At the Atlanta 1 Supercross, Ken Roczen lost seven points to championship leader Cooper Webb after the #94 came through the finish line in ninth place. Roczen sat almost a full race down from Webb (22 points to be exact) and needed to rebound in order to keep in the championship fight. And only three days later, he did just that.
On Tuesday, the German native qualified second overall, then claimed his class-leading ninth heat race win before getting into the lead early in the main event and putting in a dominant performance. Roczen’s fourth win of 2021 (his 19th career win in the premier class) coupled with a sixth-place finish from Webb resulted in nine-point swing for the victor. Through 14 rounds, Webb’s lead over Roczen now sits at 13 points with one more round at Atlanta Motor Speedway and two rounds in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Roczen spoke with the media via Zoom after the race.
Racer X: Kenny, Saturday was obviously not great, and tonight was great. What was the change? What was the difference? Just take me through the last couple days and what really made the difference for you today. Today was awesome.
Ken Roczen: Every time we go race, first of all, the sport is freaking hard. There’s just different variables all the time. It could be the track; it could be the bike. We kind of threw a lot at me for this coming round also with the bike and tried to make some changes throughout all three practices and stuck with something that was good and better. At first, it’s unproven until you race it and race good on it. In general, Saturday was just a tough one. Like I said, I wasn’t really myself and just struggling and struggling and couldn’t really do anything on the track. This is not an excuse or whatever, it’s just what it is. Today things turned around and I just never lose hope. You see the points and everything fizzling away, but at some point, I’ve got to kind of look away from that because in the last few rounds I’ve had just a tough time in general. At some point you’ve got to just let go of that as well and kind of regroup. You can see things can turn around real quick. This is what we always say. Mostly I'm just trying to stay calm and not get over my head here, same with the win tonight. It came just at the right time and we all needed it. It’s not like we have a lot of racing left, but at the same time we’ve got to make it through a few more rounds. I just want to do my thing and try hard and give my best to see what we can do. Hopefully, it works out and if not, so be it.
It was an important 1-2 for Honda today. At what point, if any, do team tactics potentially come into play? With Chase finishing second, that was really important. So, does that get discussed at some point soon considering the points situation?
Team tactics, that would be something to ask the team, to be honest. I don’t mess with that at all because I just try to go out and race and win on my own terms. I guess maybe it kind of helps when I’m leading and if Chase is third and Cooper is second. It kind of helps. Chase is fit. He’s strong. He’s young. He wants to win, essentially. So, we were trying to get by Cooper. You never know what happens, but as far as tactics we don’t do stuff like that where you take someone down and that kind of stuff. We just go and race. Even Saturday, Chase was in the gate pick in front of me last Saturday and there was no such thing as like, “Let me pick the rut that’s better,” or whatever. We just don’t do things like that. So honestly, this would be a question that you would have to ask the team. I try to win on my own terms, and the rest is kind of something that I don’t really I guess have that much control over.
On the start of the main, there was some back and forth between you and Coop. I think he came into that second corner pretty hot inside. Good racing, or all is fair in a supercross championship chase?
I saw somebody diving in there, for sure. Obviously, we didn’t collide or anything like that. It would have been hard racing, obviously. I just was glad that I was able to get up next to him but was on the inside and was able to make that pass. Then obviously after that next rhythm section I had to kind of control that inside a little bit around the sweeper. Then once we hit the whoops, I felt like I had the whoops figured out really good tonight and was able to gap them right away. You kind of want to just get a little bit of that safety distance to where nobody can just dive on the inside and clobber you. But at the same time, everything happens so quick there. I would have to think back like what was actually going on. Things happen so quick, and I try to focus on myself. But at the same time, you need to be aware of what’s going on around you and try not to have a potential collision. Just me going down would be kind of crappy, obviously. So, you need to be aware of situations for sure, but luckily after that turn I was on the inside all the way around and I managed to stay in front of him and pull away.
Can you talk a little bit about what you do between now and the next race and how you keep yourself sort of in a good head space, as Jason [Anderson] referenced before, and your mind is not focused on necessarily just the race at hand but the championship and keeping yourself balanced and settled for the next few races that are at hand?
Honestly, between now and the next race I try to relax as much as possible. I don’t like to be in this on state all the time. I feel like it’s super draining. So, unless it’s race day or the night before—and even the night before, actually. As long as it’s not race day, I try to take it super easy, kind of enjoy what we did tonight and work on my body because the turnaround even now is pretty quick. The way the track is out here, it’s a little bit more outdoor style. We have a lot of big jumps to flat land, and it’s tough on your body. So, I’m just trying to get the body all back in check, try to recover as much as possible and get some soft tissue work in and more just focus on the recovery side of things and let the mind rest as well, just to be able to turn it all the way on again for Saturday.
This is our first residency at a track like this. Do you feel like so far this has been more demanding to do two of these that quick?
I think so. They get pretty rough and stuff, but I really enjoy it. I was actually talking with Justin Brayton about it earlier because he felt like from the outside watching in, it didn’t really feel like a supercross. But for me riding it, because we have whoops, we have rhythm sections, though there are some other areas that are super-fast, I do still feel pretty supercrossy. Having said that, I love these kind of speedways. I think it’s fun to have something different. I was hoping that the lighting was going to be better again. It’s just not good enough. It’s not the greatest out there. I was hoping that compared to Daytona, for example, the dirt not being so dark, I was hoping that it was going to affect it and be better. I don't know if it was just me, but I do think that the vision out there could be better.
In the recent weeks we’ve heard in the media and so many social people that you need to ride more defensively with Cooper. Tonight, you’ve gone out there and you beat him straight up, closing the points up. What does this do for the next few rounds? Do you have to change this riding style? Are you going to have to be a little bit more defensive? Are you going to throw it in on Cooper, or are you just going to stick to the same plan and try and beat him straight up every time?
The media and people from the outside will always have a big mouth of what we can do better. You’re only going to go out there and you’re going to do what you’re comfortable with doing. For me, I wanted to be a bit more aggressive in general. It’s got to be the right day and the right everything to be able to do that. I’m not going out there before Saturday saying, “I want to get ninth today,” for example. I’m only going to do what I’m comfortable with out there. I’ve had a bit of a gnarly pass as well. I’m always going to go out there and try my best, but if this is what it gives me and if that’s what I can get, so be it. I’m not stoked about it, but at the same time we’re still in the championship battle. I feel like I’ve done good trying to manage on a daily basis. Like I said before, there’s so many variabilities just going out there, whether it’s the bike, the track condition. There’s a lot going on. If you don’t get a good start in this class, it can really bite you. Then tonight it clicked, and we made up some points again. It just yo-yos. Today I was aggressive from the first practice on because I allowed myself to be so, and it worked out tonight.
How tired do you get of basically a constant “What’s wrong with Kenny?” conversation that’s been going on basically since 2017? Every time you seem to have any result aside from being on the box, this conversation comes up. What are your thoughts on it?
It seems like that’s people’s go-to, but honestly, I’m not on social media that much, nor do I watch any of the Moto Spies, nor do I listen to anything. So, I try not to pay attention to that whatsoever and literally just try to go out and race. Like I said, everybody has their battles that they’re going through and it’s not always anybody’s business, either. I’ve always been super open with what’s going on and whatnot, but at the same time it seems like I’m always the question mark. I get it, but at the same time I want to go out there to race and not always have to listen to all the crap that’s going on. I just want to go out and race and enjoy myself. If I ride like crap one weekend and I get ninth, what do you want me to do? It seems like I always have to justify myself to everybody, but I really don’t. I feel like I don’t have to. People always put you on a pedestal, but everybody is human. I like going racing and I try to make the best of it every single day.
We all know the highs and lows that you’ve experienced in your career these last few years, but the biggest thing is now you’re back in championship contention where you haven’t been for quite some time. Has there been any big moment or something that maybe you didn’t realize, the pressure that’s different now, than spending two years recovering your career and everything? You are in this fight now for sure. Is it different than what you remember from 450MX championships, MXGP championships, things like that?
No, not really. I’ve been in championship situations before and it’s harder certain days than others, but I always try to go back at what works for me. I don’t feel like I need to prove myself anymore or anything like that. I want to be able to enjoy the moment that I’m in. It’s been a long time. It’s never been for me actually in supercross that I was this close to a championship this late in the season. I really just am trying to enjoy the battle and putting up a fight all the way to the end. Lately he’s been creeping away, creeping away, and finally I was able to take a big chunk today. So, I try and just go back to the basics and why we started all this, because we have fun. Some nights are tough, and you’ve got to gather your thoughts and make the best of it. Not every night you feel the same. It’s really difficult to always be there. So, I’ve made the best of it. Sure, have I had some bad races? Absolutely, but I’ve also had some really good races. I’m lucky enough to, technically me and Cooper are as of right now one of the only people that are in the position to really battle for this championship. Anything can always happen, and Eli can come really close, but at the same time I always just got to go back to I must have done something right.
Is there something that now that you get to experience those nerves again or that pressure? Do you enjoy that stuff now because you didn’t have it for so long? Is it a welcome feeling now because it was a void?
A hundred percent. Most of the time, I think halfway through the season before, I would be like 25, 30, 40 points down or something like that. It’s just not the same. You go out there and you race for wins and whatnot, but what gives you the best feeling is when you’re able to fight for a championship. It just makes it different. There’s just more opportunity and it’s fun.
Can you talk about the evolution of the chassis changes that have happened? How long have they been in the works? Your whoops speed tonight was insane. It was kind of like your bike looked back in Indy. What about the evolution of the chassis changes for tonight’s bike?
Yeah, I’m on a different link setup right now. It really ended up being that before supercross, we didn’t really test that much. I found something that I like and stuck with it, because you can’t always just test, test, test and then you never do any of your actual training laps. So, I was really wanting to make sure that I do plenty of my training that I actually want to do while also doing some testing. Then we came to Houston and we made some bike changes afterwards, because I was just way too stiff again. So, we made some bike changes and I stuck with a setting for a long time that was working out good. I also knew that the setting which does so many good things on most of the track, I struggled with it in the whoops. It was just deflecting. So, for the longest time, I just kept it the same because I could handle it pretty good. Then also sometimes there’s just a time where you need to try and, not swing for the fences, but I really needed to make a change, especially after last Saturday too when the track gets a certain way. I’m not saying that’s the only issue that I had, but when the track gets a certain way, I had a really hard time handling it. again, with the schedule that we have right now, there’s not a whole lot of time to really test in-between. So, we got to use race day to test and make the most of it. That can be good or bad, but tonight it seemed to work out really well. I’m glad. I trust what the team did. I kind of let them take the wheel a little bit, together also with my comments. If they would suggest something that I would absolutely think is the wrong direction or whatever, we wouldn’t do it and the other way around too. We always work together. For the main event, I made another little change and I liked it so far. It ended up working out good. I agree with what you said. I felt really comfortable in the whoops tonight. Essentially, three’s a lot more to it than you’ve got to have more entry speed. Well, that entry speed comes with you getting confident with your bike and everything. You can’t just send it in there when you know that something isn’t really right. Especially when they have been pretty big and steep, and when they get cupped out. It just gets gnarly. So, we made the right choices today. It’s coming just at the right time.
Can you tell when you wake up or when you first go to the track like today is going to be a good day, or today’s not going to be? Or is it all something that just evolves throughout the day?
It evolves. I feel like you can’t let the first initial thought or feeling dictate your entire day. You’ve got to kind of go with the flow a little bit. A lot of the times you start off kind of like, eh, and then you come around and actually it gets a lot better and then you feel good, and everything works out great. On a day like Saturday when you kind of have that I don’t really know… We had one practice and then we go straight into the heat race and main event, so it’s really tough to find your grip. It’s really hard to figure out what’s wrong and address the problem and then excel. You kind of just got to go, and sometimes that is not the greatest thing. But it’s the same for everybody. I’ve also had times where things are just right, and then just that one practice it doesn’t matter. You go to racing and you’re fine, but it wasn’t for me.
Watch the full Atlanta 2 Supercross post-race press conference below: