Inside Job: Ryan Villopoto
The following interview with Ryan Villopoto was strung together inside the Team Monster Energy Yamaha race transporter on the morning of the final round of the 2019 Monster Energy Supercross Series in early May. The grassy Las Vegas pit area acting as a sort of carpet for the event, that morning the paddock area was already teeming with thousands of fans who had flocked to Sam Boyd Stadium to watch all three AMA Pro Racing championships be decided later that warm evening. Arriving at the stadium in a pair of jeans, a blue Yamaha team shirt and a Monster Energy baseball hat, Villopoto was relaxed, in great spirits and very much in a talking mood regarding the past season, as well as many of the key racers who had played major roles in the entire 17-round affair. A four-time AMA Supercross Champion and three-time champion in the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship, when Villopoto talks, people, such as this writer, listen. Armed with a wealth of experience, a keen racing mind and a champion who has been there, done that, and bought the T-shirt, RV had quite a bit to say – some of it actually foreshadowing what would shake out during the night program. Check it out…
EJ: Alright Ryan, it’s the final Monster Energy Supercross Series race of the year and the title between Cooper Webb and Eli Tomac is still up for grabs. Do you wish you were out there and still racing and fighting for titles?
RV: Well, me personally, no. I don’t miss it. I’m here as a spectator and doing some work for Yamaha and some other media work. We’re here in Vegas and there are three championships that are going to be decided tonight. You know it’s really not that awesome of a feeling to go into a championship final like this unless you have a decent point lead like Cooper Webb does. Chase Sexton has a decent lead, but Adam’s title fight is still pretty close. It’s not really an awesome feeling coming in here and trying to win one of these championships when things are so close.
Nervous time, huh?
Oh yeah, lots of nerves. We all know it’s racing and anything can happen. It can be mistakes from yourself. It can be mechanicals. It can be so many things. Yeah, I don’t miss it.
What’s your take on Eli Tomac this year, and what does he have to do tonight to try and make a run at Cooper Webb?
He’s pretty much out of it tonight. Technically he’s not, but realistically he’s out of it, unless something really crazy happens. As far as his season and some of the races he had this year, I don’t really know. I don’t think anybody knows what the ups and downs with Eli are. You have to look at why the ups and downs happen and how you fix them. I don’t know why he’s so inconsistent. Cooper Webb has been the most consistent, and look where he’s at now. You don’t always have to be the fastest, but consistency is a big deal.
You have to manage it all, huh? I’ve been sort of shocked at how well Cooper Webb has managed this championship run.
Yes, when he was on in the Lites class, he managed all of his championships really well. I’ve seen numerous races where he crashed and came back to win. You know, maybe he was in the top three, crashed, then got back up and got back into the top three or even ended up winning. Realistically, the problem with Eli’s bad races is that they’re horrific. There haven’t been many bad races for Cooper. I think he’s been on the podium 14 times this year and a bad race was a fifth or something. You have to salvage those bad races. You have to turn them into decent races. You can’t have races like Eli has had this year.
Out of curiosity, do you and Eli ever speak with one another?
No, not really. Everybody has their own program, right? And Eli and his dad and mom kind of run their program differently. That’s their program. I don’t know.
Adam Cianciarulo … It looks like it’s finally going to happen for him tonight. Thoughts?
Yeah, you know I hope it does. I spent lot of time with him over in Florida for five or six years. He was still on 80s at the point. He was real small on the 80s at first and then he got bigger and got on Superminis and 125s, so I’ve spent a lot of time with him, and I’d definitely like to see him pull it off tonight.
Do you go into the Pro Circuit race shop often?
I’m at the Pro Circuit shop every week so I see all the time and effort they put in. I’d love to see AC pull it off for Mitch Payton, you know? I have a bay at the PC shop and I have my motorcycles there and I’ll go ride and come back and wash them and just do the basic prep on them. If I need any major stuff done, I can grab one of the guys from the race team to work on that. It ends up really, really well.
What did you think of the performance of Mitch’s other riders in the 250cc class this winter?
AC has done really well. Forkner rode really well too, but I said to Mitch, ‘One of these times, Austin is going to end up hurt’. You cannot crash – and it’s not like he’s slipping or sliding out or losing the front-end – he’s crashing hard at least once a weekend and sure as shit it ended up getting him at New York. It wasn’t even the crash that got him; it’s when he dabbed his foot on top of a whoop. He was able to ride there at the end, but I don’t know. It is a bummer to see them lose that momentum. It was a bummer to see that happen.
All things considered, what did you think of racing this supercross season?
I think the racing was pretty good. I think, personally, it’s good for fans to see different winners. We had three Triple Crowns this year which I think are pretty cool events.
Any riders in your opinion who didn’t realise their full potential this season?
Justin Hill comes to mind. Super-talented rider and really fast when he wants to be. He might need to go play his guitar; know what I mean? It’s pretty shocking to see his speed and talent and how good he is, but you don’t roll around in 20th or 10th or 12th. He should be a top-eight guy every weekend, no matter what. Eight should be a bad night for him.
One thing I’ve certainly noticed, as have many other people involved in the sport, is that you’re much, much more relaxed and happy-go-lucky now. Once that pressure to win was gone, you were able to loosen up a bit, huh?
Look, I stepped away for about two years where I pretty much didn’t even watch it, but now Pro Circuit is like my home. I was here for so long. I started my career here and finished on Pro Circuit pipes. These guys here are like family to me, so to come to the races and see all the guys at Kawasaki and everybody else. We all raced with one another for 10 years. You know, I don’t give a shit what colour the race truck is, I’m going to walk right in there. That’s what’s cool about it. It’s cool to have all these friends in the sport.
So what’s next for Ryan Villopoto?
The next thing for me on my list is Hangtown and the 125 race. Once again, Mitch is pulling out all the stops for me and that race. I won Washougal last year and I got second at Hangtown last year. It’s just a cool race. Yeah, it’s four laps and it means nothing, but I want to go there and win, for sure. It’s just been a lot of fun.