Can anyone dethrone Ryan Villopoto? PHOTOGRAPHY BY ANDREA WILSON
As the year comes to an end the start of the 2014 AMA Supercross season draws closer with just five days remaining until the best Supercross racers in the world line-up at Anaheim on January 5 for the opening salvo in the title chase. And while Anaheim I is just one of 17 stops, odds are that whoever finishes in the top five will win the title. After all, out of 39 seasons, there have only been five times where an AMA Supercross Champion finished outside of the top five at the season opener.
One of the exceptions to that rule is reigning AMA Supercross Champion Ryan Villopoto. Last year Villopoto staged one of the best comebacks in the sport’s history when he started the season in 16th place only to rebound and win his third straight title.
Villopoto enters the 2014 season with another shot to add his name to the record books, as a fourth title would put his name alongside the winningest rider in the sport’s history – the man with four straight Supercross titles, Jeremy McGrath. The fourth title would also attach his name with the GOAT (greatest of all time) himself, Ricky Carmichael, as Carmichael and McGrath are the only riders to win more than three titles.
And with 34 premier class wins, Villopoto sits in fifth place on the all-time wins list and gets closer to what is seen as McGrath’s unbreakable race-win record of 72. But while adding his name to history books would be nice, Villopoto’s main goal is focused on the present and that is to win.
“I’m not here to break records,” said Villopoto in an interview. “My goals are to win and be as successful as I can while I’m on top of my game. If I were to break [McGrath’s] record, that would be a great accomplishment, but it is not a goal of mine.”
While Villopoto has proven to be dominant with the Monster Energy Kawasaki team, he’ll line up against some strong opponents in 2014. Yoshimura Suzuki’s James Stewart and TwoTwo Motorsport’s Chad Reed both have two championships under their belts and still sit higher on the all-time win list than Villopoto.
Stewart sits third on the all-time win list behind McGrath and Carmichael with 45 wins. Even though Stewart has struggled in recent years compared to his success in the past he is a wild card not to be overlooked. His win at this year’s Monster Energy Cup demonstrated that he still has the speed to win.
Reed follows Stewart in the all-time win list with 41 victories, but 2013 was a rough year for the team owner/racer and he went winless for the first time in his career. In hopes of a fresh start, Reed has switched from Honda to Kawasaki in 2014 as he begins his 12th season in the premier class of Supercross.
Villopoto’s biggest rival over the course of his three-year title run is the man on the KTM with the same first name - Ryan Dungey. Dungey also has a championship under his belt and yet another year of experience with the Red Bull KTM team – a team he gave its first 450 Supercross win to. The ironman in the sport with his impressive number of race starts in both Supercross and motocross has not finished outside of the top three in the championship standings in three of his four years in the 450 Supercross class. He was also only the second rookie to win the 450 Supercross title in 2010.
Justin Barcia returns on the Team Muscle Milk Honda and has two wins from last year’s rookie season in addition to his 250 Supercross title. Barcia’s win in his first two races of his rookie year added his name to a list of other greats – Damon Bradshaw and Sebastian Tortelli. The youngster added his insight on what it takes to beat Villopoto.
“Consistency is the key,” Barcia said. “He is very consistent each weekend so to be in the hunt for the championship, I need to do the same.”
And there will be two rookies joining the young Barcia on the list of up-and-coming riders with 250 titles under their belts – reigning 250 AMA Motocross and the 2012 250 Supercross Western class Champion Eli Tomac and 250 AMA 250 West Supercross Champion Ken Roczen.
Tomac has 450 experience under his belt with some 450 Supercross appearances and a podium finish in last years Monster Energy Cup.
But Tomac’s rival Roczen also has some 450 Supercross experience, finishing second in last year’s Seattle round. And the young German has also made a change in his off-season training program, moving to Florida to train alongside Villopoto with famed trainer Aldon Baker.
Two riders that will not line-up at the opening round are last year’s runner-up Davi Millsaps on the Rockstar Energy KTM and Barcia’s teammate Trey Canard. Millsaps suffered a knee injury and Canard a broken arm during their off-season training efforts.