Going into the 2012 Supercross Championship, one of the biggest questions is: How will Ryan Dungey perform on the KTM 450, a bike that has never won a Supercross Championship nor has ever really challenged for one? But for the first time, a KTM, with Dungey at the controls, is a viable threat for a premiere Supercross title.
After leaving Suzuki in September, Dungey first rode the KTM the week before the Monster Cup Supercross at Las Vegas in October and surprised many by finishing second. Since then, Dungey has spent many days at the test track dialing in the bike getting it ready for tomorrow's big race.
Dungey says he's stoked on the KTM's chassis.
"At this point I feel great on the KTM," says Dungey. "As far as the bike, it's been a great off-season. We had the Monster Cup and have had a month of testing after that. I feel like we've made all the necessary changes, and I feel like the bike is more than capable of winning. Obviously, testing and practicing is a lot more different than racing, so I think it's important that we get here and have complete confidence in our program and our bike, and trusting it. It's time to go racing. This first race is important, to see how things go and work things out if we have to."
When asked what he likes most about the bike, he said the KTM's chassis, which is constructed of steel rather than aluminum that most bikes use.
"The one thing I really like is the steel chassis," he said. "It's a little bit more giving [than aluminum]. I think that is something good for the bike. It absorbs bumps a little bit better. Aluminum isn't known to give a little more and not come back so quick. I do like the chassis, as well as the suspension.
"I really like the WP suspension, with RG3, and I feel like we have a great set-up with the suspension," he added. "But there really isn't one area that really - it's just an all-around great package."
This is KTM's first fuel-injected motocrosser and Dungey says all is good.
"The fuel-injection is working great. That's the direction our sport is going and I really like that. Fuel-injection is safer, knowing that it's direct fuel - direct throttle - into the engine. Everything is working good in that area.'
"He seems to be very happy on the bike," said his KTM team manager Roger DeCoster. "He seems to especially like the way it turns. And the stability in the whoops is good. And the engine, we have as much power as we need, but we have even more power if he needs it."
And speaking of DeCoster, Dungey is quite thrilled to be re-united with his former team manager at Suzuki. After winning every championship possible in 2010, DeCoster reluctantly left Suzuki and Dungey for KTM.
"I started my career with Roger and it's great to be back with him again," Dungey says. "The first four years, we've been able to develop a great friendship, and I feel like we really work good together. He understands me, and I understand him. When you surround yourself around people like him - he's got a lot of knowledge, a lot of years of racing under his belt and a great background. And to have a guy like that in my corner is very helpful."
The feeling is mutual for DeCoster.
"I'm happy to be working with him again, it's almost like we never stopped," he says. "One year goes by so fast. We started working [together again] right before the Monster Cup. We actually started working on the bike earlier but started working with him the week before the Monster Cup. It's good to be working with him and having a top guy on the team.
"DeCoster says Dungey is still the "same Ryan" but fitter.
When asked if Dungey has changed any since he last worked with him, DeCoster said, "Naw, he's pretty much the same Ryan. I think he is even fitter than he was, I know he's worked hard over the winter - he's a fitness freak and that is one of his strong points."
Despite not being able to defend his championships in 2011, no one doubts Dungey has the speed to win, but some question whether he's aggressive enough on the track. Many time last year, we saw Dungey catch some of the elite of the sport on the track but was unable to make the pass. Will that change in 2012?
"By nature, Ryan is a very cautious guy, he really prides himself for not bumping into riders and being a clean rider," says DeCoster. "Many other guys aren't so concerned about that, but he is definitely a little too concerned about it. We've talked about that and has worked on that and hopefully we'll see that on the track. You can be aggressive without being dirty. That's the way I would like to see it."
After many years with tuner Mike Gosselaar, Dungey starts the 2012 season with a new mechanic, Carlos Rivera.
"Carlos is a great mechanic," says Dungey. "Since we've teamed up, we've had a great time. He's an all-around good guy. He works hard, takes his work seriously and he does everything I could ask for someone in his position. I'm happy he's my mechanic.
"I'm looking forward to the new year."