<
>

Confident Ken Roczen wows in Supercross season opener

Ken Roczen nearly won the Supercross title last year on a Suzuki, here riding at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. A switch to Honda this year may make him the man to beat. Tom Pennington/Getty Images

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- On paper and after one race, it appears Ken Roczen should win the 2017 Supercross 450 title. But it could be argued that was the case in 2015 and 2016 as well. His former owner certainly thinks that way.

Even a win in the Monster Energy Supercross Series season opener Saturday night at Angels Stadium in Anaheim doesn't change that owner's view as Ryan Dungey, going for his third consecutive championship, finished second.

Roczen opened the 2014 and 2015 seasons with victories and still has no title. So will 2017 be different for the German, who moved from Ricky Carmichael's team in the offseason to Team Honda HRC to try to deliver Honda's first championship since Carmichael did it in 2003?

At just 22 years old and with two championships on the motocross side, Roczen obviously has the raw speed and ability to get it done. He just needs the discipline or maturity or focus or calmness -- whatever you want to call it -- to capture a title on the "indoor" circuit of stadium shows in their compacted series of jumps and turns.

"I'm just staying really calm," Roczen said. "I think that's where in the previous years, I kind of got a little too excited in the beginning. Really, keeping calm and loose and keeping my eyes on the prize, and click off each and every weekend.

"It's important to take this race and enjoy [it for a day]. It's important to look ahead and focus on the race and not get too caught up in the last week."

Everyone will be watching after his win by 16 seconds over 2016 champion Dungey.

"Actually, the last two years he should, on paper, have been the champion -- 100 percent," said Carmichael, one of the sport's all-time greats. "Mistakes happen, and how you respond to certain things throughout the year makes a difference.

"At the end of the day, it's a long season for these guys and he has all the makings to win, but I'm going to give Dungey the respect that he deserves. He's the favorite. He has every right to be a favorite. And I am a huge Ken Roczen fan."

Roczen didn't exactly help his case as far as trying to remain focused and not distracted. He showed up at the season-opening news conference decked out in a suit.

He said he sees athletes in other sports wearing suits and being dressed up, so why not him? Well, it's odd to see anyone in a suit at a Supercross race. It looks soooo out of place.

Sure, there were snickers and eye rolls. But Roczen certainly didn't care.

"We're getting dirty and sweaty ... every weekend, so I thought it was a good idea to do something special and show up like that," Roczen said. "In the future, we'll see more of that."

In some ways, Roczen deserves to dress how he wants, especially if he can back it up with 16-second victory margins. While he doesn't have a Supercross championship, he won two of the three races in his Honda debut last October in the non-points Monster Cup at Las Vegas. It was a statement debut, especially considering he had just decided a couple of weeks before the event that he would debut on the new bike.

In the race he didn't win, at Las Vegas, he crashed. He won't use the crash as motivation.

"That was pure rider error," Roczen said. "It was unfortunate.

"I forget about it because we don't want to take crashing as motivation."

Roczen doesn't really need extra motivation. He has 10 career Supercross victories, and he has found his new bike to feel so comfortable so fast.

"It's such a full package," he said. "It's pretty amazing to see. Hardly ever have I stepped on a new bike and been blown away. It goes from the chassis to the suspension; I am all-around happy, which I think is pretty rare."

His competition can see it. People are just waiting for him to prove it week after week. If he wins again this weekend in San Diego, he might continue to convince more and more people that this will be his year.

"Roczen is definitely a good competitor," the 27-year-old Dungey said a couple of days prior to the opener. "He's a young kid but very, very talented and gifted.

"He doesn't make our job any easier."

In some ways, Roczen has to avoid beating himself. And beating yourself is easy to do in a series that runs 17 events over 18 weekends.

"You can't win a championship at the first race," Roczen said. "You need to be healthy throughout the whole season.

"I'm not worried ever about my capabilities and my skill -- just no crashes and good starts and stay out of trouble."

While he says he never worries about his capabilities, he understands that he continues to learn more every year about how to win a title in the 450 class.

He says over and over that he will treat this season, this series, this championship run with respect.

"I just take the approach that in order to be the man, you have to beat the man," Carmichael said. "Ken has the talent, the speed, he's excellent on a motorcycle. But Ryan Dungey is just so solid, and I'm not willing to bet against Ryan Dungey just yet.

"I'm a veteran of the sport. You're going to have to show me you can do it over, over and over before I believe it."