Kyle Cunningham: Victim Of Changes?

Kit Palmer | December 15, 2010

For Kyle Cunningham, the 2010 season was a year of changes. The 21-year-old from Texas headed into the ’10 Supercross Lites Championship riding red, a T.I.S.C.O.-backed Honda, but before the East Cost Series was over, he was singing the blues, though rather happily, aboard a Valli Motorsport Yamaha. And before it was all over, he had moved up to the 450cc class, finishing out the last two Supercross rounds riding Ivan Tedesco’s YZ450F after his teammate and former Lites Supercross champ suffered an injury. While change can be good, having so many in one year can be perhaps a little too good.


Still, Cunningham turned a lot of heads while riding the 450, especially with his fourth-place finish at the series final in Las Vegas. It was just his second ride ever on the 450 and it was an impressive one.


Cunningham stayed with Valli Motorsports and on the 450 for the outdoor championship, where he continued to post consistent finishes through out the year until a broken wrist suffered at the X games forced him to miss the last four rounds.


Cunningham has made another change since the end of the 2010 racing season, latching on to the DNA Energy Drinks/Star Racing Yamaha team, where he’ll return to the 250, or Lites, class for 2011.


Cunningham said he enjoyed his experience on the 450 but feels that the 250 class is more his style, especially when consider that he barely weighs 150 pounds.


Unlike last year when he didn’t lock down a ride until just before the start of the Supercross Championship, Cunningham is already dialed in and ready to go for 2011. We recently spoke with Cunningham, who was testing in California, and talked to him about his 2010 season and new deal.


So what are your plans for 2011?


Well, I’m riding for DNA Energy Drinks/Star Yamaha now, and I’ll be back riding in the Lites class.


How’s testing going on your new bike?


I’ve been doing some testing right now and making some last-minute touches on the bike, and just trying to get us as comfortable as we can. I’ve been pretty happy with the bike setup and where it’s at. Today, we’re just trying to find some different things on the bike to see if we can make some gains in any different places, but everything has been going good. I’ve been riding a lot of laps. The Yamaha track has been closed down for the last week or so getting rebuilt. We’ve been riding the same track as last year, so that’s going to be nice when it’s done. Like I said, we’ve just been burning some laps, and I’ve been working with my dad a lot, trying to get my lap times down and get comfortable on the bike, and be prepared coming into the season, unlike this year.


Things didn’t come together for you right away this year for 2010, did it?


No, it was kind of last-minute, I didn’t know where I was going, it was a little bit of a yard sale through out the year, going to the 450 and going from a Honda to a Yamaha, so it’s nice being with the Star Racing Team now, with Bobby and Brad, and getting to work with Will, and Ross at Enzo again. I feel like I’m more in my comfort zone.


How happy are you starting the new year on familiar machinery?


Oh, I’m really happy staying on the same bike. The bike hasn’t changed that much from 2010 to 2011, so a lot of the stuff I did last year is incorporating well into this year. Hopefully I’ll come out swinging in the first round.


When did you seal the deal with Star Racing?


About a week or two after X Games. It was done pretty early, but I couldn’t talk much about it.


You broke your wrist at the X Games. How is it doing now?


I broke the navicular. It’s doing good, but it still gets sore from time to time with a lot of laps and riding four days a week. It was a longer road for me than I expected. I tried to come back and ride outdoors and get ready for Pala, but that didn’t really happen, it wasn’t worth coming back for one round and take a chance of hurting myself.


What did you do after you broke your wrist?


I went back home and took about two and a half, three weeks off. I stayed in Texas and hung out with my family and stuff and kind of recovered. I started gym training and cardio and things like that about four weeks after my wrist. I couldn’t do many push-ups and stuff, but I wanted to get a jump start on coming into the season. I knew I had my deal [with Vali Motorsports] and knew everything was going the right way, so I wanted to prepare. I think it paid off, I don’t feel like I’m trying to catch up all over again. The injury gave me some time off, it gave me some time to get back to the right place I think. I think I learned a lot, I’m sure.


How did you like riding the 450?


The 450 was good for me, I learned a lot with it, I feel like I rode the 450 really well. It taught me to learn to ride a little different way.


How do you like riding the 250 again?


I like it. Getting on the Lites bike – I can move around on it a little more, the 450 was a lot of bike for me at a 148 pounds, it was a big learning curve. I never rode one in the amateurs and that’s why I kind of surprised myself at Vegas, coming from the back of the pack and finishing where I did. I think the transition back to the Lites class is good for me. I feel really confident on it, especially attacking the whoops and everything. I feel really good on it.


You’re pretty much a Yamaha guy these days.


I like the bike and Yamaha is a great company. I’ve worked really well with them in the past. I rode for them in ’07 and in ’06, my last year as an amateur. So it’s been good to work with the guys again.


Will you be riding the East or the West Series?


I’m pretty much prepared for whatever. I’ll be ready to go at A1 if that’s where I’m at. [Ryan] Sipes [teammate] has a little injury right now that he’s recovering from – surgery in the off-season – it’s taken a little longer for him to get better. Gannon [Audette, teammate] is out in Florida riding, so it’s been me and Gareth Swanepoel testing out here. I’m just going to prepare for the first round and see what happens.

Do you have any strategies going into the 2011 season?

I think the biggest thing for me right now is to get out of the gate. I think I can do that on this bike. The bike feels really well so I think I can put myself up front and hopefully run with those guys. I think it’s going to be a good year, like I said, the start is the key to the race lately, and I think if I can get out of the gate I can be a frontrunner for the championship. The beginning of the year, I threw some good finishes away trying to make passes too early in the races. That hurt my points a little bit. I’m looking forward to a great year. I’m going to go out and put up some great results. I learned a lot this year from the 450 class and riding with different guys, so I feel real good right now, I’m just going to keep pounding off motos and training hard and when I line up for the first round, hopefully I’ll come out swinging and be in the hunt for that championship right off the bat.

Kit Palmer | Off-Road Editor

Kit Palmer started his career at Cycle News in 1984 and he’s been testing dirt and streetbikes every since – plus covering any event that uses some form of a knobby tire. He’s also our resident motorcycle mileage man with a commute of 120 miles a day.