Ken Roczen taking a wait and see approach to 2021 Pro Motocross season

Roczen Motocross / Matt Rice

After missing the 2020 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross season, questions abound about just how competitive Ken Roczen will be. And most of those questions are centered in the Honda Racing rider’s brain.

“I’ve done as much as I can in the last couple of weeks,” Roczen said in a preseason press conference ahead of Saturday’s race at Fox Raceway in Pala, Calif. Saturday, May 29 on Peacock and NBCSN. “I just want to build every single weekend. It’s really difficult to say for me where I’m going to be and how good I’m going to feel throughout the motos, but I’m willing to put my head down and focus and learn every weekend.

“I know it’s not the ideal situation to be in, but I’ve got to take it the way it is now.”

Last year after finishing third in a Supercross season that finished late because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Roczen made the difficult decision to sit out Pro Motocross. He had been plagued by injuries and illness in recent years. He and his wife Courtney were expecting their first child, and the focus needed to be on healing.

“Taking this shortened outdoor season off was a very difficult decision, but I’m confident it’s what’s best for me and my team in the long run,” Roczen said at the time. “It will be good to regroup, let my body heal, enjoy this important experience with Courtney, and build back up for 2021.”

It was the second time in the last four years that he missed the outdoor season. Roczen was also forced to sit out 2017 with an injury to his arm.

“It’s been a minute since I’ve ridden outdoors,” Roczen said. “I’ve done this pretty much my whole life – it’s what I grew up on – but I kind of felt a disconnect to be honest. During the time last year when everybody was racing, I was forced to take it easy.

“I was going out and pounding motos, so I might as well would have raced, but I didn’t do that. And then we went straight back into Supercross, so I haven’t really ridden Motocross for quite some time. Just been feeling a bit of a disconnect with it. Trying to adjust to the speed and keep my momentum up.”

His loss was felt by the sport. Since moving up to the 450 class, Roczen has been a perennial favorite to win the championship. He took the title in his rookie season of 2014, finished second in 2015 and then won again in 2016.

After missing 2017, Roczen finished third in 2018 and was second in 2019. That year and throughout 2020, he regularly complained of overheating toward the end of races, with what was later revealed to be a battle with shingles.

“I wouldn’t say that I’m a hundred percent as in how good I’ve been in the past – how ready I have been,” Roczen said “The speed that it takes in Motocross – it used to come to me quickly because I used to race every outdoor season and then I would ride quite a bit between the rounds, but then being in the championship hunt in Supercross, I was just focusing on that.”

For Roczen to question his ability is not new. He is one of the most outwardly self-reflective riders in the field. And since he is comparing himself to himself – a rider with five top-three points’ finishes in five MX seasons – the bar has been set quite high.

“As far as expectations for this coming weekend, I don’t really have any right now to be honest,” Roczen said. “I want to see where I’m at and build each and every weekend from there on out.”

In the last four Pro Motocross races of 2019, Roczen won once at Unadilla MX in New Berlin, NY and he finished second twice. It’s likely that even a slightly slower Roczen will do just fine at Fox Raceway.

Robert Wickens in the Indy 500? Bryan Herta making plans to field a car for next year

Robert Wickens Indy 500
Brett Farmer/LAT Images/IMSA

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Bryan Herta wants to enter Robert Wickens in the Indy 500 as early as 2024 – a year longer than preferred as work continues on the hand controls needed for the paralyzed driver.

Wickens suffered a spinal cord injury in a crash at Pocono Raceway in his 2018 IndyCar rookie season. He’s worked as a driver coach for the Arrow McLaren IndyCar team since, but last year with Bryan Herta Autosport and Hyundai returned to racing in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.

The 33-year-old Canadian won a pair of races (including the season opener at Daytona) driving a Hyundai Elantra N-TCR that is fitted for Wickens to race strictly through hand controls. Herta said Thursday that perfecting that technology for an Indy car in the biggest race in the world has slowed the project he’s determined to do with Wickens.

‘I’M AS HUNGRY AS EVER’: Robert Wickens’ return to racing

“I’d love to take Robbie back to Indy because I know he could do that, and I think that would be a next step for him in his journey,” Herta told The Associated Press. “We’ve spent a lot of time looking at the logistical side of things, hand controls, and I think we have solutions for that.”

Herta said Honda has been supportive of the process, which Herta called “one of the most important things we’ve done in racing” last year.

“We actually looked at doing it this year, but the logistics of it, the timing, it just wasn’t enough,” Herta said. “That’s not something you can rush. There’s some things that we have to work very closely with IndyCar on, and things we just have to get right. It’s a process, but I can see a path to it.”

Wickens, when told his boss was openly discussing the Indy 500, grinned widely. Herta as a team owner won the Indianapolis 500 with Dan Wheldon and Alexander Rossi.

“That’d be fun,” he said of running the Indy 500.

But like Herta, Wickens said the effort has to be both done correctly and be competitive.

“We’d like to do it right. If we started right now, can we get a car ready for the open test in April? Probably,” Wickens told The AP. “But I don’t know where the systems would be and I want to get on proper simulators to make sure its correct.

“We all want to do a proper, professional effort,” he added. “I don’t want to do it for a marketing campaign. I want to do it for a chance to win.”

Wickens later tweeted about the possibility of racing the Indy 500 and said his goal was “always to get back to the top level of motorsport” whether it’s IndyCar or IMSA.

Wickens in 2021 did a demonstration in Canada that marketed advancements for paralyzed drivers and gave him a chance to again drive. His entire life had been upended 14 races into his rookie IndyCar season, just three months after winning top rookie honors at the Indianapolis 500.

Wickens has since married, returned to racing last year and welcomed the birth of his first child, an son named Wesley whom is infatuated with both race cars and the trip to Disney he took this week during the off days at Daytona International Speedway.

Wickens, who uses a wheelchair but can stand with some support, marks a full year back racing on Friday in the season-opening IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race. Despite success last season, Herta made changes to his lineups and Wickens this year will be teamed with Harry Gottsacker.