Bourdais recalls wild 2018 race at Portland

Joe Skibinski / IndyCar
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Portland International Raceway is a track that favors champions.

With 25 previous NTT IndyCar Series events at the facility, the list of winners at P.I.R. is a “who’s who” of American open-wheel racing.

Al Unser Jr, won the first race at Portland in 1984, and would win again in ‘94 and ‘95. Michael Andretti won three straight from 1990-93, and his father Mario won twice in 1985 and 1986. 

All-in-all, 20 of the previous 25 races at Portland were won by drivers who had previously won, or would go on to win an IndyCar championship in their career.

Over the years, Pacific Northwest race fans have been blessed with the opportunity to witness some incredibly talented drivers win at their home track, and Sebastien Bourdais is no exception.

When he first competed at P.I.R. in Champ Car from 2003 through 2007, Bourdais was a serious threat to win every year. In fact, Bourdais finished on the podium in all but one of his first five starts at Portland, with victories in 2004 and 2007.

Obviously, open-wheel racing has changed quite a lot since 2007. Drivers, teams and tracks have all come and gone. But Bourdais still remains a serious contender to chase victories whenever the series visits a natural-terrain road course, and if last year’s return to Portland after an 11-year hiatus is any indication, Bourdais might be in for another great race this weekend. Naturally, he enters the penultimate round of the 2019 season with a lot of enthusiasm.

“The big surprise last year was that we qualified very well,” Bourdais told NBC Sports. “It had been kind of a trend in ‘18 for us that we were very comfortable and competitive with our road course package, and we did it again at Portland, and that was not the most straight forward or easy qualifying session either.”

Indeed, Bourdais’ Saturday in Portland last year was anything but easy. After leading practice 1 on Friday morning, Bourdais took the top spot on the scoring pylon from Graham Rahal with minutes remaining in P3. But he then lost control of his car entering Turn 10 and spun before backing into the tire barrier, causing significant damage to his No. 18 Honda. 

Bourdais pilots “Frankenstein” during qualifying for last year’s Grand Prix of Portland. (Photo: Steve King/IndyCar)

With qualifying just over three hours away, Bourdais’ crew had to quickly scramble to put his car back together. Though Bourdais was intentionally scheduled to run a special purple and white livery that weekend, all of the replacement parts still sported the traditional black and yellow SealMaster colors.

The result was a multi-colored machine which fans referred to as “Frankenstein”, and though not the most visually pleasing machine, Bourdais brought Frankenstein to life in qualifying by making the Firestone Fast Six en route to a fifth place qualifying run. Not too shabby for a car and driver who made contact with a tire barrier a few hours earlier.

“Obviously qualifying fifth after rebuilding the car and still displaying some good speed was very encouraging,” Bourdais said. “I didn’t go into the race with any bad feelings at all. I was actually quite excited.”

But if Bourdais thought his wild weekend was over following qualifying, he would be quickly proven wrong. His No. 18 machine was caught up in the infamous first lap incident in Turn 3 of last year’s race, and suffered front wing damage which resulted in a necessary pit stop.

“I thought we had a legit shot of finishing on the podium,” Bourdais said. “Then the start didn’t go really well and it seemed like all was lost.”

But it wouldn’t be. After exiting the pits, Bourdais returned to the track in the 21st position. However, the team changed their pit strategy and with the help of a few timely cautions, Bourdais slowly made his way back to the front. When the checkered flag flew, Bourdais finished third and found himself in a familiar position: back on the podium at P.I.R.

Bourdais celebrates after finishing third in last year’s Grand Prix of Portland. (Photo: Joe Sibinski/IndyCar)

“It kind of came back to us at the end,” Bourdais said. “It’s just the typical IndyCar attitude you have to have, which is to never give up, because you never know what waits for you around the corner.”

But if the wild weekend on-track was not enough to leave an impression on Bourdais, Portland’s loyal fan base that returned to the track years later certainly did. Bourdais stated that Portland has always been a race he’s looked forward to because of the passion displayed by local fans.

“You’d be surprised by the number of people who would see me at other events and ask ‘when are you guys coming back to Portland?’,” Bourdais said. “When it finally happened, they all showed up, and they showed up in big numbers. It was great. It was like we were never gone.

“It’s just a great area and if it was not that far from Europe I would definitely have no problem with living there.”

Live coverage of the Grand Prix of Portland begins Sunday, September 1 at 3 p.m. ET on NBC.

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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.”