A lot of fans doubted Ken Roczen’s sanity when he left the factory KTM team to join the RCH Suzuki setup in late 2014, but the the young German had the last laugh by dominating the first round of AMA Supercross at Anaheim in California to kick off his 2015 campaign.
With reigning champion Ryan Villopoto quitting the American scene for 2015 to race in the world championship, the door was open for many riders to take the gruelling Supercross title. Roczen being most fans favourite as he now had a years experience on the bigger 450cc machines to go along with his 250 experience from winning the feeder series in 2013. He is a contender along with names like Ryan Dungey, Davi Millsaps (recent Monster Cup winner and $100 grand richer), Trey Canard, former champ’ Chad Reed, Justin Barcia, Eli Tomac and many others.
One name absent from this list sadly was James Stewart. The former champion is banned from all AMA competition for 16 months after failing a post event drugs test, and is waiting to appeal the decision.
But hang on a minute, wasn’t that everyones pick for the title getting beaten in his heat race by Andrew Short? Not in the script surely? In fairness the 32-year-old veteran rode a superb race for the heat win, fending off a last lap attack by Roczen and high fiving his rival after the flag in a battle both clearly enjoyed.
On to heat 2 and time for Big Red to take a step forward, Big Red means Honda, and they have had a fairly dismal few years in Supercross recently with injury and bad luck for their riders. But Eli Tomac on the Geico Honda was up there with Rozen in practice and managed to win the second heat convincingly after dispensing with Davi Millsaps early on. He was followed home by Trey Canard, the popular redhead who, like Millsaps has had several seasons plagued with injury but is another rider with the potential to win the title.
Main event time then. The format of Supercross is gruelling, the teams and riders race nearly every weekend for the next few months, meaning consistency and staying injury free are vital. Villopoto won last years title despite riding for much of the season with injuries, and one rider already out was Will Hahn, riding for the current Supercross champion team Monster Energy Kawasaki, he crashed in practice, breaking several bones and will be out for the season.
At the gate drop it was the two guys dominating heat one who once again led away, Short and Roczen, with Ken managing to pass Short through an early rhythm section and establish himself in the lead. The big surprise was class rookie Jason Anderson, the spectaculr winner or last years 250 West series and this year spearheading the return of the Husqvarna name into Supercross. Once getting past the inevitably fast starting Mike Alessi, Anderson was comfortable in the podium positions, but would he have the strength to keep it up? A common issue with riders coming into 450 supercross racing from 250.
The other earlier heat winner had a far worse day, Tomac went down in the early stages of his own accord but was able to get back running, while Davi Millsaps started to make progress through to the front after a difficult night so far then threw it away with a mistake in the whoop section and dropped back. Reed, Barcia and other usual frontrunners were back in the pack ater the first corner lottery a bad start in supercross puts you in!
The latter stages of the race were all about Roczen maintaining his lead from the impressive Anderson, while further behind, Short was holding off Ryan Dungey after being passed by Canard. Dungey finally got past Short with 3 to go, but by then Canard and Anderson were settled, as was Roczen who cruised home to take a debut win for the RCH Suzuki team.