In the long-awaited return to AMA Supercross racing following the COVID-19-prompted shutdown, Team Honda HRC’s Ken Roczen posted a third-place result at Salt Lake City, Utah’s Rice-Eccles Stadium, site of the series’ 11th round (as well as the next six). The German suffered a subpar start in the 450SX main event, completing lap one in eighth place. He advanced three positions on the next lap and then another spot on lap three to sit fourth, where he spent some time before taking over third near the midway point. That’s the position he maintained for the remainder of the 29-lap race, despite a scary close call near the end. Roczen maintains second place in the series title standings, though he slipped five points and is now eight back.
Roczen’s teammate Justin Brayton, who had suffered a broken left hand at the previous round, enjoyed a better start aboard his CRF450R and ran in second place early on, but lap nine saw him lose three positions as he suffered from arm pump. Issues at the race’s midway point resulted in Brayton slipping back to eighth, and lap 21 saw him drop to ninth, where he remained to the finish.
The remainder of the series will happen on an accelerated timeline and entirely in Salt Lake City, with round 12 taking place on Wednesday and five more rounds following in quick succession.
• Leading into the Salt Lake City race, as the break from racing neared its end, the teams and riders had varying means of regrouping. In the case of Team Honda HRC, Justin Brayton flew to Southern California on Wednesday, May 20, whereas Ken Roczen made the trip on Saturday, May 23. Both riders were able to get in several days of riding at Honda’s test track in Corona.
• When it was time to head to Salt Lake City, the Team Honda HRC crew opted to make the trip by automobile, a 10+ hour trip that they completed on the afternoon and evening of Tuesday, May 26, departing from the test track after one last morning session. Meanwhile, Roczen and Brayton got in one more sleep in Southern California before taking a chartered flight to Utah.
• Both team trucks arrived in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, and mechanics began working out of them in a parking lot adjacent to the stadium until Friday, when they moved to the stadium to be positioned, with setup happening Saturday. The trucks will be in the same location until the final round.
• Including the riders, mechanics, management and PR personnel, Team Honda HRC has a 14-person staff on hand in Salt Lake City. All are expected to remain for the duration.
• The State of Utah required that everyone attending the event be tested for COVID-19. Tests were conducted at a drive-through station outside Rice-Eccles Stadium, and Team Honda HRC personnel underwent their tests on Wednesday, May 27, followed by a 48-hour window to receive results. Though no further testing will be required for those who remain in Utah, everyone will need to pass a health screening prior to entering the event grounds for each round.
• Event rules also dictate use of face masks at all times, and Team Honda HRC had some special branded masks made up for the occasion.
• To ensure riders have the opportunity to practice and test, Team Honda HRC reserved time at Flying Iron Horse Ranch, a private test track located about 40 minutes from the stadium, near Park City. Prior to round 11, the team spent Friday morning at the track.
• While most of the Team Honda HRC staff is lodging in hotels in Salt Lake City as usual, the riders and their families are staying in short-term rental homes near the private test track.
• On Friday afternoon, Roczen and Brayton both participated in a Feld-organized pre-race press conference that took place via Zoom. As a podium finisher, Roczen also took part in a similar post-race press conference.
• The riders meeting for Round 11 took place Saturday evening, again by Zoom, and was recorded for subsequent posting on YouTube. This procedure will continue for the remaining rounds.
• On top of all the drama surrounding concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic, riots broke out in Salt Lake City the night before the race. Triggered by the Minneapolis police death of George Floyd, the Salt Lake riots prompted a citywide curfew, although with the Supercross event being exempt, team personnel were free to come and go as needed.
• To honor former Team Honda factory rider Marty Smith, the titanium fuel tanks of both Team Honda HRC riders’ bikes wore a small sticker with the letters “MS” and a pair of angel wings. Smith, who earned Honda’s second, third and fourth AMA Motocross Championships in the mid-’70s, was killed along with his wife in a dune-buggy accident on April 27.
• In order to allow social distancing, rules regarding rider assistance were different in Salt Lake City, and were updated during the day. In the end, only one person per rider was allowed on the floor, and mechanics were permitted to use pit boards from an assigned individual location, determined according to the rider’s staging order.
• Roczen posted the top lap during morning qualifying, with a 41.666” time in the final session. Smartop/Bullfrog Spas/MotoConcepts rider Malcolm Stewart and Justin Hill were eighth- and ninth-best, with times of 42.347” and 42.352”, respectively. Brayton had an 11th-best time of 42.547”.
• In the afternoon program, Roczen picked up where he left off, leading the second heat race start to finish, with Brayton finishing third. Also of note was the heat 1 performance of the Smartop/Bullfrog Spas/MotoConcepts squad, with riders Vince Friese and Stewart taking fifth and sixth, respectively.
• While all of the last seven rounds take place in Salt Lake City, the first three count toward the 250 East Region Championship, followed by two 250 West events, then one more East race before the final East/West Showdown. This weekend, GEICO Honda’s East Region riders–Chase Sexton, Jeremy Martin and Jo Shimoda–were in action, and Sexton took a runner-up finish to maintain a lead in the title chase, with seven points to spare over winner Shane McElrath. Martin was fourth, with Phoenix Racing Honda’s Jace Owen, Manluk Racing’s John Short, TiLube Honda Racing’s Jordan Bailey and FXR/Chaparral Honda’s Chris Blose taking ninth through 12th.
• Ten of the 22 riders who advanced to the 250SX East main event were aboard Honda CRF250R race machines.
• With the first post-shutdown race now in the books, the riders and teams won’t have much time to prepare for round 12, which takes place on Wednesday at the same facility (though with a modified track layout). The process will then repeat the following Sunday, and so on until round 17 is in the books.
Ken Roczen 94
“I felt pretty good. I had a decent start, but got bumped around a little bit and lost some positions, so we had to fight our way up there and were kind of just riding in a train; it was hard to make up time. I lost a couple of tenths and gained a couple of tenths here and there and then I kind of stayed the same. Obviously, Eli [Tomac] was super strong and Cooper [Webb] right in front of me, and I couldn’t really make a move. I had a moment with about a lap to go where I almost crashed really, really bad, and then the last lap I really just rolled everything pretty much just to kind of bring it home. A podium is okay. Obviously we need to put ourselves in front of Tomac, but there’s a lot of racing left and a lot of crashes out there, and with all the lappers, a lot of things can happen. Really, we just have to regroup and try again on Wednesday.”
Justin Brayton 10
“It was a pretty good day. It felt so good to be back with the guys and the crew at the races and to get behind the gate again. Overall, I’m fairly happy with the day. The heat race was good; I got third there. I had a solid first half in the main and ran second for a long time. To be quite honest, I just pumped up about halfway in and kind of went backwards. Then I had a really big moment where I almost went down and that allowed a guy to get by me and some other guys to close the gap. I’m happy I didn’t hit the ground on that one, that’s for sure, and happy with a solid top-10 result. We’ve just got to keep this ball rolling, especially with the good starts that we got all day.”
“It’s obviously great to get back racing, and with everyone well. JB is feeling 100% healthy and his hand is healed up. I think he had a solid return, with good starts and just getting back in the groove. It was a solid start for him. He had some arm pump and got tired in the main event. All in all, we got out there okay with Justin. For Ken and everybody, the dry track conditions were tough with the limited traction. During the main event he had a couple of bobbles and was still there on the podium. It’s a weird time right now. Everybody’s dealing with this situation and trying to come out on top. We got a podium and are still on the hunt and feeling solid.”
Mechanic (Ken Roczen)
“The first round here in Salt Lake City was really weird with the COVID-19 crisis; it’s definitely a different atmosphere. We’re typically used to an empty stadium for practice, but the day race always has a unique feel. With all the restrictions and the guidelines, it just made a little bit more work for some and less for others. As for how the day and Kenny went, he was really happy with the bike. We had a really good practice session and a really good heat race. He kind of got shuffled around in the first corner of the main. He came through and kind of battled with Eli and Cooper there for the first half and then just kind of settled into third for the remaining half of the race. We still have six more races. There’s still a lot of points and a lot of laps, so we’re not going to get discouraged and will just keep going.”
Mechanic (Justin Brayton)
“Today was a really good day. The results didn’t really show it, but the top-10 is positive. For somebody just getting back to the races, JB’s starts were good. The bike looks great. He seems to be fit for the altitude and I think once we get used to riding the tracks and getting a little more comfortable, everything’s going to start falling into place. His speed was there all day, so we can settle into a routine and enjoy the next three weeks of racing.”