How did Ken Roczen reach the point of no return in 2022 Supercross?

Ken Roczen has announced he is pulling out of the 2022 AMA Supercross series from this point on, but what went wrong?

Ken Roczen, Daytona Supercross 2022. Credit: Honda Racing Corporation.
Ken Roczen, Daytona Supercross 2022. Credit: Honda Racing Corporation.

WE will start at the end- well, the end of 2021. Roczen won four Supercross Main Events last year, fought for the championship until the final round of the season in Salt Lake City against Cooper Webb for the title, and came up 35 points short in the end. 

When the AMA Pro Motocross series began, things started well for Roczen. He won the second moto of the season at Hangtown, the second overall at Thunder Valley with a perfect 1-1 scorecard, and stayed relatively competitive throughout the season. 

Ken Roczen, 2022 Supercross. Credit: Honda Racing Corporation.
Ken Roczen, 2022 Supercross. Credit: Honda Racing Corporation.

Even into 2022, despite illness wrecking his December preparation for the Supercross season, Roczen left Anaheim on 8 January with the red plate having won by 10 seconds, with speed only matched by his Team Honda HRC teammate, Chase Sexton. 

But while Sexton would go on to win at round three in San Diego, and has made the podium in three races since then - including most recently last weekend in Daytona - Roczen has not visited the podium once since he won at A1, and has a best result of fifth since the opening night, that coming at the first Triple Crown of the season in Glendale. In regular Supercross races, Roczen’s best finish since winning in the Anaheim opener has been seventh, which came at San Diego having been involved in an incident with Jason Anderson which left the #94 Honda on the floor.

That San Diego result was seen as something of an anomaly at the time. In round three, the common view was that Roczen was almost guaranteed more podiums and wins in 2022 Supercross, and the difficult results he suffered in Oakland and San Diego were down to fixable issues in the whoops, and the aforementioned incident with Anderson.

Ken Roczen, Justin Brayton, 2022 Daytona Supercross. Credit: Honda Racing Corporation.
Ken Roczen, Justin Brayton, 2022 Daytona Supercross. Credit: Honda Racing Corporation.

However, Roczen and Anderson’s collision in San Diego was also, in part, down to a poor run through the whoops section for the #94, who lost momentum in the middle of the whoops, and then got kicked wide. The door was left wide open for Anderson, who has rarely been in need of a second invitation to pass - especially in 2022.

A second incident with Anderson came at round four of the series, when it returned to Anaheim. Three weeks had passed since Roczen had won A1, and he led early at Anaheim 2. Anderson caught him, though - an unusual sight two laps into a Main Event - and when Roczen left the inside line open in the sand turn, Anderson was once again quick to take advantage. The impact almost took both of them down, but while Anderson was fired to the inside of the track and able to stay up, Roczen was pushed over the berm and unable to prevent himself from going down. 

There was a limited recovery from Roczen that night in Anaheim, and he came back to finish 13th. But, that was not unusual - Roczen had often made relatively small recoveries from bad starts or after incidents, when compared with the likes of his rivals Eli Tomac and Cooper Webb. So, after the crash with Anderson, 13th was almost what you might expect. 

Ken Roczen, 2022 Anaheim 3 Supercross. Credit: Honda Racing Corporation.
Ken Roczen, 2022 Anaheim 3 Supercross. Credit: Honda Racing Corporation.

However, the results after A2 did not pick up, and while teammate Sexton was able to make progress with the bike in the whoops sections after changing to X–Trig triple clamps for added stiffness in the front end, the same could not be said for Roczen. 

That Roczen was crashing in the whoops - a rarity, despite the high-profile off at Atlanta last season - was a worry, considering what a strength they had been for Roczen in the past. That the situation was not improving only increased that worry.

Questions began to be asked a few weeks ago about Roczen’s future with Honda - especially with Cooper Webb having a tough West Coast wing with the new-for-2022 KTM - and even his future in the sport due to tough races and results. However, the news that Roczen’s Supercross season would be halted indefinitely after last weekend’s Daytona round - which marked the halfway point in the series - was no less shocking when Honda made the announcement in a press release on 8 March. 

Ken Roczen, Team Honda HRC, 2022. Credit: Honda Racing Corporation.
Ken Roczen, Team Honda HRC, 2022. Credit: Honda Racing Corporation.

After Roczen’s title challenges in 2020, and especially 2021, and his season-opening win in Anaheim 1 this year, even after his tough December, it seemed his health issues - which had plagued him after injuries in 2017 and 2018 through 2019 and even into 2020 - were behind him. According to Honda’s press release, that is not the reality.

The press release read, “Along with his team and family, Team Honda HRC rider Ken Roczen has decided to take a break from the 2022 AMA Supercross series.” It continued to say that since Roczen won in A1, his results “have suffered as he struggles with health issues.”

Honda describe Roczen’s Anaheim 1 win as a “surprise,” something the German somewhat echoed in an interview on the PulpMX Show conducted just two days after the ‘22 season opener. Also detailed in the press release is that Roczen’s health issues were further worsened by the contraction of Covid after San Diego, and that the situation is now at the point where continuing to race will only cause Roczen’s health to deteriorate further. 

Ken Roczen, Anaheim 2 Supercross, 2022. Credit: Honda Racing Corporation.
Ken Roczen, Anaheim 2 Supercross, 2022. Credit: Honda Racing Corporation.

Honda and Roczen were both keen to stress the continuity of their relationship, with Roczen saying “I owe them a championship, and that’s my goal going forward,” and American Honda’s Sports and Experiential Manager, Brandon Wilson, saying, “Ken is a part of the Honda family [and] everyone here is behind him as he works to return to the level we all know he deserves to be.”

Of course, it is in the interests of neither Roczen nor Honda to publicly out their intentions to split, even if they are there. So, whether Roczen is seen on a factory CRF450RW again is up for debate. 

Indeed, Roczen’s future in the sport in general is up for debate. A return to KTM is not out of the question. The era of team changes is definitely upon us after the success both Jason Anderson and Eli Tomac have enjoyed this year, and Roczen is unlikely to split from Red Bull.

Perhaps the Troy Lee Designs Red Bull GasGas team could be an option for the German, but the degree to which they want to enter, or can support, a fourth bike across all three Supercross classes, and a second in 450SX, is uncertain. 

Ken Roczen, MX2 2011 Fermo. Credit: KTM Media.
Ken Roczen, MX2 2011 Fermo. Credit: KTM Media.

Perhaps a move back to Europe will be in Roczen’s plans. The German won the MX2 World Championship in 2011 before he began his American adventure, beating current KTM GP star Jeffrey Herlings to do so. 

Certainly, from the perspective of the Grand Prix paddock, another star name would be welcome, especially looking at the heavily depleted gate we will see at the next World Championship round in Argentina. 

Roczen’s time racing motocross in recent years has been somewhat limited, having skipped the AMA Pro Motocross season in 2020. But he proved his potential outdoors again last year, and would certainly be an asset over here in Europe both to the championship and whichever team - most likely KTM or Honda - was able to acquire his signature.

Indeed, for KTM it would be an especially important signing, since they have not had a factory bike on the gate this year (not that Roczen would go in 2021, of course, but it could be an option for KTM next season), with only the injured Jeffrey Herlings signed to the team permanently and his replacement, Mathys Boisrame, being injured in qualifying at the first round of the season in Britain. 

But would Roczen want to do it? Well, that is perhaps the most intriguing question at the moment: what on Earth does Ken Roczen want to do next?

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