Quick thoughts: Memorable weekend of racing as Fernandez and Roczen shine
It was one of the most exciting weekend’s of racing in a long, long time as the MXGP season kicked off in style with Ruben Fernandez surprising almost everyone and maybe even himself with his first 450 GP win as sandwiched in between the drama of MXGP, Ken Roczen got redemption with a stunning win on the HEP Suzuki to yet again prove the doubters wrong.
Both riders had a similar thread to their wins, work hard, trust yourself and believe it can happen. And this weekend, both Fernandez and Roczen have experienced maybe the most emotional win of their careers. All the work paid off.
Fernandez win was slightly similar to Gordon Crockard’s maiden GP win back in 2000 in that it came a bit out of the blue. Fernandez of course showed flashes of brilliance on the 450 last year but to win that second moto the way he did was sensational.
Let’s put a bit of context to the win and performance. Fernandez was supposed to have Tim Gajser as lead man but unfortunately Tim got injured leaving Fernandez as the lone ranger at factory Honda in his debut for the team at round one of 2023.
When you add in the normal pressure of any first round of the world championship, the first race as a factory 450 GP rider and then leading the team that weekend – it is a lot to deal with mentally.
Fast forward to moto two and Fernandez is leading with the fastest man on the planet in second. Despite all the pressure, Fernandez kept pulling away, rode calmly, made no mistakes to take his first moto win and overall. From a mental standpoint that is hugely impressive, never mind the speed he showed on track.
Then we had Ken Roczen who only jumped on the Suzuki at the start of December and already had a podium on the last remaining manufacturer to have a kick-start.
But Ken has had a few difficulties finding a base setting to get comfortable on recently that contributed to fluctuating results, it gave the doubters ammunition that he had made the wrong choice to go back to yellow.
But there is one thing that Ken Roczen will always have and that’s pure natural talent. When the German finds a setting good enough, he can win anywhere, anytime. He did just that at a raucous Indy with the fans on their feet witnessing such a historic win. The hours Roczen has put in along with the entire team have been immense but it has finally paid off. And everyone appreciates the achievement, even his rivals who congratulated him on the night
After being let go by Honda, Roczen has proven the doubters wrong again and he held off previous rivals who have usually got the best of him in late race duels, Barcia and Webb, despite being under big pressure and knowing how big this win would be for him and the team.
Yet again, we saw why a rider of Roczen’s level gets paid a lot of money, they can deliver results most others can’t.
He didn’t win but the same can be said of Jeffrey Herlings in Argentina. After no GP racing for a year and a half, he struggled to tenth in the Saturday sprint only to then literally find the speed overnight for second overall in the main two motos. Scary for the rest of the field when he still isn’t at his best and it’s the deep sand of Riola next!
It’s why Roczen and Herlings are two of the biggest talents the sport has ever seen, they can recover from tough times and produce when their back is against the wall.
But with Fernandez’ win, two moto wins by Jorge Prado, Geerts winning all three in MX2 and the revelation that is 16 year old Lucas Coenen, plus de Wolf, Everts, Adamo and Benistant all impressing at times in Argentina, its nice to see the next generation knocking on the door and ready to step up when their time comes.
The future is bright, but last weekend shows the present is worth savouring and shows why dirt bike racing is the best sport in the world. Anything is possible and the storylines can be incredible.
Words: Jonathan McCready