The first AMA Supercross ever held on a Wednesday–and the second race in the space of just three days, although both took place at Salt Lake City’s Rice-Eccles Stadium–saw Team Honda HRC’s Ken Roczen launch a strong recovery from a so-so start, only to end up fifth at the finish. Starting from the far-inside gate, the German was balked in the right-hand first turn and finished lap one in eighth, but he went on a tear that carried him to fourth in the space of just five laps. As the track became slipperier, he lost momentum and ended up riding to a safe top-five result.
Although Roczen lost ground in the title chase, he showed good speed and is ready to apply lessons learned for round 13 in four days. Roczen’s teammate Justin Brayton finished ninth for the second race in a row, although this time it came about in a much different way. After getting held up in the first turn and completing lap one back in 15th place, Brayton quickly advanced four positions, then slipped a spot, but regrouped in the latter stages of the 27-lap race and mounted another charge that landed him ninth.
On Tuesday afternoon, Team Honda HRC did some final minor prep work on the bikes. This included bleeding hydraulic brakes, hydraulic clutches and preparing spare parts. The Showa technicians also serviced the suspension components.
Given the short turnaround since the previous round, neither the Team Honda HRC crew nor riders Ken Roczen and Justin Brayton spent much time at the stadium before Wednesday, though several had a chance to take advantage of Utah’s weather and geography by doing some cycling and hiking.
Since the previous round, Salt Lake City extended the nighttime curfew, which prohibits gathering in public places and moving throughout the city. The AMA Supercross events remain exempt, but given round 12’s late schedule, team personnel were asked to limit their nighttime travel to between the stadium and their lodging. The curfew is scheduled to lift on Saturday, the day before the next round.
On race day, a large group of people protesting the killing of George Floyd peacefully marched out of downtown Salt Lake City, up to the University of Utah campus (where the stadium sits). They arrived at the base of the stadium parking lot, turned left past the paddock and made their way to nearby Presidents Circle.
The state health department’s on-site inspectors reported being impressed by the positivity everyone exhibited at the first Salt Lake round, with local officials praising the supercross folks for faithfully following the guidelines that are in place.
For round 12, those guidelines still included practicing social distancing at the team semis (6 feet within the team’s functional group, 10 feet with others), wearing masks properly at all times (except riders when wearing a helmet), making hand sanitizer available on tables, and spreading out any chairs under the awnings.
The riders’ meeting for round 12 was once again recorded via Zoom and posted on YouTube on Tuesday evening. Officials reminded teams that riders were responsible for podium-appearance sponsor considerations such as wearing team hats and placing goggles around the neck, which PR personnel would typically assist with. They also stressed the importance of practicing social distancing on the floor at all times.
Round 12 was the season’s only late-night race, with the evening program kicking off at 8 p.m. local time, making for a very late night for those watching from the Eastern time zone.
Unlike round 11, the round 12 schedule was typical, with each class getting a longer break between its second heat race and LCQs.
While the season’s final seven rounds are all taking place at the same venue, the track layouts are being revised between events, though in some cases updates are relatively minor due to the quick turnaround from Sundays to Wednesdays. The round 12 track featured a first turn leading into a right-hand turn, an arrangement that hadn’t been used since the 2016 San Diego 2 Supercross. The track had a different flow than Sunday’s race, as the sections featured different jump combinations and builds, and the soil held moisture much better.
Due to the late schedule, the virtual post-race conference was scheduled for Thursday afternoon.
Roczen posted the fifth-fastest lap in afternoon qualifying, with a 45.118” in the final session. Smartop/Bullfrog Spas/MotoConcepts rider Malcolm Stewart was eighth-best, with a time of 45.487”. Brayton finished the sessions with a 10th-best time of 45.851”.
Both 450SX heat races were won by Red Riders, with Stewart topping the first one and Roczen winning heat 2. Brayton was fifth in the first heat, with Stewart’s teammates Vince Friese and Justin Hill finishing ninth and 10th, respectively.
In the season’s second 250SX East race at Rice-Eccles Stadium, the GEICO Honda East Region riders–Chase Sexton, Jeremy Martin and Jo Shimoda—combined with FXR/Chaparral Honda’s Chris Blose and Phoenix Racing’s Kyle Peters and Jace Owen to make it six Red Riders in the top 10. Unfortunately for Sexton, the race didn’t go as planned, the title contender crashing early and having to battle his way back into contention. With a fourth-place finish, Sexton is now tied for first in the East Region standings. Two East races remain before the final East/West Showdown.
For the second time in three days, 10 of the 22 riders to qualify for the 250SX East main event were aboard CRF250R race machines. In the 450SX class, seven CRF450R riders qualified, more than any other manufacturer.
Two of the seven Salt Lake City rounds are now in the books, with round 13 set to run this Sunday. The two-a-week pace will continue until the series finale on June 21.
Ken Roczen 94
“I’m feeling good on the bike and had a good heat race, but obviously I’m having issues that prevent me from keeping it going. I’m trying to figure it out and do my best to come back stronger. This thing isn’t over yet, but obviously fifth place is not where we want to be. The main goal is to try to be better, and especially get a better start; I took a chance going to the very inside on the start gate and that didn’t work out. I’m going to rest and recover, and I look forward to trying our best in the next race.”
Justin Brayton 10
“So another ninth place, but it was a totally different type of ninth place than on Sunday, when I started second and kind of made some mistakes and went back. This time I got a really bad start and just got pinched off. I was in the second gate from the inside, which was kind of a gamble, but I chose it and it kind of bit me. I think I might’ve been last around the first turn and came back to ninth, so I felt good about the ride. I had really good lap times, especially the last 10 to 15 laps, so I just need to get a better start and I think we’ll be good to go here in four days.”
“Today was about damage control. Early in the day things were good; practice went well and Ken’s heat race went well. We know that starts are so important, and in that main event, both Ken and Justin were too far to the inside, got shut off and were pretty far back. Ken had to put in a really hard effort to battle back up into position, and he struggled to maintain that same effort throughout the race. We need to work on starts and come back strong for the next event.”
Mechanic (Ken Roczen)
“We had a decent day–nothing too great but not terrible either. Practice was okay, and the heat race was awesome. The main event could’ve been better. The start wasn’t the best; we took a gamble on the inside gate and it didn’t pay off.”
Mechanic (Justin Brayton)
“Justin was fast in qualifying and had a really risky gate pick in the main event, going so far inside, which didn’t work out. Having to come from the back isn’t ideal, but at least the track conditions were a lot better with it being a night race and he was able to come through the pack. If we could just manage to get a good start, I know he’s got the speed, and the bike works great. With five more races to go here, I know he’s going to be able to show everyone that he still has it.”