Ryan Villopoto has taken many steps towards his recovery following his leg injury suffered last April at the St. Louis Supercross, but none were probably bigger than the one he took at the opening round of the Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship in Anaheim. In his first race back, Villopoto proved to himself and world that he is indeed back, and how.The Monster Energy Kawasaki rider nearly won his heat race before being tracked down and passed by James Stewart, but that race went a long way to show everyone that he had not lost his speed, and he proved that by scoring a strong win in front of a sellout crowd at Angel Stadium. After getting off to a second-place start in the main, Villopoto passed follow Kawasaki rider Ivan Tedesco on the third lap and never looked back. He maintained a few-second lead over the defending Supercross Champion Ryan Dungey, who had also passed Tedesco, for 14 laps to record his 10th-career Supercross victory.
After all that you have been through the last nine months, all of the rehab, all of the training and all of the hype about you racing again, how does it feel to show up and win your first race back, especially with this racing being Anaheim I?
It feels great, really. It shakes off the cobweb – the last time I raced, I ended up going to the hospital, had surgery and this and that, so it’s a good feeling to get that win. I think the position I put myself in this year, it’s a really good one. I’m just not going to try and ride over my head. The main goal is to be injury free and to win races and to be there for the championship to the end. For the first race back since St. Louis, I think it turned out perfect.
How does the leg feel?
The leg is good. At first I wasn’t sure if it was ever going to be the same, if it was still going to keep hurting me, or what. There are days that it hurts, but I think it’s always going to be like that until I get the five plates out there and all of the screws. As of now, it’s good. Obviously I can race.
How did it feel waiting on the starting in your heat race, your first true race since your crash? You almost won it, too.
Yes, that’s the first time I’ve been behind the gate since St. Louis, so I was just thinking about working the cobwebs out. I had the lead, made some mistakes, and, like I said, I was just working it out. He [Stewart] caught me, passed me and won; it’s no big deal. [Finishing second] put me in a good position for a good gate pick and that’s all that really matters.
Tell us about the main event. How did you get through the first turn so well when many of your main rivals, such as James Stewart and Chad Reed, did not?
The start was really fast tonight. I was able to get a good jump out of the gate and come out second from the first turn. I had to get around Tedesco real quick – he led for a lap or two. Once I did that, I just wanted to put in good 20 laps. I could see where Ryan [Dungey] was, and he would gain on me a little bit, but I would pull back out. Towards the end of the race, I kind of backed it down a little bit, and he started to gain on me a little bit more.
You haven’t raced it quite some time. Even though you’ve been training and testing, there’s nothing like the real thing – racing. How is your conditioning right now.
Coming into Anaheim, I feel I’m in the best shape that I have ever been in coming into any season. I’m working with Aldon Baker now and we have a great program, and it’s only going to get better from here. Despite not having race for quite some time, I feel the best I’ve felt ever. I know how to go fast and win races, I’ve surrounded myself around people that knows what’s right, but the biggest change has been hiring Alden and having him on my side. He’s been helping Ricky [Carmichael] for eight years and James [Stewart] for three, we’re not racing Ricky anymore, but we’re racing James, and he [Baker] knows the ins and outs [with Stewart] so that’s definitely an advantage for me.
How important is this to win the opener?
It’s just the first race, there are 16 more and anything can happen. But, this win is – nice. Coming back from the injury, it’s kind of a relief. I still got it.