Marcus Ericsson wins at Detroit as Will Power blasts IndyCar for late red flag that costs him

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Marcus Ericsson held off a challenge from Rinus Veekay and Pato O’Ward to win the Chevrolet Grand Prix of Detroit in a three-lap shootout Saturday, inheriting the lead after Will Power experienced bitter disappointment that left him angry at IndyCar officials.

Power’s car was in first when it initially failed to refire after IndyCar officials stopped the race with five laps remaining to ensure a green-flag finish after a caution for Roman Grosjean hitting the wall.

Power eventually rejoined the race but finished three laps down in 20th after leading a race-high 37 laps. If IndyCar had held the red flag, the race likely would have ended under yellow and given Power (and Team Penske) its first victory of the season.

“I’m mad at IndyCar,” Power told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee. “Because I’m the first car in and they wait for the last car in to get a fan on the car – and it roasts the ECU. And just going red flag for starters.

“The guys up there in race control have never listened to any drivers. They never listen! They don’t care. We’ve given them so many good suggestions and they don’t care. I worked my ass off today to have this happen.”

“I’m screaming on the radio to get a fan because the ECU always overheats. They wait for everyone. These guys (in the back) still have air coming in the car. You work your ass off in this sport. So much money goes into it. And it’s just dumb decisions like that. Man, if it’s not a yellow they throw, it’s some stupid idea like this, a red flag.”

IndyCar officials said they red-flagged the race because they always attempt to end under a green flag and felt there was enough time for a finish with a stoppage for cleanup after the yellow flag on Lap 65 of 70.

Last year in the Indy 500, IndyCar officials provided a similar line of reasoning for why they didn’t throw a red flag and allowed the race to end under caution, asserting there wasn’t adequate time for a green-flag finish when the yellow flew on Lap 196 of 200.

Ericsson was poised to strike at Power when the second red flag waved for the accident involving Grosjean. The final laps seemed to be shaping up as a restart fight between a driver with 37 starts vs. a driver with 37 IndyCar wins.

Instead, Ericsson became the fourth first-time IndyCar winner this season and extended a streak of seven winners in seven races to start the season — tying a record recorded four times previously. The most recent was in 2017.

“It’s been such a long time for me,” Ericsson told NBC’s Marty Snider. “I was a kid when I won last time. I feel so good.

“I had my best result here two years ago with my second-place. I really liked this track then, so I knew coming into this weekend that I had a lot of confidence. … For once things fell my way.”

The overheated ECU denied Ericsson, in his third season in IndyCar, an opportunity to make an on-track pass of Power, a 14-year veteran with wins in every season since 2008.

“For Will, I feel really bad for him the way it ended,” Ericsson said. “He did a tremendous job today.”

On the restart following Grosjean’s incident, Ericsson, VeeKay and O’Ward were able to separate from the field as several drivers raced wheel to wheel.

The battle between VeeKay and O’Ward allowed Ericsson to concentrate on hitting his marks until the checkers waved.

Marcus Ericsson’s first IndyCar win makes him the seventh different winner of 2021 – tying a record. Chris Owens / IndyCar

VeeKay’s second-place finish is his second podium finish in seven starts and his second consecutive on a road course. He won the most recent road course race in the GMR Grand Prix and Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

O’Ward’s third-place finish is his best finish at The Raceway at Belle Isle and his third podium of 2020. O’Ward started the day on the pole after narrowly beating Alexander Rossi in that session. In the closing laps. he nursed a flat spotted left front tire.

“I understand they want to end under green,” O’Ward said about the final red flag. “If I was Will, I’d be telling you no. I feel for him. … He would have walked away with it if we didn’t go red.”

O’Ward was relieved with the podium finish, however. He was one of several drivers impacted by an early red flag period.

“If you go back to that first red flag, we really got hosed,” O’Ward said in a post-race interview.

Takuma Sato in fourth and Graham Rahal rounded out the top five.

The first red flag of the race for a massive crash by Felix Rosenqvist on Lap 26 lasted for more than an hour.

Rosenqvist impacted the wall heavily when his throttle appeared to stick. He was evaluated in the infield medical facility before being transported to a local hospital for further evaluation of injuries that were not “life-threatening or limb-threatening.”

The incident was a blow to Scott Dixon and James Hinchcliffe were caught out on strategy. Dixon finished the afternoon in eighth after getting off sequence. Hinchliffe was 17th.

Josef Newgarden finished 10th after losing a tire on Lap 7 when a lug was left loose on an early pit stop.

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.”