How Ken Roczen would do in his return to racing during the 2018 Monster Energy Supercross season was nothing short of a mystery. Well, the team HRC rider is back and is already been popping champagne bottles on the podium with his second place finish at the 2018 Houston SX on Saturday night.
There was no doubt in my mind that Kenny would be fast enough to win some races, but would he be able to keep himself mentally in check if the wins weren’t there right away for him? That was my biggest question heading into his comeback, and so far the German has been impressive in that area. At the opener in Anaheim, Kenny rounded the first turn well outside the top ten and rather than going berzerk to get to the front, he patiently worked his way up to fourth and settled in for solid points at the opener.
This last weekend in Houston was equally as impressive for the #94. Unlike in Anaheim, this time he pulled a great start, and after a one-lap battle with Justin Barcia, he found himself leading a 450SX main event for the first time in a year. For the next thirteen laps, Kenny set the pace, but the whole main event he knew Jason Anderson was lurking. With just six laps to go, Jason made the pass for the lead, and once again, Kenny showed awesome maturity by not trying to do too much too fast.
Don’t get me twisted; I’m not for a second saying Kenny let Jason have the win. It was no doubt Jason’s night, but the old Kenny might have made a huge mistake pushing that ragged edge for the win. Instead, Kenny saw that Jason’s pace was more than he had in the tank and he took what was there: some important experience leading laps, a solid building block for the Championship and second place points. To be completely forthright, I thought Kenny might be a win-or-crash rider in ’18, so for me, his 4-2 start to the season has me believing he could be our champion when the curtain draws closed on the season in Vegas.
After round two was officially in the books and the champagne bottles were emptied, Kenny answered some questions for the press.
I’m sure last weekend you were happy with 4th just to get a race under your belt, but tell me how it felt to be out front with a clear track—just to be back where we know you think you belong.
I wasn’t that happy with it [4th at A1]. It was okay last weekend. But no, this was a really good weekend for us. I think where I have the most fun is just rolling out here with the HRC team. They’re excited I’m back, I’m excited I’m back and then obviously with Cole [Seely] too. Just having two riders on the track and to be able to deliver them a podium in just our second race back feels great. I had a good start in the heat—rode smart there—and had a good start in the main event. Justin [Barcia] and I had some good battles. It was clean. It was fun. In the first couple of laps, I had to protect my inside a little bit, and I noticed I couldn’t really separate myself at all. If anything they were kind of gaining on me. I was kind of thinking because we were so close, if I took a regular line somebody was going to come up the inside. From lap two or three, I started opening up my turns a little bit and I could inch away a little bit.
Compared to last week, this was a much better start to your main event. You weren’t bunched up behind anybody. Can you talk about your attitude and your thought process compared to last week where you had to battle and be amongst a bunch of guys for the first time in 11 months, where as this week you were out front and clear for a while?
For me, I don’t know where I’m at until I’m actually racing and around these guys. It was really just getting familiar with things again. I felt a lot more comfortable tonight. I know it’s just one race, but having that one race under our belt last weekend made this weekend a lot more familiar, I should say. When we practice—especially in California lately—we don’t ever get to ride tracks that are this tacky or rutty. This was definitely something new. It’s been a while since I’ve ridden things like that, but my mindset is still the same. You can’t really freak out after one race, even after two races. You get all crazy, and then all of a sudden get super aggressive and then make a mistake again. Mentally, I’m going to stay the same throughout the season. I’m going to get comfortable and do each and every race without having too big of a mistake.
Can you talk a little bit about how the dynamics have changed. Marvin [Musquin] wasn’t in the main event tonight. Eli [Tomac] had a bad finish last week and couldn’t ride tonight. Talk about championship thoughts in the distance.
Things happen. That’s why I sometimes get upset with people outside our industry that think we’re robots and ride on a train rail because they’re always talking about mental mistakes and mental this, mental that. Tracks change. Tracks are tough and things don’t always work out. I feel like it’s never really calculated to 100%. You make a mistake, but that’s just part of racing. We’re all pushing out there and that’s the instinct. Anybody that goes to a competition wants to do good and wants to go fast. You’re always going to go as fast as your comfortable, but sometimes it doesn’t work out. It happened to Eli last weekend. It happened to me last year. It happen to Marvin this weekend, and it can happen to anybody really. It’s just part of racing I think.
There are more than a few straightaways out there that you guys were sending it out to the flat. Were you mindful of that as far as line choice or rhythm choice to minimize the impact or were you full go?
It’s kind of crazy actually. When we’re sitting on the starting line, it looks like they’re doing quite a bit of track work, but by the time we get to halfway and especially towards the last laps, it gets brutal, especially with dirt like that. You could see where we landed. There were tire marks and holes. We normally don’t have jumps where we just launch out of there, but they kind of steepened the transitions a little bit. Obviously with the dirt being so soft, it can get rutty, especially a couple of holes down there. You have to really be aware of it. Once you find your line, it’s really hard to get out of that and send it off of something. The track changes every lap and you might hit one that’s not so good. It could cost you big time.
Next week is the first of the Triple Crown format. This is a pretty big change. I know you have raced Monster Cup before, but to have it being part of the Championship, how do you attack that? Do you practice shorter sprints this week or just keep doing what you’re doing?
Having three motos like that, it’s just not long enough almost. We train to be super fit and we’re doing 20 [minutes] plus one [lap] out here, and that really separates the riders. Having a full stacked field in three races… I don’t even know. What is the first moto, eight [min] plus one? Then 12 plus one. I don’t know, they’re definitely shorter races so everyone is going to send it.