The season opener at Anaheim is always a lightning rod of nervous energy. Countless hours at the test tracks during the months leading into the first week of January has the racers and teams frothing at their chance to enter the first Supercross of the year. That said, the 2018 edition of “A1” has some extra juice fueling it with a story line that had captivated the industry.
Honda’s Ken Roczen would be making his return to racing, nearly one year removed from a crash (at Angel Stadium) that threatened to end his career. Before the crash, the German was on top of the world, winning the first two 450SX main events of 2017 before his demise. Would he show the same speed as he did before the injury? Would he play it safe? Could he actually pull off the unthinkable and win the season opener? Those were only some of the questions that were filling the pits and internet headlines on January 6, 2018.
But, there was much more to the race than just the return of Roczen. Marvin Musquin had dominated the off-season Supercross events and also won the one-million-dollar grand prize at the 2017 Monster Energy Cup. Many insiders had their eyes on the No. 25 KTM pilot to arrive and immediately do damage to the field. In addition to Musquin, the story line of Kawasaki’s Eli Tomac was also a popular item. Tomac came up just a handful of points short of winning the 2017 Monster Energy AMA Supercross an FIM World Championship. His nine wins in 2017 garnered a ton of focus for him to be the guy in 2018.
There was also a full gate of the best Supercross racers in the world who wanted to prove their worth and come out swinging in the 2018 Championship. Husqvarna’s Jason Anderson had won the last Supercross in 2017, Yamaha’s Justin Barcia was back aboard a factory ride and about a dozen other racers were fired up and looking for a good finish.
As fate would have it, Ken Roczen would fire off as the fastest qualifier, which really set the anticipation on fire. Not only was Ken back, but he was as fast as ever and when he set the No. 94 atop the leaderboard, well, people began to get excited to say the least. Roczen’s opening ceremonies introduction sent the sold-out stadium into a madhouse. It was one of the most exhilarating moments in the history of the sport. Ken Roczen was back.
When the gate slammed down for the 450SX main event, it was none other than Eli Tomac who sprinted into the point position and began to pull away. Roczen had a mediocre start and was coming through the pack, while Justin Barcia was riding along in 2nd place. Just when it appeared that Tomac was going to sprint away to a convincing win, he made a mistake and went down fairly hard. Slow to get up, and suffering a malfunction on his racing pants, Tomac sat on the side of the track trying to get the closure system on his pants to cooperate. It was one of the most awkward moments anyone could remember and, for all intents and purposes, his race was over.
Meanwhile, Barcia was leading the main event and riding strong. Marvin Musquin had moved into second place and began applying pressure. The Frenchman would take the lead, then race off with the first 450SX victory of 2018. Roczen made his way to 4th in a good ride and the stage was set for the season. Anaheim 1 was a race to remember, but things were just beginning to get wild.