IndyCar’s Colton Herta and F1’s Lando Norris reunited in sim racing

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When Formula One driver Lando Norris of McLaren joins the IndyCar iRacing Challenge Saturday at Circuit of the Americas (COTA), he will renew a rivalry with Colton Herta that began in British Formula 4 in 2015.

At that time, Herta and Norris both drove for Carlin.

Herta finished third overall for Carlin with four race victories and a further eight podium finishes.

The two drivers were fast, very fast and Norris revealed that Herta’s nickname was “Hooligan Herta.”

Both drivers made it to the top rung of their respective sports as teenagers. Herta was just 18 when he started his first NTT IndyCar Series race in the 2018 season-finale at Sonoma Raceway. Norris was 19 years, four months and four days old when he started the 2019 Australian Grand Prix. He was the 12th teenager to start a Formula One race.

Norris is Saturday’s guest racer in the AutoNation IndyCar Classic at Circuit of the Americas (COTA). It’s the fifth race of the six-race IndyCar iRacing Challenge (Saturday, 2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Lando and “Hooligan Herta” are together again. They are in open-wheel race cars battling against each other on the only course that Formula One and IndyCar share on its schedule. That is the incredible Circuit of the Americas, although Saturday’s contest is on virtual COTA.

“I’m excited and I’ve already had some warning messages coming in from Colton’s side,” Norris said Friday. “I don’t know if I should read them out or not.

“It will be nice to race him again. It’s been a while since I raced with him. I’m excited.

“I’m looking forward to it. I think obviously I’ve seen Colton racing. It’s been a while since he raced in F4 back in the day. We had some really good times. Yeah, we have a lot of respect for each other. I’m excited.

“Colton is a year younger than me. When he went into F4, he was the youngest guy in the field. I don’t want to sound like I’m talking like a guy with loads of experience, but it looks like he has matured in quite a way as I think I have in some ways. It looks like he’s become an even better driver than what he was. And he was freaking fast when I was racing against him.

“He was nicknamed ‘Hooligan Herta’ for many reasons.

“The racing we had was good fun. I’m excited to race against not only of course Colton but a lot of the other guys as well.”

Colton Herta celebrating IndyCar win at COTA

Herta is the defending winner of the actual IndyCar race at the real COTA in 2019. That was his first career IndyCar win and started him on a path to stardom.

The son of former IndyCar Series race winner Bryan Herta is excited to renew his battles with his former teammate from the Carlin F4 days.

“It’s awesome,” Herta said. “Obviously, I have a lot of respect for Lando, got to race against him for a year in British F4, then did some testing with him through Formula 3 and stuff. I have a lot of respect for him.

“It’s cool to see all these guys that are interested in running IndyCar and have the chance now virtually to do it. It is really cool to be able to race against Lando again. I’m looking forward to it.”

If the COVID-19 pandemic had not shut down the world, Norris would have been consumed in the Formula One world and Herta would have been concentrating on IndyCar.

Because nobody knows for sure when real racing will return, the drivers have fed their competitive appetite in virtual racing.

That has allowed Norris to test his skills against IndyCar competition. It’s important to the McLaren driver in order to keep his skills sharp. He has no idea when real racing will return.

Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images

Norris has been a regular in the sim racing world. That has helped him adapt to the different cars that he has raced in the virtual world.

“It’s close already, especially for the guys who obviously haven’t driven iRacing anywhere near as much as me, because I’ve done a ton of it,” Norris said. “I’m in the fortunate position of it being something I’m very used to but a bunch of other guys aren’t used to as much.

“The more they get used to it, know how to drive it, it’s not exactly like driving an Indy car, I’m sure. There are differences in the iRacing models and stuff that are good, but there’s still things you need to know, learn about, how you can’t over-push the tire, over-slip it and so on.

“The more guys get used to this and learn how to drive another car, the better they’re going to be getting. I was close already. I know Sage Karam was very quick in the practice race. He does a lot of iRacing as well.

“It shows the people who have been more on this, on the program, on iRacing, are the faster guys at the moment. I’m sure it’s going to be getting closer and closer once everyone learns the secrets and tricks on how to do it.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

Ken Roczen signs with HEP Progressive Ecstar Suzuki for 2023

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ANAHEIM, California – Ken Roczen will make the move from HRC Honda to H.E.P. Motorsports with the Progressive Ecstar Suzuki team, ending a long and eventful offseason that saw his split from his longstanding team after he committed to running World Supercross (WSX).

“H.E.P. Motorsports is thrilled to announce that the team has signed Ken Roczen as its premier rider for the 2023 season,” the team announced on Instagram. “Former AMA Motocross champion Roczen will be aboard a Suzuki RM-Z450. Roczen, who won his most recent championship on a Suzuki, will be reunited with the brand and bring his exciting style, determination, and grit back to the RM Army.

“Ken Roczen will compete in the upcoming 2023 Supercross and Motocross Championship series which is set to start on January 7 at Anaheim Stadium in Southern California.”

For Roczen, it is a return to the bike of his youth and on which he had some of his greatest professional success.

“This thing has been going on for weeks and weeks and weeks in the making, but there was so much uncertainty,” Roczen told NBC Sports during Monster Energy Supercross Media Sessions. “It was a very unique situation. I just finally signed two nights ago, so it’s really only legit once the ink hits the paper. It’s been in the works for a long time, but there were just a lot of questions and a lot of input from a lot of other teams too.

“Good things take time, and I’m okay with that. I grew up riding Suzuki. Ot’s like a homecoming. It’s a special feeling”

Roczen won the 2016 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship on a Suzuki before making the move to Honda. That year he won nine of 12 Nationals and finished no worse than second as he easily outpaced Eli Tomac by 86 points. He finished third in his next Pro Motocross outing in 2018 after sitting out the outdoor season in 2017.

“I am beyond excited to reconnect with Suzuki for the 3rd time in my career. We’ve had a lot of success in the past and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish together in our future.” Roczen said in the Instagram post.