Roczen, Brayton and Kehoe on St. Louis
In an emotional evening in St. Louis, Team Honda HRC’s Ken Roczen put together an impeccable ride at round two of the AMA Supercross series, leading 23 of the 24 laps raced to score his first main-event victory since the January 14, 2017, San Diego race. Having overcome two nearly career-ending injuries, Roczen demonstrated his unrelenting drive as he returned to the top of the podium in dominant fashion. The German was strong throughout the entire night program, taking the win in his heat race before grabbing a second-place start in the main event. He made a strong pass for the lead on lap two and never looked back, riding unchallenged for the remainder of the 20-minute-plus-one-lap race.
It was a hectic evening for teammate Justin Brayton, who was forced to qualify into the main event via the Last Chance Qualifier. Despite having the far outside gate position, the veteran made the best of the situation, launching his CRF450R to a top-10 start and working his way into fifth, where he stayed for the early portion of the race. He ultimately relinquished three positions, taking the checkered flag in eighth.
In the days following the Anaheim 1 opener, where Ken Roczen finished sixth, he and Team Honda HRC returned to the test track with an agenda; make the suspension softer and more comfortable. After two long days of testing, Roczen and his squad were satisfied and eager to try the setup in race conditions in St. Louis. “We put in a lot of work this week and today it really showed,” Roczen said. “We ended up softening the front end to a similar setting that Justin [Brayton] runs, then went back to a similar shock setup that I ran last year. I got the opportunity to ride it more on Friday during press day, which was really nice to see how the bike would work in the softer conditions prior to the race. We made a few adjustments throughout the day, but for the most part it was great. Now that I think we have a good setup, I can just start focusing on the riding and putting in laps.”
Justin Brayton and mechanic Brent Duffe consider the St. Louis round their home race, as they both grew up in Iowa. They enjoyed a very supportive atmosphere throughout the day. “I love this race,” Brayton said. “I grew up about six hours away, so a lot of my family and friends come down to this one. My wife and daughter flew in to be here too. It’s also really special because my daughter loves seeing grandma and grandpa, who she only sees once or twice a year, so that was so great. It’s really nice to see them interact and enjoy their time together at the hotel, dinners and at the race. I love it.”
Racing is a family affair for Brayton, as he’s not only an incredible racer and athlete but first and foremost a great dad. In St. Louis, he got to share a few special moments with his daughter Parker, who signed autographs with him between practices and then appeared with him during opening ceremonies. “That was so special,” Brayton said. “What was really cool was that I almost started tearing up while we were riding out because I told her, ‘When I was your age, this was daddy’s dream, to race in front of all these people, and now I’ve worked so hard and daddy’s living his dream.’ It was such a great teaching moment but also a moment that I’ll always look back on and cherish.”
During daytime qualifying, Roczen notched the fourth-quickest time of 51.309”, with the next Red Rider being Smartop/MotoConcepts/Bullfrog Spas Honda’s Malcolm Stewart—sixth-fastest with a 51.492”. Stewart’s teammates Vince Friese and Justin Hill landed eighth- and ninth-fastest, respectively, while Brayton was 11thwith a 51.922” lap.
Brayton experienced a mechanical issue during 450SX heat 2, and the crew decided to do a precautionary engine swap during the tight 30-minute window before the LCQ. It was an all-hands-on-deck situation, and the team completed the task in 21 minutes, 37 seconds. “It was a stressful situation for sure,” crew chief Lars Lindstrom admitted. “Going from heat 2 to the LCQ is probably the shortest amount of time you have in the night, and then to swap an engine was intense. It was also making that split-second decision, deciding if that was actually what we were going to do. We could’ve probably taken the risk and changed some parts and hoped for the best, but for our comfort and Justin’s, the only thing that was going to ease our minds was putting a new engine in. I was pretty confident we were going to be able to get it done, but it was high-stress. It’s that situation that you don’t want to be in but might have to be, so it was also a learning opportunity for everyone on the team.”
Throughout the main event, Roczen was consistently fast, continuously laying down lap times in the 52-second range for the first 14 laps. His fastest time—and the fastest of the race—was a 52.182” on lap five.
Once again, Honda had the most machines in the 450SX main event, with a total of seven riders representing Team Honda HRC, MotoConcepts, FXR Chaparral, and Mountain Motorsports. The same was true of the 250SX West main event’s six Red Riders, representing GEICO Honda, Penrite Honda, Team BWR and a privateer effort from Cheyenne Harmon.
Following his dominant performance, Roczen sits second in the championship standings with 43 points (six behind the leader), while Brayton is ninth with 30 points.
The St. Louis Supercross marked round two of the 250SX West series, where GEICO Honda’s Jett Lawrence put in an impressive ride in the main event, finishing fifth aboard his CRF250R. It looked as though the rookie might secure his career-first podium finish, as he was running second for much of the 15-minute-plus-one-lap race, but unfortunately, a run-in with a Tuff Block bent his brake pedal, making it difficult for him to ride and prompting a quick visit to the mechanics’ area. Teammate Christian Craig also looked solid, winning his heat race and running in podium contention during the main event when he, too, hit a Tuff Block, causing him to crash and sidelining him for the remainder of the race.
Next weekend, Team Honda HRC heads back to Southern California for their second and final 2020 stop at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. On Friday, the Honda Red Riders will attend an autograph signing at Del Amo of Orange County from 6 to 7:30 p.m.
Ken Roczen 94
“This feels so surreal and is absolutely amazing. It’s been a long time coming with a lot of struggle in the process, so this is definitely one of the sweetest moments of my career. The emotions and joy from everyone is very special. I think tonight was just our night to win. The whole day was good, starting with feeling so much more comfortable on the bike than I did last week. We also grabbed a couple of solid starts in both races tonight. I rode really good in the heat race and even in the main. I’d say that I actually surprised myself and maybe the team a little with how the main event went; it was just our time to shine. I knew if I wanted to make it happen, I’d need to make my way to the front fast, so that’s what I did. I got around Zach [Osborne] quick and had a clear track, so then I just clicked off some great laps, putting a gap between myself and the field. At one point Justin [Barcia] seemed to close in a bit but I just focused on hitting my marks and managing my pace. The race felt really long because the lap times were fairly short; the tower was right after the finish so I could get a glance at the clock each lap—it seemed like it took forever! I’ve messed it up so many times in the last laps, so it’s not over until it’s actually over. I just tried to maintain a pace while also staying consistent and not making any mistakes. We’re going to enjoy this but then get back to work this week. This is a big confidence booster and really motivating for me to want to keep the momentum going.”
Justin Brayton 10
“Definitely a wild night. I never want to go to the LCQ, but I actually enjoyed it a bit. Under those circumstances, you just try to make the best of it and it was kind of nice to get out there and win it, plus get to ride the track so close to the main event. I hope I don’t have to go to another one though! I’m super proud of the team to be able to get me back out there. Main event-wise, I was still able to get a pretty good start from the far outside gate. I ran inside the top 10 for the whole race, finishing eighth, which isn’t where I would like to be by any means but still an overall good start to the season with the adversity both weekends. Hopefully another cleaner weekend next week at A2 and I’m really hoping to be in the top five, then build up to some podium finishes.”
“It was an awesome night for Ken and the team. He really needed this and I think it’s going to carry his confidence even further. I think the biggest takeaway is that Ken is leaving here knowing he can still win. He’s always been confident in his capabilities but now actually having accomplished what he’s been fighting for, really solidifies it. We have to give credit to the whole team too. Everyone worked really hard last week after Anaheim to help get him a little more comfortable on the bike. Justin had some good highlights throughout the night but also some things we need to work out. Unfortunately, we had some issues, which sent him to the LCQ, but I think the whole situation shows the professionalism of the team, that when we’re in a pinch, we’ve got some really talented people that can get the job done and make it happen. I mean, a motor swap in 20 minutes, that’s incredibly impressive! We still have some work to do and aren’t going to get ahead of ourselves, but getting this win tonight is incredibly special for everyone involved.”
Mechanic (Ken Roczen)
“This weekend was awesome. I think everyone had a lot of skepticism and questions after Ken’s performance last weekend in Anaheim, so to come out tonight and get the win the way he did was great. Big credit to Ken and the team for just putting our heads down, trying not to get too panicked after one race, realizing this is a long season and spending long days at the test track in Corona to get the package that we came here today with. We didn’t mess with the bike a whole lot this weekend, just a few clicks here and there to account for the softer dirt conditions, but overall, he was much happier. Ken had a great attitude and mindset all day, and I really think it came down to him just wanting to get it done and his desire to win. We also really focused on starts this week and I think that showed tonight because we had good starts in the heat and main.”
Mechanic (Justin Brayton)
“This is Justin’s and my home race, both being from Iowa, so having friends and family around was great. I don’t think either of us felt a lot of pressure to perform in front of everyone, but it was just more support. Overall the day went great, but unfortunately, the night program was very hectic. We had to do an emergency engine swap, which put everyone under the gun, but we all came together and go it done. You never want to go to the LCQ, and although he won, he still had a bad gate pick for the main event. Luckily he salvaged it with a good start and rode top-five for a lot of the race. He ended up in eighth place, which isn’t what he wants, but I think he’s right on par with how the last two weekends have gone. He’s riding well and the bike works great, so we’re just ready to keep the season rolling.”