INDYCAR: Newgarden takes Toronto pole, eyes third win there in last four years

IndyCar
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Despite scraping the Turn 8 wall heading to the checkered flag in the Fast 6 final round of qualifying Saturday, Josef Newgarden was not to be denied the pole for Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto.

Watch the full qualifying session at 5 p.m. ET this afternoon on NBCSN.

Now Newgarden goes for his second consecutive win at Toronto and third in the last four races on Sunday.

MORE: Best way for Josef Newgarden to forget Iowa is to win at Toronto

Newgarden earned his fourth pole of the 2018 season (also at Barber Motorsports Park, Texas and Road America – he also won at Birmingham and Road America, as well as Phoenix) with a best time of 59.4956 seconds at 108.068 mph. It is also the sixth pole of his career.

Newgarden and the other 22 drivers in the field had to deal with intermittent rain throughout the overall qualifying session.

Josef Newgarden on the streets of Toronto. Photo: IndyCar

“It started drying up towards the end (of the Fast 6)” Newgarden told the IndyCar Network. “In the middle it started raining more intensely and then the last two laps got progressively better and that last lap was going to be the one to nail it. The car has been incredible this weekend.

“We’ve got all three of us (Team Penske drivers) in the Fast 6, that’s all you can ask for today, and now we go to tomorrow to focus on the race. … The last lap, I knew I had to go for it here. I knew we can get the pole, I gave it everything I could and we got it.”

Verizon IndyCar Series points leader Scott Dixon will start on the outside of the front row with a combination of 59.6920 seconds at 107.713 mph.

“We were up a ton on the last lap and probably got a bit too much on Turn 5 and almost spun,” Dixon told the IndyCar Radio Network. “It sucks. We had plenty to get the pole, but that’s what it is.”

As for the rest of the Fast 6, Simon Pagenaud took third (59.7630 seconds at 107.585 mph) and fourth was teammate Will Power (59.8818 seconds at 107.372 mph), followed by Alexander Rossi (1:00.6273 at 106.051) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (1:00.6615 at 105.991).

“We needed one more lap,” Power told ICRN with a laugh. “We’re disappointed because we should have been further up, but that’s racing.”

Rain had somewhat of an impact on the early part of the first session. But after moderate showers, they dissipated for the remainder of the first two groups of qualifying.

However, raindrops returned during the Round of 12 elimination qualifying, causing several drivers to pit during the session for sticker red tires.

James Hinchcliffe spun crossing the finish line in the final minutes of the Round of 12 session, and then slipped out of Turn 3 on the final lap, knocking him out of the Top 6. To add insult to injury, Hinchcliffe also received a penalty for the spin.

“That last lap was everything we had,” Hinchcliffe told the IndyCar Radio Network. “The Arrow car was getting better every session. The rain and conditions kind of threw us for a loop. It’s a shame, if we didn’t have that spin, I think we could have transferred into the Fast Six. Still, I think we can race from here and give the hometown fans here a good result.”

Hinchcliffe is a native of suburban Toronto and is coming off a win last Sunday at Iowa Speedway.

The Fast 6 were Dixon, Hunter-Reay, Pagenaud, Newgarden, Rossi and Power. Those that qualified seventh through 12th were Takuma Sato, Jordan King, James Hinchcliffe and Schmidt Peterson teammate Robert Wickens, Conor Daly and Matheus Leist.

“It’s a shame,” Sato told the IndyCar Radio Network. “Obviously, we tried. We went to the new reds and then the black tires. It was still drizzling, so the new reds had good grip, but unfortunately we lost it. It’s a pity but it’s a game, so we’re okay.

“We’re very positive for tomorrow. Through the weekend, we’ve been strong on the black tires. So I think tomorrow will be very interesting. We’ll keep our heads down, do our job and hopefully we’ll be strong.”

Added Wickens, who will start alongside teammate and fellow Canadian Hinchcliffe on Row 5, “That (Round of 12) session was pretty chaotic.

“Hindsight is always 20-20, you always could do things differently if you could re-do it again. We had to settle for P10 today but I think with the perfect storm, we could have made the Fast 6 … but Top 10 isn’t that bad, either.”

How each qualifying group played out:

In Group 1, those that moved on to the Round of 12 were Josef Newgarden, Alexander Rossi, Scott Dixon, James Hinchcliffe, Jordan King and Conor Daly.

Those that did not move on were Graham Rahal, Tony Kanaan, Sebastien Bourdais, Rene Binder and Ed Kones.

In Group 2, those that moved on were Will Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Simon Pagenaud, Takuma Sato, Robert Wickens and Matheus Leist.

Those that did not move on were Marco Andretti, Spencer Pigot, Ma Chilton, Charlie Kimball, Zach Veach and Zachary Claman De Melo.

Round 2 of qualifying – the top 12 in the first two sessions – featured Newgarden, Hinchcliffe, Dixon, King, Rossi, Daly, Leist, Wickens, Power, Pagenaud, Hunter-Reay and Sato.

There were several incidents during the overall session.

Ed Jones spun in Turn 11 during the first qualifying group, coming to rest backwards, bringing out a brief red flag stoppage.

Tony Kanaan also got loose but was able to gather the car back under control.

In the second qualifying group, Zach Veach spun as the session ended. To his credit, Veach did not hit anything, but was towed back to the paddock.

Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto will be carried live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, followed by a replay of the Indy Lights at 6 p.m. ET.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

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.”