2015 has been a very eventful year for Ken Roczen. First came his departure from KTM, an organization he’d spent a very successful part of his career with both in Europe and the United States, for a move to the growing RCH Suzuki squad. This was a widely expected signing since Roczen grew up aboard Suzuki equipment and the contract from the team owned by Carey Hart and Ricky Carmichael is reportedly very lucrative. Victory came quickly for the new pairing, as Roczen dominated the opening round of the 2015 Monster Energy Supercross Series and solidified his spot as a favorite for the 450 title.
Weeks into the season it was announced that Roczen had split from trainer Aldon Baker following roughly a year of working together, due in part to the rigorous regimen the former mountain bike racer is known to put his athletes through. With Baker out of the picture Roczen’s father, Heiko Klepka, returned to his son’s side. A falling out between father and son sometime in 2013 sent Klepka back to Germany, but the two rekindled their relationship during Roczen’s run to the 2014 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship.
Although all of the pieces seemed to be in place for Roczen and the team, they have not experienced the expected success. Roczen had two rough crashes in Oakland and Atlanta One, then was forced to withdraw from the Supercross championship due to an ankle injury. He came back in time for the start of the 2015 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship, but we learned leading up to the opening round that something was amiss: he had suffered a stress fracture in his spine and underwent surgery in the days leading up to the race.
In the weeks since Hangtown, Roczen has shown both blazing speed and unusual issues. We’ve noticed numerous changes to his suspension package in recent weeks, with Roczen commenting that he and the team are still searching for the perfect settings. Klepka has also returned to Germany to help with a sudden family crisis (documented in the latest Red Bull MX Nation video), but during a recent interview with German Cross Magazin, he voiced numerous frustrations of the RCH team. Klepka did not hold back in his criticisms of the organization, those working with his son, and how things have played out between the rider and members of the team and management. VitalMX message board member GER_shortymx roughly translated parts of the interview into English, which has been copied below…
About the team
“The RCH Racing Team is not a team, but a randomly mixed bunch of self promoters. In this so-called team there is no team spirit, because everybody just works for his own interest. It’s about money. There are people on the team, that obviously have no function, but they’re getting payed. For example there is Mark Johnson, who was brought in by Carmichael from the Indycar series. This man is just superarrogant and he has no clue about suspensions. That affects the mood of the team and the performance of my boy. It’s purely about sponsors and money at RCH, Ken is just a playing ball. I have never experienced something like this in all the GP years.”
About the management
“I’m sure Ken would leave the team immediately. But that isn’t easy, because his management is also involved with the team. […] If he violates the contract, he’ll have to pay 2’000’000$ fees. Also, his manager Steve Astephen has no clue about the sport. For example, at the beginning of the outdoor season, he told Ken: “Tomac doesn’t ride in your league, why do you let him pass you?” When I heard that, my jaw dropped (Original german saying: ‘blieb mir die Spucke weg- my spit stayed away). […]
There is already a little Clique that developed around my boy and success in the sport is only a small part. He has no control, not over the bike and not over the team. Of course Ken noticed this too. Actually, the vibe was gone after 2 months, because the people in the team already tried to part him and Kelly Lumgair. These people never were in the workshop, and Kelly was a real confidante for Ken and it was a really hard decision for Kelly, to go with Suzuki. He gave up the best job in the world then. And now he goes back to KTM- any questions?”
About Ricky Carmichael
“Of course Ricky isn’t a bad dude, but as a team chef, he is an insult for Ken Roczen. It’s hard to believe, but he shows up a couple of times during the year, waves and lets out some cool patters. You want a tasting sample? ‘Everyone has problems with the air forks. We can’t make the shock that good, or else it wouldn’t work with the fork.’ I know that he doesn’t even watch Kens races, but he rather drives out with his boat. Other than that, he seems satisfied with how everything is going.”
Did they lie to Ken from the beginning on?
I’ll shorten it up a bit here: They don’t get the suspension working because nobody cooperates with each other, for example, in the workshop they just rebuild the complete bike. The 19th place in the first moto isn’t the result of his back, but of a completely unrideable bike(!!!). They didn’t even start preparing for Supercross so far.
Roczen searches for solutions himsel
“We tried to clarify that internal, and tried to bring a german suspension specialist, that Ken trusts blindly, into the team. Of course that was rejected. Then we tried to get a stock Suzuki, but ended up buying one ourself. The german suspension guy came and was completely ignored by the team. Ricky knew who he is and why he was here, and just asked if he was spending his vacaction here. We then tested with the stock bike and Ken was 3 seconds (Hell yes, 3 effing seconds!!) faster than with his factory bike. With stock suspension and a stock engine.”
Shortened ending: They tried to contact everybody, Geboers, sports boss of Suzuki in Japan, but they couldn’t help because RCH is no factory team. Only Suzuki USA offered help by the factory team, but that was rejected by RCH. At the middle of the season, they wanted to test, but RCH said: ‘No, we only can next week’. They had their guy, but RCh brought 7, which all didn’t help. They were allowed to ride Baggetts suspension later, which RCH worked on after 1 race- with result of Ken not liking it anymore. Then they wanted to see the contract with Showa, if they could get a new one, a 10 year old one or the old one of Baggett. But RCH didn’t show it to them. He also said, that if the air forks won’t work, they will go back to the traditional forks, which they did, as we all know.
What could’ve solved the problems?
“At the middle of the season, they should have fired all the incapable people and replaced them with our confidante. Then we would’ve had a unstoppable Ken Roczen on Suzuki. But because of the arrogance at RCH, only escape remains for Kenny.