Main event winners Roczen and Craig recall opening round in California.
Round one of the 2022 Monster Energy Supercross Championship is complete, with Ken Roczen (Team Honda HRC) and Christian Craig (Monster Energy Star Racing Yamaha) emerging victorious in the highly-anticipated season-opener. Both riders were available to the media following the race for this Debrief interview feature.
Kenny, you mentioned on the podium that December was just a weird month for you with the sickness. When that stuff happens and you come into the season, what’s the expectation? Is it get through the first round? Do you still have to believe that you can win early in the day? How do you process things throughout the morning and through practice when you know that the month has been a little off?
Well, I think part of the good thing is that I just have a few years under my belt now, so I’m generally not too worried coming race time. Last year, for example, I came into the first round way different, just kind of like knowing what I’ve got. I didn’t have as crazy of a December as I did this year, but at the same time, like I said, I have a few years under my belt and I just stay relaxed. Everything’s in me, so I wasn’t really too worried. At the same time, feeling a little bit like a fish out of water, but at the same time, things just clicked – I’m blown away at the same time, but I’m just happy that it went the way it went.
Conditioning-wise, did you feel any effects of it late in the race? I know you had the lead there so you could manage it…
I felt surprisingly good actually. It just ultimately comes down to not riding a whole lot in December. It’s not that you’re necessarily less fit, it’s just when you don’t do 20s all the time, they just feel a little bit foreign. But actually, I felt pretty good. Like I said before, it was a little weird just having that big of a gap with that much riding time to go. I guess it was kind of nice with how rough the track was. It was just a weird position because you try to be a little careful, but you don’t want to be too careful. I think we managed it well.
Your teammate [Chase Sexton] was all over you at one point for the lead and by fighting him off he eventually made mistakes and went down. Just take me through the strategy… He was catching you, I know you were probably trying to manage a little bit, so did you think, ‘if I can just hold him off, who knows what could happen’?
The track was tricky. I was hitting the whoops pretty decently and just had overall good lines. I knew that he’s strong and he’s been super-fast. I also just know how to defend well, we just had a good battle on our hands. I could defend and at the same time still do some of the rhythms – I felt like I was just in a good spot. Just eventually, unfortunately he went down, of course, and gave me that bigger gap. Up until then, it was fun. I’m just glad that I got the holeshot and was leading, just so I didn’t have to deal with, when you have somebody really close in front of you and it starts getting rutty, you kind of tend to not really see the ruts that well. I just had a clear track, so that helped me out.
It was chaos tonight, I’m sure you’ll see when you replay the race that there was a lot going on behind you. With all that, going into the main event, was there any conscious decisions you made on bike set-up?
I was clicking around a little bit, but basically just went back to my base, that’s what I meant. I just haven’t really ridden that much, so then you have a tricky track, and bike set-up, you’re chasing it a little bit when you ride more consistently and all the time you just kind of sometimes deal with it. So, I pretty much just left it for the main event. It’s not like I was 100 percent happy with it, but at the same time, it’s what you got in that very moment. I also think that for it being an Anaheim 1, that was probably the most brutal track we’ve had, especially with the whoops being as steep as they were and they got super-cupped – the fine line of skimming and jumping. Like what Cooper [Webb] said, in the end, it was kind of just survival mode and trying to find some lines that are halfway decent. I didn’t click around too much and kind of just left it. Of course, there’s always something that you want to work on, but race day you’ve kind of got to pick your battles.
Considering A1 is fairly mellow or is some years – some years it isn’t – where it was so different this year, considering how well you and the team and the bike handled it, does it make you more confident as we move into the series and you’ll see more tracks like this, particular as we go east coast?
I think it does, just because it was very rough tonight and we had very tricky whoops and we did really good. So of course, that’s a little bit of a confidence booster mentally and physically. We have a decent base, now we’re going to try to continue to work on it and get it a little bit better, but at the same time try not to chase our tails.
Like Justin [Barcia] alluded to, a lot of tension, a lot of adrenaline, a lot of pre-season work that’s all gone into this… so, you guys were very anxious to get on the track today. How was it for you to keep going forward as the night went on while everything else behind you just kind of went sideways for everyone else?
It sounds like there was a lot of stuff going on back there, so I was glad I wasn’t in that, but I didn’t have it easy on me the whole way. Chase was definitely pushing on me and trying to get me, so I had to ride defensively a little bit and I felt like I did a good job at having instincts and defending him. I just had a sense of calmness and I wasn’t stressing about anything, I was hitting the whoops fairly decent and I just did every single lap the same thing and tried to kind of roll with whatever it throws at me. Then obviously he went down. Other than that, I was ready for whatever was to come. Once he was down, I had a bit of a gap and that made things a little bit easier, but again, with this type of track, the slightest little bit of relaxation can bite you. For having that big of a gap, it actually didn’t feel like that long of a moto. Sometimes it can kind of feel long and the time just doesn’t go by. So, things just kind of rolled my way tonight and I felt good about it.
Christian, we talked yesterday about how important this race was just to kick things off and start strong, but for more important reasons, just being a three-year-old kid and being here all those years and never winning the opening round. So, now that it’s settled in and the emotions, we’re past that stage, what does it feel like now that you’ve been with the family and been able to process everything?
It’s been awesome. Last time we were here I was laying on the ground with Dylan [Ferrandis], so to back it up, come back and get a win with the fans back, it’s been awesome. It was a perfect day for me, every practice, heat race, and the main. The only thing I didn’t execute was my start, but we’ll work on that. I think my riding is good, I’m strong, I’m fit, so I’m ready to contend for this title and bring it down to the end.
It’s been a long journey for you and the championship is a process, obviously. What did you learn about yourself and the process last year that is going to help you get a little bit closer this year and close it out?
I think just riding smarter. I had that red plate last year, but I’ve never had it before, I think I was riding over my head quite a bit and made some mistakes. Then obviously I got hurt with two rounds left, so just be smarter, be more controlled, and work on my weaknesses, I think that’s the biggest thing. I feel like I’m plenty fast and it’s going to be a battle to the end. I don’t think it’s going to be an easy championship at all, but I expect to be up front and battle every weekend.
What about your personal adversities? What did you learn about yourself during that process?
I would say like last year when I won the opener, that was a lot more emotional. That was just so much weight lifted off. This one, as special as it was for the opener and the fans back, I wasn’t as emotional as last year. I still got to soak it in. It’s a bucket-list for me, growing up here and coming to this race every year, it’s cool to check this one off the list. It’s a dream come true, for sure, we’ll try to keep it going.
Tell us about those early laps and working yourself into the lead and having to pass Vince [Friese]. It looked like you used your experience on when to make a move…
Like Hunter [Lawrence] said, the gate flinched. I had Jo [Shimoda] next to me and he hit the gate and I almost hit it, so I just missed that and I didn’t have the best of starts. I made my way through the pack pretty quick and my first couple laps I hit a couple hay bales in the whoops. There was a three, I went too far and hit a hay-bale. After that I really had to step back and focus on myself. I battled with Seth [Hammaker] a little bit, made the pass and just tried to ride my race. You could only push so hard on that track, it was biting a lot of people. Unfortunately, my teammate [Colt Nichols] had a big crash in his heat race, it sucks to see that. Especially when I was on the line, I had to watch that. It’s tough. Just the track was tricky, whoops were tricky, but I think that was my strong point, I was blitzing them all night and we came out with the win.
In the last year you’ve moved to the east coast, so the dirt is a little bit different there, and training at the Star farm. Coming back to the west coast, tonight the track seemed to deteriorate a little bit more, it seemed to be a little bit softer. Is that something that helped you a lot more, being from the east coast?
Yeah, I’d say moving to Florida helped me a lot with a track like this tonight. Breaking down, getting rutted and gee’d out. It’s similar to our Florida tracks where it has a little bit of a hard base, but also gets rutted. A few years ago when I just rode Corona test tracks, I’d probably be lost out there, so to have that in my back pocket and feel comfortable in those conditions, I think that’s key.
Obviously as you put it, you basically had a perfect day. Did you almost surprise yourself a little bit in how fluid and smooth everything went throughout the day? It didn’t seem like you really even put a foot wrong.
It’s just such an unknown with round one. You think you’re ready, but until that qualifying session, you don’t know where you stand. Someone could always come up and surprise you. To have those fast laps and put those lap times down, I think alright, that gave me confidence for the rest of the night. The 250 class is wild, anything can happen. To have one of those days, it’s special – they don’t come very often, so I try to soak it all in.
You’ve been in this class many years now and you’ve been to many A1s. I heard you mention on the podium just looking up at the stands how long you’ve been thinking about this, how long you’ve been dreaming about this. Really, just to simply put it, is this the start of a season you’ve always dreamed of? What do you think it’s going to take to take that momentum from here and carry it here through the rest of the season?
I mentioned earlier, it’s a bucket-list. It’s something I dreamed of for a long time growing up around here. I’ve said it a couple times now, but it’s special, it’s something I wanted to check off for a while and I’ve had some decent rides at Anaheim, but I’ve had some very bad ones too. To finally stand on that top step is special to me. I won the opener [in Houston] last year and held it for a few rounds, but this is different. I know what it’s going to take. I watched my teammate do it last year, so I know what I need to work on and be consistent. I said this before, but it’s going to be a fight to the end.