PHOTO OF THE WEEK
VIDEO: GO RACING WITH KEN ROCZEN
At 20 seconds in you’ll see Weston Peick’s knee almost get disintegrated
THE BIGGEST RACE OF THE WEEKEND
No, folks, it’s not the second Atlanta Supercross round this weekend that will make headlines, but instead the U.S. versus the world Grand Prix opener in Qatar that will generate the biggest news around the water cooler on Monday. Maybe you remember Ryan Villopoto, the five-time AMA National Champion? You know, the rider that piloted Team USA to four Motocross des Nations victories in four tries? Does the name ring a bell? I hope so. Let’s take a look at Villopoto’s credentials before he faces off against Tony Cairoli and the rest of the Grand Prix gang on Saturday night under the lights at Losail:
Three-time 250 National Champion (2006–’08)
Four-time 450 Supercross Champion (2011-’14)
Four-time MXDN winner (2006-’08, 2011)
19 AMA 250 National wins (fifth all time)
12 AMA 450 National wins
Not bad, given that Villopoto missed all but one of the 2009 AMA 450 Nationals, the entire 2010 and 2012 seasons, and opted out of the 2014 National series. By my count that’s 47 races missed out of a possible 72. Yet when RV has lined up to the gate in the 450 class he won 48 percent of the time. That’s impressive.
Now let’s take a look at Tony Cairoli’s racing credentials:
Two-time MX2 (250) Champion (2005, 2007)
25 MX2 Grand Prix wins
47 MX1 Grand Prix wins
Cairoli’s career has been nothing short of amazing. He has avoided serious injury for many years while always finishing strong at the end of the season. By my count he has won 47 of 95 races, equating to a winning percentage of 49. That’s eerily close to Villopoto’s winning percentage.
450 GRAND PRIX CLASS: THE PLAYERS
Pit pundits are predicting a knock-down drag-out war between Villopoto and defending MX1 (450) GP Champion, Tony Cairoli. RV should pose the most serious threat to Cairoli’s dominance in what has been a storied GP career for the Italian. While Tony is certainly the rider to beat, others shouldn’t be overlooked. The 450 field is rather deep, which is a statement I can say because guys like Max Nagl, Clement Desalle, Gautier Paulin and Kevin Strijbos have done well against the top Americans at the MXDN. Desalle and Strijbos made waves two years ago when they raced a select few AMA Nationals, and Paulin raced select 250 West Supercross races a few years back. Ken de Dycker, the Paul Bunyan-esque giant, raced the Hangtown National in 2010 and finished ninth overall. Below is a list of names that U.S. fans should become familiar with:
Gautier Paulin (France):
Kevin Strijbos (Belgium):
The Belgians are always strong in Grand Prix racing–think back to long ago days of Harry Everts, Joel Robert and Roger DeCoster–and the hope for a 19th 450 GP title partially rests on the shoulders of Kevin Strijbos. He, along with Van Horebeek, Clement Desalle and Ken de Dycker, are the pride of the black, yellow and red. Kevin Strijbos finished third overall in the point standings and won a single moto. Americans should recognize Strijbos, who finished ninth overall at the Lakewood National and seventh at the Muddy Creek round in 2013.
Clement Desalle (Belgium):
Desalle’s riding style is robotic, which makes him the obverse of smooth and stylish Tony Cairoli. Clement is a scrapper; he fights for every position. He has come so close to dethroning Cairoli, but injuries and inconsistency have thwarted his advancements to the number one spot.
He was pivotal in securing the Chamberlain Trophy for Team France at last year’s MXDN while riding aboard a factory Kawasaki. For 2015 he’s on the Wilvo Forkrent KTM team, a small effort out of England. A slew of injuries, including a blown knee, have slowed Frossard. This could be his last hurrah in a GP career that began in 2004 and culminated with a second place overall finish in the 2011 series.
Max Nagl (Germany):
Max was Cairoli’s biggest foe in 2009 when he fell just 36 points short of the MX1 title. Max moved from the KTM powerhouse to team HRC Honda and has landed at the Red Bull IceOne Husqvarna factory team for 2015. His last GP win came last year in a two moto sweep at the penultimate round in Brazil. Nagl finished sixth in the point standings despite missing five rounds.
Tommy Searle (England):
The Red Bull KTM factory race team expects big things out of Tommy Searle. Americans remember Tommy from his stint in the U.S. racing for KTM in the 250 class. He finished on the podium in three 250 Nationals back in 2009 and then moved back to Europe and raced the MX2 (250) Grand Prix series with Kawasaki for a few years. Searle moved up to 450 class in 2013 and finished sixth overall. Last year he landed fourth in the point standings. Tommy has never won a GP in the MX1 class.
Evgeny Bobryshev (Russia):
Our favorite Russian, Bobryshev has been the face of Honda since signing on in 2011. He has only won one 450 GP, way back in 2011, and has hovered inside the top ten in the point standings for the past five years. He broke his leg last year and missed the final seven rounds.
Tyla Rattray (South Africa):
The rider that American fans should be most familiar with, Rattray is teamed up with his pal, Ryan Villopoto, on the KRT Monster Energy Kawasaki factory team this year. Rattray looked solid in preseason testing, although he was off Villopoto’s torrid pace. Still, Tyla could be a force in the 450 class, especially in the latter rounds if he remains healthy.
250 GRAND PRIX CLASS: THE PLAYER
FUN FACT: CAIROLI’S DOMINANCE
Over the course of Tony Cairoli’s six consecutive MX1 (450) titles, the closest anyone has come to surpassing the Italian in the final point standings was Max Nagl in 2009. Cairoli had a 36-point margin of victory that year. The next closest? Clement Desalle got within 88 points of Cairoli in 2010. Since Tony went on his championship tear back in 2009 he has amassed a cumulative gap of 555 points in six seasons. That averages out to a 92-point advantage every year. Needless to say, Tony Cairoli is the undisputed king of Grand Prix racing.
SHAMELESS PLUG: KLIM COLD WEATHER GEAR
Daryl Ecklund and I ventured up to Idaho a few weeks ago to ride with the Timbersled crew. We ripped around in the snow, battled the elements, rode to places reserved for the birds, and felt comfortable the whole time. It was all thanks to our Klim cold weather gear. This is the premiere stuff to wear when taking on Jack Frost. Multiple layers, waterproof materials, a sleek fit, and bright colors made the Klim gear a winner. If MXA tested snow bike gear, then without question the Klim Kinetic parka ($309.99–$349.99) and Klimate bib ($339.99–$419.99) are five-star products. Add in toasty Adrenaline GTX boots ($239.99–$249.99) and you have the ultimate defense against frostbite. Klim’s line of gloves and dual-pane goggles were equally as good as the rest of the gear, making the Klim cold weather gear a slam dunk. For more information, please visit www.klim.com.
RYAN DUNGEY: THE UNDERAPPRECIATED CHAMPION
Were you among the few who believed before the season began that Ryan Dungey would be clobbering the competition halfway through the 2015 AMA 450 Supercross title? I wasn’t. Instead I followed the cool crowd and bet on Ken Roczen. After Kenny handily won the Anaheim 1 Supercross, I figured that it would be a long season for anyone not nicknamed “K-Roc.” Well, I was wrong. Roczen has been very good, just not as solid as Ryan Dungey. When Kenny nearly knocked his head off in Oakland after casing a triple and only scored six points, the series took a turn. Then, in Atlanta this weekend Roczen lawn darted in the main event, but not before slamming into a wall during practice.
It has been a rough few rounds for Ken Roczen. As for Ryan Dungey? He has finished off the box only once (Anaheim 1, fourth place) in eight races. He has built a comfortable one-race lead (25 points) on the next closest challenger, Trey Canard. In fact, there are only two other riders (Canard and Roczen) within two races (50 points) of Dungey.
Sure, one would suspect that Ryan Dungey will have one bad race in 17 rounds. The odds of staying squeaky clean through 17 main event starts is hard enough, not to mention avoiding catastrophe at every turn and keeping his KTM 450SXF Factory Edition in front of the field. However, history has proven that Dungey does his best work later in the season.
Ryan Dungey deserves an apology. He has been doubted many times by many people. That’s too bad, because Ryan has the credentials to be considered a worthy foe against the current crop of racers, as well as those missing from the field. Remember that Dungey won the 450 Supercross title in his rookie year (2010). He has won at least one Supercross every year since then. That’s admirable. So don’t be shocked that Ryan Dungey is putting a hurt on everyone this go around.
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Photos by John Basher, Red Bull KTM, KRT Kawasaki, HRC Honda, Rockstar Energy Suzuki, IceOne Husqvarna