Last summer Ken Roczen made the surprise decision to sit out the entirety of the American outdoor national season, with the intention of getting his body fully fit and healthy ready for the 2021 Supercross series.
And with his second place in the main event on Saturday night it appears as though that gamble has paid off for personable German. There were no signs of rust on the number 94 red machine,
“I’m almost 27 now and I’ve raced plenty of seasons,’ said Roczen, speaking at the track. ‘So I kind of know what to expect and it’s all about what you do with that mindset. So I didn’t really feel that rusty out there.”
In fact Roczen looked the opposite of rusty inside the NRG stadium. Whilst chasing Justin Barcia Roczen set the fastest laps in both his heat and the main event.
“It was a good race for both of us. It was clean, the track was awesome, it got rough, and it was tacky. I had to do a couple of passes in the beginning but overall, I’m happy with my riding and it’s good to get the first one out of the way safe and sound.”
The last time we saw Roczen line up behind the gates it was during the madness of the Salt Lake City series that concluded the 2020 championship, “It really feels like forever since I’ve raced, because I didn’t ride outdoors. This race felt like the most normal race – Salt Lake did not feel normal whatsoever. But coming here and having some fans in the stadium, it felt almost like the ‘good old days’ if we call them that way – even though we are not completely there yet.”
Back in Salt Lake City – and over the past few seasons – Roczen has struggled with underlying health issues and fatigue. Coming into 2021 however Roczen has employed some new strategies in both his physical and mental preparation in order to combat this.
“I’ve done a lot of different procedures training wise, and I actually felt really solid out there. I think we did about 28 laps and I wasn’t looking at the time or anything like that – which is always a good sign. That just means you’re right in the battle, right in the moment.
“I did a lot of different work this year compared to past years, with a different structure and learning a lot of new stuff and I think that’s all paying off.
“As I’ve said I’ve changed my complete outlook on the whole racing side of things, so I just try to race the day and enjoy myself and that’s exactly what I’ve done so I’m really over the moon.”
Roczen debuted an all-new Honda CRF-450 in Houston, which can often be a stressful and frustrating procedure for a factory racer. However, Roczen’s second place ride indicates that the motorcycle is already in a good place in terms of set up.
“I only made the slightest little changes to the motorcycle throughout the whole day. The nice thing about this bike compared to last year’s bike, where you would do a couple of clicks and the thing would almost be unrideable due to the amount of difference it made, compared to that this year’s bike is super consistent.
“I think there are some little things to improve on, but at the same time I’m not really worrying about it now with the amount of races we’ve got in a row here. We don’t really have time to test anyway. So I’m just going to deal with what we have, I feel like the balance of the bike and everything is really good.”
Roczen and championship rival Eli Tomac caused quite the stir on social media last week with their posts together onboard a private jet. Roczen has also been riding and training at the competitions test tracks as well. This is a far cry from the days of Carmichael and the rivalries of Stewart/Reed. Could this be a new era in Supercross?
Roczen thinks so: “I think times have changed. I think a lot of us have put our ego’s down. If anything I think it helps all of us. We all ride in our separate little bubbles and then we came to the TLD track and it was a breath of fresh air and they were able to come up and use our track as well.
“Especially with the limitations at public tracks at the moment there’s nothing really that great out there and there’s not as many tracks anymore. I know I’ve talked to multiple people and I think we will probably start doing more of it in the future, just swapping out tracks. They are all in the same spot there anyway, so I don’t really know what the problem with that is. We all benefit from it.”
This strategy of amicable cooperation also worked out quite nicely for TLD pilot Justin Barcia. Barcia was the man of the moment on Saturday night, but he didn’t have it easy. Roczen pressured him hard and had the opportunity to make some aggressive passes before deciding against that reckless strategy.
“You’ve got to pick your battles. You don’t want to make contact but sometimes it just happens. I could’ve tried to make a block pass, but the ruts were deep and if we both go down then we are both going to be mad and it just doesn’t help us.
“So I was trying to pick my battles. If I felt like I had the edge on him I would’ve made it happen. But for me to make the pass there I would’ve had to take his line away. We could’ve both gone down. That’s how I thought about it. Could I have made a pass? Probably, but I was just picking my battles.”
With 16 races still to go Roczen chose to look at the bigger picture, “Second place I’m totally fine with, we did some good racing out there. It’s a long season so I kind of let it go a little in the end with about four laps to go and then reeled it back in. It was good, I’m super happy to get away with a second place.”