, you just try minimize them as much as you can. That’s where I made the majority of my passes: from guys making mistakes. That was my game plan going into the race, to try and have a mistake-free ride.

“In my mind, I’ve put in all this work to get into second-place at this point and then I see Roczen in front. I feel like I can keep digging at that point. I had more in the tank, so I didn’t want to stop. I never do unless I’m in the lead. So that was my mindset.”

Roczen finished less than a second behind to hand the championship lead back to Tomac by a narrow three-point margin.

“(Roczen is) a competitor that you can trust,” Tomac said. “That’s the nice thing about racing Ken is that he’s predictable. There are certain riders on the track that you may not even be comfortable going on to the next jump with. If I’m going to be battling guys, Ken is a great competitor to go against.”

MORE: Eli Tomac and Justin Barcia feud at Atlanta

MORE: Ken Roczen still has a shot at the championship

And then racing came to a screeching halt as the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic required all live events to be postponed so fans could practice social distancing.

After Daytona, seven more Supercross rounds were scheduled to be run with only a short break for Easter. That race should have come at about the two-thirds mark and as riders headed back to shorter, tighter tracks to end the season.

But the pandemic has made Daytona the final Supercross season before Motocross begins. And it might yet make it even more pivotal in both championships. With its long straights, Daytona is a hybrid that has as many characteristics in common with the outdoor season as it does with indoors. It provides a bridge between the two disciplines.

Supercross is mentally grueling. The tight confines of indoor arenas make it a technical track were the smallest bobble has the biggest impact.

Motocross is physically demanding. The toll on the body is intense, but after that season winds down, riders typically have several months to recuperate before heading into the next year.

Tomac’s back has been a familiar site to the other riders in recent seasons. Feld Entertainment, Inc.

In 2020, riders will have to shake off the dust and take their battered bodies back inside and refocus that mental energy.

“It’s going to be hard to manage your energy levels and just go and race all the way through September and October, if that happens and If everything stays somewhat current now,” Tomac said. “You’re going to have to have a lot of long-game in mind. That’s going to be key because the Motocross season wears on you physically.

“It’s going to be really tough to make the transition. At the beginning of Supercross you always feel like you have a few races to get warmed up and in the groove. But at this point in the game if we race in September and October, there is no getting back in the groove. It’s totally new for everyone. The other positive is that I have the lead, even though it’s minimal. I’m in the best position I can be in.”

If Tomac can do what he’s done for the past three seasons, interjecting some outdoor races in the middle of Supercross could play to his advantage. A fourth championship, if that is what happens, will give Tomac a ton of confidence before the final rounds of the Supercross season occurs.

If he does not win the championship for the first time since 2016, he’ll be hungry. But one way or another, Tomac will convince himself that he is the rider to beat.

“(The lead) is the best position to be in and it may turn out have paid off very well to be in the points’ lead (after Daytona),” Tomac said. “There is so much unknown there.”

Follow Dan Beaver on Twitter