Interview: Ken Roczen looks back at his GP days, transitioning to America and Supercross
Ken Roczen has done an enormous amount in his career which started at a very young age winning MX2 GP’s at just the age of 15. The German won the MX2 World title in 2011 before heading to America to race Supercross and set up a new life for himself there.
We recently sat down with Roczen to discuss the early days of his career racing GP’s and making the switch to America racing Supercross.
GateDrop: Ken, I remember you bursting on the GP scene when you made your MX2 GP debut on the Suzuki, you had a lot of hype but obviously that doesn’t faze you. What a debut! What was that like looking back at it?
Roczen: So I was with Suzuki since a really young age. I started racing the European championship before the GP class and I switched to the bigger bike fairly early. In 2009, I had to skip the first four or five GP races because I was still under age, I was 14 at that point and you had to be 15. My first GP was in Spain and I believe that was my first time leading into the GP’s that I actually put in work, I was grinding out a little bit more and started doing cardio and stuff like that. I made a huge step just before that until then and I was able to get my first GP win ever at the age of 15.
From then on I have had a really great career as a whole, later on when I moved to the US, I mean I fought for the championship in 2010 and get the World Championship in 2011. That was when I started racing part time in the US and was then full time in America in 2012 and since then I’ve hardly been back. My life, my career and everything has been over there and I’ve been able to win some championships over there. A West Coast 250cc championship in 2013 and I backed that up with a 2014 450cc Pro Motocross title. In 2016, I did a 450cc Pro Motocross as well and I got plagued with injury trying to get back on top form. At this point, I have made some drastic changes being with Honda for six years switching back to Suzuki which obviously I have a lot of experience with. We are going back up on the rise I would say, I had a really tough year in 2022 but this year has been really well so far. I am back to rebuilding a little bit and getting back in my stride.
GateDrop: When you were young, only 15 yourself and Jeffrey Herlings, the speed was incredible and possibly the fastest ever 15 years old we have ever seen. When you look back now are you happy with what you achieved at that young age?
Roczen: Yeah, I think every once in a while you have these couple of guys that shine a little bit brighter than everybody else. I was lucky to be a part of that. I’ve done a lot racing internationally, I even raced a British Championship as well and bounce around Europe a lot. I had a really good career in the GP’s as well but my time in the GP’s was really short – it all happened so quick. I mean I was kid when I started and it felt like I was going to be there for a while but then the opportunity was rising that I could come to the US. It all happened so quick and then my GP time was over and I’ve been in the US ever since.
At a young age, it was amazing to be a part of that elite group and especially when you come in at that age and it’s a rookie year. It’s not like I looked up to some of those guys but everybody knew who the top guys in the 250cc class were, they were a lot them as well. I always watched them from afar and all of a sudden I was with them and killing it right away too. It was a big confidence booster and I have to say a big time thanks to my Dad. The way he raised me being tough, I had some great guidance and also with one of the best teams back in the day with Factory Suzuki. It was a lot of work, blood sweat and tears were put in and with the right guidance I was able to reach to levels that I’m at, at the moment.
GateDrop: In 2011, you actually started the season racing AMA Supercross, came back to race a couple of GP’s and then raced an AMA Supercross again. It’s not really possible to do that these days with the calendar but looking back now it’s kind of crazy. How did you deal with that?
Roczen: Yeah, well in Supercross I was a fish out of water, that is what I wanted to do but I had zero experience going into Supercross. There were three rounds left in the series but technically four, I missed Seattle due to a GP so I went third at A2 and then we had a long break. I went back to Europe and raced Bulgaria and a bunch of races, I skipped Seattle but came back in Salt Lake City, got second there and then finished it off in Vegas with a first place. I mean that was my first year, I mean I was always fast at Supercross but it was kind of disastrous and had to do a lot of learning. I was able to come back from that and started to click off some podiums at the end there so that was huge for me. Coming back winning a lot of racing and leading at the GP’s to top it off with a World Championship title was a highlight.
GateDrop: And then your first full year racing Supercross, how did you adapt? Having those rounds the year before helped I am sure and you’re pretty much an American now (laughs)…
Roczen: Back then it was all new. It was a totally different style of racing, the bikes are different. Making the switch from Suzuki to KTM and I’d never really ridden those kind of Supercross tracks. There was a lot of adjustment that had to be done and things like that take time. Time that you don’t have sometimes actually.
GateDrop: You are obviously watching Supercross at the moment but do you still watch MXGP and would you be interested in doing some sort of wildcard MXGP ride in the future?
Roczen: I actually still watch all the GP’s. It would be nice but it takes a lot of planning and a lot of everything to really make that happen. Of course I also still have the Pro Motocross championship but it will be something I play by ear a little bit. I think this year it just isn’t feasible even though we have a long break now we have bikes going to different countries and continents with the World Supercross. If I wanted to do a few pro motocross races, because I am Supercross only and at least just for this year I wanted to get a taste of that. For the future anything is possible but not this year.
Interview: Andy McKinstry
Image: Nigel McKinstry