Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Ryan Villopoto has already turned his first laps on his MXGP KX450F for 2015 so the period of adaptation for his sole shot at being an FIM Motocross World Champion begins in earnest. Here are five factors that the 26-year-old American will have to get his head around to consider success in 2015.
While 18 Grand Prix and 36 motos is not an intense stretch of competition compared to what Ryan Villopoto is normally accustomed to, he will be competing on four continents and will look forward to a weekend schedule for racing at each Grand Prix.
The Lucas Oil AMA Pro National Championship has been a one-day affair for every round since 2009 (trialled during 2008). Having an extra day of practice (two timed periods and a qualification heat race) will actually be an advantage for the multi-supercross champion but it will take some adjustment to use the sessions effectively, post that fast lap for a gate position in the Heat sprint and then make sure of a decent finish to allow a positive classification on the start line for Sunday’s motos.
Villopoto will also have to watch track degradation at many of the Grands Prix due to one, two and up to three support classes creating more bumps, ruts and lines. At more than one edition of the Motocross of Nations Team USA have commented on getting used to the event format and timetable and it seems only natural that Villopoto will need a Grand Prix (or more) to get in tune with the demands and rhythm of the weekend.
Those who saw the huge line of fans at the German Grand Prix this year when Ryan was signing autographs at the Monster Energy rig as a guest at the event will know that the AMA star will be huge billing wherever MXGP travels; even more so if he starts swapping wins and positions with the likes of Cairoli, Desalle and Paulin right away.
Around 300 people waited for a poster or a photo with RV at Teutschenthal this summer and it is likely to be a similar story at some of the better-attended Grands Prix in 2015. Villopoto will have to deal with the same level of fan, industry and media attention that perhaps only Cairoli demands and considering this is (apparently) his first and last season of MXGP then he will be highly sought after.
Villopoto is used to the microscope of the sport and the trappings that goes with success but even if the racing campaign is less frantic for him in 2015, the show around the racing is likely to be similar if not more feverish as it comes from different pockets of Europe and the world. His Motocross of Nations experience will be of assistance here even if he only competed in the UK and France. Don’t forget also that many of his GP peers will see that big #2 as a worthy scalp when fighting on the track. He will be a hunted man.
This is the big question mark as to whether Villopoto will be able to hit the ground running or will need more time to gel and get the best out of the people around him. Tyla Rattray will be a good sounding board for his ideas, worries or suggestions but the South African is also dealing with a new crew. The competitiveness of Gautier Paulin for the past three seasons (and also Steven Frossard in a short time frame) means that KRT have proven their efficiency and professionalism but they are now dealing with one of the biggest names in the sport and will have to handle his adaptation to a factory prototype (MXGP technical rules permitting far more interpretation compared to the production rules in the AMA) as well as all the fuss and spotlight that will fall on their work and place in the paddock.
It will be a busy winter and if both parties feel well prepared for Qatar then it should not be an issue. If they take a wrong path on bike development then Villopoto’s MXGP debut could hit some early bumps. Ryan has changed team only once in his whole career, so while the Kawasaki should seem like a familiar pair of shoes the people around him will be like a whole new, international, wardrobe.
Cairoli has the upperhand. Villopoto is not only coming into an environment that the Sicilian has owned since 2009 but also to many of the venues where the KTM rider has won 45 Grands Prix and 85 motos in that time, not to mention all the podiums and top three finishes that were so crucial to his unmatchable level of world championship consistency. Cairoli has hundreds and hundreds of hours in sand like Lommel and it is hard to imagine him being beaten by anyone on a similar surface except perhaps Jeffrey Herlings (and we need to wait another year for that prospect).
He has also shown maturity and restraint in the times when he has carried an injury and still been able to secure an effective result. Ryan certainly knows a thing or two about the requirements needed for a title and boasts experience of competing against some of the biggest names of American motocross.
Slightly in his favour also is the fact that Cairoli will also have a new 350SX-F to steer and that might be a factor in affecting his all-round strength across most terrain as well as his trademark fast starts.
Much has been made of this subject already but it would be churlish to assume that Ryan Villopoto will not be able to handle any type of ground on a dirt bike. Again, the question comes down as to how quickly he might be able to grasp the limitations of a narrow, rutty and two-line layout and enact his speed and skill enough to be able to win.
There does seem to be more diversity in world championship tracks compared to those on the AMA calendar but this will be one of the novelty factors and the appeal of the challenge for Villopoto. It will be part of the package in this new ‘adventure’. He will be frustrated by some venues – as are other MXGP racers – but has the nuance to know his limitations on the day and to be able to see the bigger picture. It is worth noting that on the current 2015 list that four of the 18 rounds will be new to most of the Grand Prix riders anyway.