All of those who are still in title contention in the 2011 Monster Energy AMA Supercross Series gathered today at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas for the pre-race press conference for tomorrow’s final and deciding round. When the checkered flag falls for the final time Saturday evening, three riders will have been crowned champion, not including the winner of the East/West Lites Shootout, which takes place tomorrow night as well.
For the first time, as many as four riders will go into the final round of the AMA Supercross Series with a chance of winning the crown in the premier class. With 25 points up for grabs, 23 points separate four riders: Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Ryan Villopoto, TwoTwo Motorsports Honda’s Chad Reed, Rockstar/Makita Suzuki’s Ryan Dungey and San Manuel/Yamaha’s James Stewart.Villopoto leads the way with a nine-point advantage over Reed, with Dungey, last year’s champ, just four points behind Reed. A fifth-place finish tomorrow night will give Villopoto the championship, no matter who wins the Las Vegas final. A fifth place will put Villopoto in a tie with Reed, but Villopoto will win the tie-breaker by having the most wins over the course of the season. Currently, Villopoto has six wins and Reed one.
Villopoto says he’s going to take this race like any other.”I’m going to come here like it’s a normal race,” he said. “I’m not going to change anything. I’m just going to get the 20 laps out of the way. It’d be awesome [to win this title]. As a rider, you’re hired to do a job and yeah, we’ve won races, but we’ve also had problems. To [win] it for Kawasaki would be awesome. They’ve been behind me the whole time. I’ve worked really hard this season and if we could win a championship, it’d be really rewarding.
“If he finishes fifth or better, this will be Villopoto’s first Supercross title.”This year has been awesome,” he said. “We’ve had some ups and downs, but in a 17-race season, it’d be hard to not have that happen and not make any mistakes. If a win presents itself [tomorrow], I’m going to take it, but I won’t put myself in any position that won’t be good for me. All the [hard] work is done before the season – the training, the fitness, and everything else is taken care of and I feel confident about that.
“Reed, who has been in situations like this many times, says he’s going to do what he needs to do to win tomorrow and give himself the best chance to win the title.”I’ll be as aggressive as I need to be,” said Reed. “I’ll ride like everyone else has talked about, leaving here knowing you left nothing on the table. I think for me it’s been a blast from the get go. Coming into this season the way I did, it was fun. Each and every week we progressed and got better. It’s been a challenge. Win or lose, I’ve learned a lot and we’ve positioned ourselves with a chance to win the title.
As a team owner, that is what you’re trying to do.When asked if winning the 2011 title would be more special than the others he’s won, especially being a team owner this time, he said, “All titles are special. This one is hyped up, but it doesn’t feel a lot different than any other year. We’re nine back and I’m going to give it everything I got. What’s made this season so different is that every rider has had something go wrong with an abnormal mistake. There are still 20 laps to go and anything can happen.”Had it not be for a derailed chain at Anaheim II, Ryan Dungey might be looking another title in his face, instead, he’s 12 points back in third place. He’ll need a lot of luck to leave Las Vegas tomorrow with the number-one plate for a second time.
“I’m just going to try to take it like every other night, one race at a time and not get ahead of myself,” said Dungey. “No matter what, I’m going to give it my all and I’ll let things play out for the best. It’s been a long season and it’s been a big step for my career. I just need to get a good start, log 20 solid laps, and put the hammer down.
“Going into the 2011 series, many felt Dungey had a lot to prove this year after having won the 2010 title since some of the top contenders were on the sidelines, injured. When questioned about having to prove himself this year, he said, “I don’t necessarily come here to prove anything to anyone other than myself. Throughout this whole season, I could have made excuses, but it’s part of life. You move on. I was 40 points down in this title at one point, so it’s just been about being consistent and trying to be perfect. Sometimes you learn the most from the bad things that happen. We have a great opportunity tomorrow night and can get the job done.”Stewart was about as upbeat as he could when you consider what he’s been through this season, from his hard crashes at Daytona and Jacksonville, his simple fall at Salt Lake last week, to his distracting arrest prior to the Dallas Supercross. Stewart was very much in title contention until washing out while leading last Saturday, which all but drove the last nail into coffin with regards to winning the 2011 title.”I felt like all year I’ve [performed at] the same [level],” said Stewart. “I’ve had some unfortunate incidents, but I can’t change those. I felt like I got on a roll around Oakland, and then in Atlanta we had a rough night and it kind of went on from there. As a season, it’s been tough. Coming off the injury [last year], I thought we’d be better. We’ve been there, but the results haven’t shown for it. This whole year there has been things that have gone wrong, but there are no regrets. When I sleep at night, I sleep fine. There are moments I’d like to have back, but as a whole I’m satisfied.”Basically, I threw away the championship. I had a chance to win it and there were opportunities, but I didn’t take advantage of it. I can’t really say exactly what went wrong, but what’s positive is that it allows us to look back at things, look how we can improve, and move forward.”In the Lites, it’s pretty much a winner’s take all in the West division between Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki’s Broc Tickle and GEICO Powersports Honda’s Eli Tomac. With just one race left, Tickle, who has one win this season, leads Tomac, who has two wins, by just two points. Unless both riders finish fifth or worse, whoever finishes ahead of each other will win the West title.Of the two, Tomac has the momentum right now, as Tomac has finished ahead of Tickle in the last four rounds, including last week’s win in Salt Lake. The last time Tickle finished ahead of Tomac was in Oakland.”I’ve been working hard this year and off season,” said Tickle. “I’m ready for whatever comes towards me. I’m looking forward to taking [the title] so hopefully I can do it. I’ve been struggling since San Diego, but just putting the week together was good. I was expecting to be in this situation, so I was prepared to be here. It’s been a childhood dream to be supercross champ so it kind of takes pressure off me.”Tomac played down his two-point lead, but he knows it’s not much of a cushion.”It’s always good to be leading, so it’s my job to get out front,” said Tomac. “The biggest thing for me has been starts. There are too many fast guys in Supercross and there are too many guys to be dinking around the back. I’m the guy in second, so I need to worry about myself getting out front, not the guy behind me.”The Lites East Championship is Justin Barcia’s to lose tomorrow. The GEICO Powersports Honda rider enjoys a safe 20-point lead over Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki’s Dean Wilson. A 16th-place finish tomorrow night will do it for Barcia whose worst finish all year is second, and he’s ridden much of the series with a bad wrist.For Wilson, pretty much all he can do is look back on his roller-coaster season and learn from it.”If I could redo this season, I’d try to get my starts better, because all my wins this season have come from behind,” he said. “I’ve been working on [my starts], because they’ve been killing me all season. Hopefully I can look past the bad races and have a good weekend.”After the conference, the riders got a chance to take a few laps around the Vegas track, which features a rare over/under section and its traditional outside-the-stadium start chute.The sun was shining and typically Vegas hot, nearly 100 degrees. The un-prepped track today was very dry, hard-packed and dusty, but that won’t be the case tomorrow.