News 15 Nov 2016

AUS-X Open performance 'better than expected' for Villopoto

Retired American legend shines upon one-off return in Sydney.

Image: AUS-X Open.

Image: AUS-X Open.

Four-time AMA Supercross champion Ryan Villopoto put forward a pair of strong rides in his one-off Australian appearance out of retirement at AUS-X Open last weekend, going 6-4 to exceed his own expectations in Sydney.

Villopoto, still just 28 years of age, was a major question entering the final two rounds of the Australian Supercross Championship after organisers lured him out of retirement, although he never did expect to challenge for victory.

The Monster Energy Kawasaki rider had limited preparations in California prior to travelling to Sydney, but displayed the skills that saw him win four-straight US crowns prior to exiting supercross at the close of 2014.

“The event was awesome,” Villopoto told post-race. “I was glad to get invited down and check it out – I enjoyed it. A pretty short trip for me in and out, but they run a great event, add some different elements into it from the racing side like the Superpole, the team race and things like that, so it was a lot of fun.

“I was a little unsure how it was going to go for myself, being that I hadn’t been behind a gate for two years and then I did about a month of riding supercross three to four days a week, so not many days. I was pretty far off of Chad, Coop and Brayton, but other than that… I guess surprised isn’t the word, but I did better than I expected – a little bit – so I’m happy with that.”

Villopoto managed to win his opening heat of the weekend on Saturday night in front of a sell-out crowd, then upped his pace on Sunday when he took second in Superpole – ahead of Chad Reed and Cooper Webb. That speed was transferred into the final, in which he led the opening three laps and stood third until the closing stages when countryman Justin Brayton moved by.

“It was cool, you know,” he added. “I won a heat race last night and then today was able to get a holeshot and lead a few laps, ride with those guys and race with them for a few laps, as long as I could. Shit man, I think around lap 10 I was already finished, so I was like, just counting down the last 10 – it was rough [laughs].

“But I was able to squeeze it out and I almost had third, but Brayton was able to sneak by me, which was cool. You know, the bottom line was that the fans got to see me ride and got to see me ride halfway decent, so that’s cool for them.”

Despite retiring last year following a injury-affected year in MXGP and completing minimal riding since, Villopoto said he knows he could still compete at the level of Reed, Brayton, Webb and co if he chose to. Still, he was satisfied with the end result in Sydney and impressed by jumping a quad that few attempted across the rounds.

“I mean, you know, it’s not that I don’t have it anymore, I could go race with those guys and I would win races against them – all of them – if I was training and fit and ready. It’s not a question of can I still, I mean sure, I still can… or still could, I should say.

“So yeah, that was cool, Brayton came out and jumped the quad, then I was like well, the take-off was pretty mellow, the landing was pretty mellow, so I ended up getting the triple pretty dialled in, landed it well and went for it.

“I know Coop and Chad both would’ve done it if they got the first triple right, but you know. The first triple was short, so you had to time it kind of right and I always said the whole weekend that you can quad in – not me, but somebody else. If it was Anaheim 1, people would be quading that in.”