Photography by Kit Palmer
What a night it was in Anaheim. A couple of legendary champions made major mistakes while a rookie to the class stayed calm as a Poker player and came through with a stunning victory. German Ken Roczen raced a clean race while defending and former champs Ryan Villopoto and James Stewart had moments in the spotlight before errors took them both out of contention. At the checkered flag it was Roczen holding off Red Bull KTM teammate Ryan Dungey by 3.186 second to score his first 450 victory.
It was an international podium as Aussie Chad Reed made a spectacular return to form scoring third on his Discount Tire Kawasaki.
The buildup for the opener was intense and the moment got to some riders. Even before the main, Eli Tomac was out with a pinched nerve in his neck after getting caught up in a Heat race crash.
At the drop of the green Heat race winner Mike Alessi jumped too soon and caught hung up in the gate. It was Villopoto, feeling sick and subdued all night, coming up big when it counted and getting away to the early lead. Roczen ran second and a surprising Reed was third in the early going.
Replacement rider Ivan Tedesco was an early faller. “Hot Sauce”, filling in for an injured Davi Millsaps on the Rockstar Energy KTM team, looked solid in comeback until the crash in the main. He was credited with 21st.
Josh Grant battled Dungey and Justin Brayton in the early stages with James Stewart steadily working his way forward after a sub-par start.
Five laps in and Monster Energy Kawasaki’s No. 1 man Villopoto was clearly in charge. Roczen looked surprisingly comfortable in second and Reed was hanging on to third. On lap six Dungey and Stewart moved past Grant in the battle for fourth.
On lap nine the race took a drastic turn literally, when leader Villopoto lost the front end on loose dirt and fell over in a left-hander. That put Roczen into the lead – not bad for a class rookie. Villopoto got back up in sixth place.
When Villopoto fell Roczen inherited a two second lead over Reed. Meanwhile Stewart and Dungey were closing in on Reed in simmering battle for second. With nine laps to go Stewart zipped underneath Dungey to take over third and began to rapidly close on Reed. A lap later Stewart made a similar move on Reed to grab the runner-up spot. He was the rider on the move without a doubt.
With seven to go Stewart needed to make up nearly three second to catch Roczen and was doing it. Stewart was going two-tenths a lap faster than Roczen at that point in the race. Meanwhile Reed and Dungey battled tooth and nail for the final podium spot.
With five to go Stewart was suddenly on Roczen’s tail. Then it all went wrong for the Floridian. Stewart pulled alongside Roczen in a whoops section as the crowd came to its feet. His Suzuki started swapping and Stewart got flung off violently. He walked off the track stunned - his younger brother meeting him with a hug trying to console him.
Now it was KTM riders running first and second with Roczen and Dungey. Reed was solidly in third, keeping Dungey in his sites. Roczen had been rock steady all night and on the final lap he held on to score the unlikely victory. It was a great night for KTM, not only taking first and second in the main, but also scoring victory with Jason Anderson in the 250 class.
“I literally can’t believe it,” said an emotional Roczen on the podium. “It was such a good race. I was holding on so tight. I wasn’t even tired, I was just holding on tight. I got a good start and I just stayed focused.”
Roczen seemed at a loss for words. After thanking his dad, who unexpectedly showed up for the race, his team and sponsors, he concluded by thanking the Anaheim fans. “To come out here, it was so fun and the fans were unbelievable. It was so awesome. I can’t believe it.”
Dungey, as usual, was wearing a smile after the race. “I felt good,” said the former champ. “It was definitely cool the first race at Anaheim for me and Kenny to go one and two. And to get his first 450 victory it’s a sweet feeling. I’ve been there. He’s going to be a competitor this year, it’s no doubt. The off season’s a long one and we wait for this race to come, so it’s exciting to get this one done and move forward.”
Reed was looking for more, perhaps looking at Anaheim as the proverbial glass half empty. Most would say a podium for the former champ after his lengthy health problems last year would be a great start. Reed wanted more though.
“It was slick and a little bit tough out there,” Reed explained. “I’m satisfied with third after a year with struggles. To come out here and be on the box, that was the goal, but I just felt like I had a lot of opportunities to win that one and I just rode tight. It just shows, I’ve got 13 seasons with me and I rode like a complete rookie out there. I’m having fun and I think we can do this more times than not and challenge for this for 17 rounds.”
Villopoto raced on after his crash to gather important points in fourth. He was 13.8 seconds behind the leader at the finish. Justin Barcia was fifth. Justin Brayton, Josh Grant, Broc Tickle, Andrew Short and Jake Weimer rounded out the top 10. Alessi was 12th after his gate problems and Stewart was credited with 17th.
The series moves to Phoenix and Chase Field for round two next Saturday.
Anaheim I Supercross results
1 94 Ken Roczen Murrieta, CA KTM 450 SX-F
2 5 Ryan Dungey Belle Plaine, MN KTM 450 SX-F
3 22 Chad Reed Dade City, FL Kawasaki KX 450F
4 1 Ryan Villopoto Seattle, WA Kawasaki KX 450F
5 51 Justin Barcia Pinetta, FL Honda CRF 450
6 10 Justin Brayton Cornelius, NC Yamaha YZ450F
7 33 Joshua Grant Corona, CA Yamaha YZ450F
8 20 Broc Tickle Holly, MI Suzuki RM-Z450
9 29 Andrew Short Smithville, TX KTM 450 SX-F
10 12 Jacob Weimer Rupert, ID Kawasaki KX 450F
11 23 William Hahn Menifee, CA Honda CRF 450
12 800 Mike Alessi Hilliard, FL Suzuki RM-Z450
13 102 Matt Moss Nerriga, Australia Suzuki RM-Z450
14 415 Nicholas Schmidt Riverside, CA Honda CRF 450
15 82 Kyle Partridge Canyon Lake, CA Honda CRF 450
16 40 Weston Peick Wildomar, CA Suzuki RM-Z450
17 7 James Stewart Haines City, FL Suzuki RM-Z450
18 75 Joshua Hill Yoncalla, OR Suzuki RM-Z450
19 77 Jimmy Albertson Shawnee, OK Honda CRF 450
20 44 Matthew Goerke Temecula, CA KTM 450 SX-F
21 9 Ivan Tedesco Murrieta, CA KTM 450 SX-F
22 42 Vince Friese Cape Girardeau, MO Honda CRF 450