Ken Roczen showed his strength the past two seasons on the Supercross Lites tour - scoring wins and solid points finishes. Though this year, he made the big step up to the 450cc bike. Entering his first race of the season, a lot of eyes were on the rookie, wondering how he'd do.
While veterans made multiple mistakes throughout the night, it was rookie Ken Roczen leading 11 of the 20 laps on the way to his first Supercross victory infront of the sold out crowd at Angels Stadium.
"I literally can’t believe it," the German said. "I was holding on tight, riding as well as I could. Got a good start, just stayed focused."
Roczen came out of the gate strong at the start of the main event, pulling into second behind Ryan Villopoto early. Villopoto looked to be strong, pulling out ahead of the rookie. Though on lap nine, Villopoto lost the front of the bike and went down. Roczen slipped past and grabbed the lead.
It looked as though Roczen may fall due to veteran James Stewart as Stewart started closing the gap once he moved into second with eight laps to go. However with 5 to go, Stewart would slip in the woops, causing him to go flying off his bike and ultimately end his nigh early. Stewart would finish 17th while Roczen would cruise to victory from there.
Roczen transferred into the main event by winning the semi after finishing fifth in his heat.
Ryan Dungey would get by Chad Reed for second on lap 16 to give Red Bull KTM a 1-2 finish to start the season.
"I felt good," Dungey said. "Its great to have a 1-2 victory with Roczen in Anaheim 1. Great to see him get his first victory – I’ve been there."
In his first ride on a Kawasaki, veteran Chad Reed would complete the podium.
"It was slick and a little tough out there," Reed said. "I’m satisfied with third after struggling last year. I think I could’ve done better as I saw opportunities to win, but didn’t capitalize. Look at me – 13 years under my belt and I rode like a rookie."
Defending Champion Ryan Villopoto overcame his slip-up to finish fourth, followed by Justin Barcia. Sophomore rider Barcia won the second heat after passing Stewart on lap three.
Justin Brayton finished sixth in the main followed by Josh Grant.
Mike Alessi started the night off strong by winning the first heat of the night after getting the holeshot. Villopoto caught Alessi on the last lap of the heat, though would get the front wheel of his bike caught on a tough block and fall over. Villopoto got second followed by Grant and Brayton.
"I know I should be excited and I am, but there’s a lot of hard work," Alessi said after his first career heat win. "Everybody watching at home doesn’t understand how much hard work goes into this. I’m just overjoyed."
Alessi wouldn't get such a good start in the main event as he would try to leave the gate too soon, resulting in the bike stalling. He would finish 11th overall.
Rookie Eli Tomac missed the main event after suffering a pinched nerve in his shoulder following contact in the heat with Weimer.
Notably missing from the event tonight was defending event winner Davi Millsaps, who is out due to suffering an injury during pre-season training.
In the Supercross lites, it was Jason Anderon getting the win after a last lap pass on Cole Seely.
Seely dominated the event after taking the lead early, though ran into lap traffic. As he headed for the second last turn, three riders were in front of him. seely went in a little easy beneath one, while Anderson charged underneath him. Anderson bumped into Seely a little, squeezing by to grab the lead and win. It marks Anderson’s second career win.
“I saw the opportunity for the pass – I knew I had to go in hard for it,” Anderson said. “I don’t like to be dirty like that but it’s for the win.”
“I just think those guys need to respect the blue flag a little better,” Seely said. “I would’ve done the same thing. I don’t blame Jason. I was just focused on the lappers.”
Anderson won a heat earlier in the night, while Malcolm Stewart won the other. Stewart was inside the top five during the main event, though would slip up, resulting in a fall.
The next event for the Monster Energy Supercross riders is Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona on January 11th.