While Ken Roczen’s still not riding at his free flowing best as he continues his adaptation to the Suzuki and to the team, there’s been much to admire about his solid return to the yellow bike.
Words: Edward Stratmann | Lead Image: Acerbis
Having enjoyed the luxury of that unexpected week off to test the bike and fine tune things further, Roczen eased into the second round at San Diego by recording only the ninth fastest time in qualifying, as he endured a crash near the end of the whoops while he assessed the track, adjusted to the surface and looked to refine his newly swapped in Factory Connection suspension.
Clearly feeling more comfortable come the heat race, the German superstar jumped out of the gate to grab the holeshot and quickly went about breaking free. Blasting out to a 3.5 second lead and holding the ascendancy for the majority of the heat, he would eventually have to be content with second behind a hard-charging Malcolm Stewart, who got him on the last lap.
Heading into the main event with things going in an upward curve, Roczen frustratingly got a shocking start, with him languishing back in 12th following the first turn. But his trademark early race pace ensured he quickly carved through the pack to propel himself into sixth within three minutes. Not bad at all considering all the heavy hitters in the class.
Clicking off the laps and growing into the race, next in his sights was Adam Cianciarulo, who he breezed by with an incisive pass over the dragon’s back.
Making solid headway and putting together a quality push, it wasn’t long before he caught the notoriously hard to pass Justin Barcia. Looking faster than the GasGas speedster and smoother in the rhythms, Roczen patiently bided his time while he waited for the right moment to pounce.
Despite the #94 having the door shut on him a couple of times, he found his way through courtesy of a calculated move before the dragon’s back. But annoyingly, the feisty Barcia got back by almost immediately due to Roczen’s line being taken away by a lapper, thus enabling Barcia to muscle back past.
The pair then continued their engaging and entertaining battle royale, as they gratefully each picked up a position when Jason Anderson went down to shoot them into third and fourth respectively.
Going back and forth and with each man faster in different parts of the track, Roczen, who was clearly wary of the aggressive Barcia and didn’t want any retaliation if he couldn’t make a clean pass, ultimately couldn’t find a way through, as lappers also got in the way, meaning he had to settle for fourth.
Trying just about everything in his power to secure what would’ve been his first podium since he won A1 last year, the experienced Roczen deserves credit for frequently mixing up his lines and being one of the first to start jumping the deteriorating whoops.
Even though he just missed out on the box, much upside could be extracted from his speed and ability to progress through the pack, especially after the way he dropped back at A1, on a night where he made some tangible steps in the right direction.
“San Diego! Busy day in the office. We were testing all day to narrow the window of what works and what doesn’t,” he explained afterwards.
“I am once again extremely stoked on my Factory Connection suspension and with HEP Motorsports’ efforts and work to inch closer to the podium. It is not easy to go out and figure out how the bike reacts and what it needs on race day with a very limited amount of time on the track.
“Nonetheless we made all the right calls when it came down to the wire and that’s all that matters. It wasn’t the start we were hoping for, but I felt great on the bike and on the track and worked my way up to fourth with a great battle for third the entire main event. I feel strong and ready to continue improving my race craft and motorcycle. Hard work really does pay off! See you guys at A2.”
By the numbers from the main, the fact he recorded the sixth fastest lap time, was the fastest in segment three, second quickest in segment two and eighth best in segment one (which cost him), this amplifies what a positive performance he put in.
Building with every passing round and constantly showing signs of improvement, after another week of refinement, Roczen will be eager to come out firing at A2 in his quest to return to the podium and keep up his solid momentum from the opening two rounds.