Ken Roczen celebrated victory at the Pro Motocross season opener after going 1-2 on the day aboard his Wiseco-backed Factory Honda.
Official release from Wiseco.
If Ken Roczen was in a two-plus year drought, you wouldn’t have known it Saturday afternoon. After nearly two-and-a-half years without a win and an uphill climb to overcome a pair of potential career-ending injuries, Wiseco-sponsored rider, Ken Roczen, finally launched the proverbial monkey from his back and returned to the top step of the podium with a championship-caliber 1-2 finish to collect the overall win in the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross season opening Bell Helmets Hangtown Motocross Classic at Prairie City SVRA in Sacramento, Calif.
Roczen, a two-time Pro Motocross 450 titlist, tested his championship mettle against not only the best in the business, but against unseasonable cold and rain at the legendary California raceplex to pick up his 16th career Pro Motocross win.
“It’s been a very, very long time,” commented Roczen following the win. “Just overall the whole day was good. I just went out there, and it’s really difficult at the first race what to expect and where everybody’s at. Every time I went out there, I just did the best I could. It got us an overall (win), so I’m very happy, especially with how muddy and how sloppy it was. It could go the other way, too.”
The veteran 25-year-old Team Honda HRC rider, who just signed a three-year contract extension, rewarded his team by pacing both qualifying sessions and leading all 15 laps of the first moto, taking the checkered flag by a handsome 15 seconds.
As a brisk, steady rain settled in the area, the 40-rider, 450 Class field met a more demanding racecourse for the second moto. Roczen rounded the first corner fifth in the running order, but the affable fan favorite found his way to the point by Lap 2. The rider of the No. 94 Honda CRF450R held down the lead for the next three circuits before yielding the top spot three laps later to eventual moto winner Eli Tomac.
As the laps continued to click off and the race wound down, Roczen settled into as manageable of a rhythm as conditions would allow to finish second and lock up his first overall win since 2016.
“I think we have more in the tank,” said Roczen who will carry the coveted red plate holding a four-point lead over Tomac in to Round 2. “With the conditions as bad as they were, I was really happy with a 1-2 finish. I had to back it down. I had a couple big moments. It was super sloppy out there. I just kind of did my thing. I went down and got stuck behind a lapper in the deepest rut possible on the last lap, so I was kind of sweating there for a little bit just because there was one more lap to go, but we made it happen in some gnarly conditions. We’re going to enjoy this overall. Me and my team have been working very hard and this is really a dream come true.”
Roczen’s Team Honda HRC teammate Cole Seely wasn’t as fortuitous and met his fair share of challenges at the Hangtown opener. The journeyman Honda jockey earned a respectable ninth-place finish in the first moto, but the conditions in the second moto got the best of Seely, leaving him 18th in the final contest. Still, the Newbury Park, Calif., native managed to salvage a 14th-place overall finish, a respectable effort considering the circumstances.
“The opening round had its ups and downs for sure,” commented Seely, who missed most of the last two outdoor seasons with his own injuries. “I think I qualified pretty good for not having raced an outdoor in almost two years. I was happy we were able to get at least one moto in before the storm actually rolled in. I was also happy with how I rode. I felt like I managed the race well and had more energy at the end of the moto than I normally do. The second moto was tough. I fell way too many times and just didn’t have very good luck. If there was a way to build some more skill for muddy races then I would but the only time we really get to practice that is in race situations. Moving forward I think I know what I need to work on and that will help set some additional goals to push through the season.”
Across the paddock in the 250 Class pits, the GEICO Honda team fielded CRF250Rs for Eastern Regional 250SX Class Champion Chase Sexton, R.J. Hampshire, Christian Craig and Hunter Lawrence. While none of the Wiseco-sponsored Red Riders were able to capture podiums at the Pro Motocross opener, the potent foursome finished fifth, sixth, tenth and eleventh overall, respectively.
“Not what I wanted, just didn’t feel super comfortable all day,” said Sexton. “The good side was that my starts were pretty good, but I definitely wish I could have stayed up there a little better. Had a quick crash in Moto 2 and that cost me, but the conditions were pretty tough. It’s okay though, we scored good points, and we will put in the work and come out swinging for Round 2 this weekend.”
The Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship returns to Fox Raceway this weekend when the series will visit the Pala, Calif., track for the first time since the 2011. The first motos from the Lucas Oil Fox Raceway National will be televised live on MAVTV Saturday, May 25 beginning at 4 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, 1 p.m. Pacific. Live coverage of the second motos will shift to NBCSN beginning at 6 p.m. EDT, 3 p.m. Pacific.