Villopoto Ready For Championship Defense
ANAHEIM, Calif. – The 2013 Monster Energy AMA Supercross kicks off this Saturday at Angel Stadium and for the first time in 40 years of racing, 10 riders with 450SX Class Main Event wins will take part in this epic season led by two-time defending champion Ryan Villopoto.
The 2012 Monster Energy Supercross Championship season unfolded like a war of attrition. Throughout the 17-race season, the sport’s top five riders were forced to miss races, or in some cases the remainder of their season, with injuries. Before the gate dropped on the opening race the season, the sport possessed the deepest field in its history and subsequently lived up to the hype through the first four weekends.
Only once before had four different riders won the first four races of a season, so the stage appeared to be set for a different rider to win on any given night. When Villopoto, 2004 & 2008 450SX Class Champion Reed, 2010 450SX Champion Dungey and 2007 & 2009 450SX Champion Stewart all grabbed victories to start the season, they became only the second group of riders ever to accomplish this feat in 39 years of competition. In 2013, the plot will undoubtedly thicken as this elite group will be joined by two highly touted rookies, Justin Barcia and Dean Wilson.
A major blow to the 2012 championship occurred to Honda’s Trey Canard, a title contender who was already battling a slow start to the season. Canard fell victim to a massive crash at Dodger Stadium, resulting in three fractured vertebrae and a spinal cord injury that kept him off the bike for seven months.
At the return stop inside Angel Stadium, Villopoto made a stand and became the first rider to win two races in the season, moving into the points lead for the second time in 2012. He never looked back, winning two more consecutive races.
“This year (2012), I worked harder than I ever have,” said Villopoto. “However, backing up what you have already done definitely brings added pressure to win.”
Part of Reed’s racing philosophy is consistency. He holds the record for all-time podium finishes — 119 in 148 starts — and is one of just two riders to win at least one 450SX Class race in nine seasons. In 85 percent of 148 450SX Class starts, he’s finished in the top five a record 129 times. But last year, for only the second time in his career, Reed was forced to withdraw from the championship hunt due to injury. While stalking Villopoto for the lead near the halfway mark at Cowboys Stadium, Reed went down hard. In a violent crash that lasted just seconds, Reed’s injury report read: fractured T-6, two ribs, tibia, fibula, torn ACL, LCL, and meniscus.
“I’ve seen a lot in my life career. I’ve been a big sponge and taken it all in — the good, the bad, the ugly,” said Reed. “l have lived life to the fullest, and I believe that helps me stay motivated and committed to what I love to do on the weekends. I’ve been very lucky to have always been in the fight for podiums, wins and the title. I’m hoping ’13 will be no different! I learned a lot in 2012, and I’m ready to put that to good use.”
Stewart’s implausible speed would again become his worst enemy. He crashed in seven of 11 races, but still won two Main Events. Through the first 10 races, he averaged a fifth-place finish, but after the 44th win of his career, he joined the injured reserve list, only to come back for one more race, where he finished 20th following a crash. Considered the fastest man on the planet, Stewart either wins or crashes 91 percent of the time.
To crack the code, Stewart needs to slow down to win championships. His lifetime winning percentage in races where he did not crash is 84.62 percent. When he won his first of two championships in 2007, his winning percentage in races where he did not crash was 100 percent.
“It’s going take speed, but it’s probably going to be about consistency more than anything,” Stewart said about the strategy to win this year’s title. “There are a lot of fast guys out there, and all of them want to win. None of us will have the luxury of a bad weekend this year.”
At one point in Stewart’s career he was squarely focused on breaking Jeremy McGrath’s all-time record of 72 wins. He told ESPN the Magazine, “The record will fall. I am going to make sure of it.”
Now that he’s more than halfway to the seemingly unbreakable mark, Stewart is not as sure about becoming the all-time winningest supercross racer.
“I would love to,” said Stewart about snapping the record. “But it’s going take some work. I still have a little ways to go, so we’ll see how it plays out over time.”
Heading into St. Louis, Dungey crashed during a practice session at his training facility, breaking his collarbone. To maintain his position in the title fight, he raced in St. Louis and finished second — but that made the fracture worse. As a result, Dungey was forced to have the injury surgically repaired, missing the next five races. He closed out the season with two consecutive wins and finished third in the championship during his first season on the Red Bull KTM team, delivering the Austrian team its first 450SX Class wins and best season finish ever.
As fate would have it, two races after clinching his second consecutive Monster Energy Supercross Championship, Ryan Villopoto crashed in the Main Event of his home race in Seattle and tore his ACL, sidelining him for the remainder of the year. The season closed out with Andrew Short capturing the first victory of his seven-year 450SX Class career, followed by Dungey sweeping the final two races of the season.
Graduating from the 250SX Class is standout Justin Barcia. Barcia finished second overall as a rookie in 2010 and moved on to win back-to-back Eastern Regional Championships in 2011 and 2012. En route to a dominant 2012 season, Barcia won six of nine races and closed the season out with a 45-point lead over the second-place finisher with a 1.6 finishing average.
After establishing himself as one of the brightest rising stars of the sport over the last three seasons, Barcia is ready to compete in the 450SX Class. His arrival will add to what is already the deepest field of riders in Monster Energy Supercross history.
If history repeats itself, Barcia will have his work cut out for him in 2013. Only twice in the sport’s history has a rookie claimed the 450SX Class Championship, with Jeremy McGrath in 1993, and most recently Ryan Dungey in 2010.
Barcia puts less stock in history than he does his skill set, saying he’s a legitimate title contender. “That’s the plan; that’s what I was hired for,” said Barcia. “It’s like 250cc (250SX Class) racing with more experienced riders.”
In this sport, anything can happen and Stewart put it best in saying, “What if the top four became the top, five, six, seven, eight ….”
Only time will tell as the 2013 Monster Energy Supercross season prepares to challenge the fastest riders on the planet with 17 weekends of the greatest spectacle on dirt.