Ryan Villopoto and Ryan Dungey have waged a pleasant war against one another all season long, but after this weekend the fighting will go on hold until October’s Monster Energy Cup. The two have had vastly different seasons, Villopoto taking a plethora of wins and two titles, Dungey the runner-up in both but a cemented status as an “at any cost” racer. We chatted with both just before the final round of the 2013 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship at Lake Elsinore.
Coming in to the end of the year, how do you feel? It has been a very long season for you.
It has, but every year is like that. I am excited, and it’s not over yet. I think we have had a great year so far. Supercross went really well, and we had some race wins and consistent finishes. With the outdoors and Villopoto wrapping the championship up last week was definitely a bummer, but there is a lot of good I can take from it. He is a good competitor and I feel like we were pushing each other every weekend, and it pushed me to raise my game more. I had to focus on my set-up and get better, and I everything I learned from this year I will take to next year and get better. I feel like we have some great stuff in the works for next year that will help as well. We will just give it some time.
Maybe the biggest thing of 2013 was being in your second year with KTM. How much have you learned together from this season compared to last?
Quite a bit. Last year was really good, and there were some things that we were fighting last year that every team fights with. I feel like we have things handled and know the couple of areas that I feel are holding us back and we can use that moving forward. As far as making progress, I feel like we have made a lot of big steps. And in the beginning, we did not have any notes to go off of. Now we have a lot of history and know which way to go that will lead us in the right direction. There are always new materials and equipment that we can try. We have this weekend, the Motocross of Nations, and Monster Cup.
You’ve established a bike that is now known as one of the most powerful and best handling, one so good now that some of your competitors at the Rockstar Energy Racing team are on it. Does knowing how much you’ve done with the bike give you a boost in confidence, and is it odd to know that one of you biggest competitors will be riding almost the exact same bike?
[Laughs] Well, it will be two different teams. It will be good to see other guys riding KTMs and I am glad to know now what I didn’t know then. There are a lot of things that I have learned, and coming to this team I have learned a lot on how to set up a bike. As far as feeling like it is an accomplished bike, I don’t know if I would look at it like that. We’ve won races and been consistent on it, but I feel like it could be better. With that being said, I want to keep working on it.
In the last year, you have had two mechanical incidents that have been out of your control, first with the shifter at the Monster Energy Cup and then your chain derailing at Millville. These are things that other s would have pulled off after, but you’ve proven that you are going to stay on the track and ride.
The shifter was a fluke, and with it being back to back, I don’t know how to explain it. At RedBud we had the battery and the ignition quit working, and it only happened to us once but we know of it now. It was a bummer that we had to learn the hard way there a lose a lot of points. At Millville, I was just glad that I was able to get the chain back on the bike, because it would have been hard to suffer another DNF. That would have been a tough one. I was able to salvage points and get a good overall, too. I think that we all have tough points, but that is just how it goes and it makes us stronger, but I don’t think that we lost the championship because of it. We got beat. It is tough to admit, but it will help us get that much better next year.
How do you keep calm in those types of situations? Where people would panic or pull off, do you think, “Okay, I can put my chain back on,” or, “I can shift with my hand over this triple?” Where do those thoughts come from?
Not wanting to quit and not accepting that I have to stop. When I am out there racing, I will do whatever it takes to make sure that I can keep going. If there is a way I can make something work out there, that it is and good, I will ride. Unless there is a point that I can’t do anything about it and have to pull off. Like at RedBud, maybe if the hill was big enough I could have bump-started my bike. I tried running and starting it because I didn’t want to DNF.
The Motocross of Nations are coming up and again you are the team captain. That is a massive accomplishment for a young racer.
I am excited and it is always an honor to represent the United States and race against the best. We have a great team I feel, and it is always something different. The tracks are always different each time we go and are challenging, but the guys that we have will work together well. We have to be smart, safe, and healthy to put our best performance in and bring the trophy back. Last year was tough, but the past is the past and it only made us better.
We are at the end of another long season, one where you got a title, how do you feel?
It’s definitely good to have it out of the way a race early and move on. We have Elsinore as our last one and I hope close it out with another overall.
The last two races have been monumental for you, with three holeshots and four moto wins. Does getting to the front and checking out early take pressure off of you?
Yeah, it does. To get the holeshot, no matter what you are racing, is pretty big. I’ve been able to get three holeshots and a good start in the last four motos, and it made it easier on myself. It takes a lot of thinking out of the process.
Was there a key change that allowed your starts to improve?
We worked on the bike a little bit, not just for the starts but suspension-wise, and it ended up making my starts better.
The question that everyone has is on your ankle. When you are racing and dab it, like in Utah for instance, is there a massive amount of pain that comes after?
Yeah, depending on what you do. Not everything hurts, but it is something that I need to get tuned up. Everyone knows that our sport is hard, and our bodies are like our bikes. We need a good mechanic to keep up on any nagging thing that you would need to address. In a 17-round Supercross series and then 12 outdoor rounds, there is a lot of racing and a lot of laps. We have to be top-notch when we come in to the start of a season.
Does the injury throw the Monday through Friday portion of your program off?
No, it hasn’t, just because I have dealt with it for a while. I’ve learned to deal with it and to get around without any problems.
Now that you have the championship, will you splurge on anything or just settle down and relax?
I’ll just hang out, because it will be nice to be home and not travel.