Villopoto in front of Supercross field again

Story by John Marshall
The Associated Press
February 17, 2012
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Supercross had its most competitive start in more than 35 years, with four different winners to open the season.

Now that the West Coast swing is over, it's starting to look an awful lot like last season: Ryan Villopoto in front and everyone chasing.

The defending series champion, Villopoto has taken control of the Supercross series race with consecutive wins, giving him three on the season and a familiar place atop the standings.

"It's great to get three wins this season, but it's going to take more than just three wins to win the title," Villopoto said. "We've seen in the past that wins tend to come in bunches, so I'm going to try and run with this momentum, get and few more wins and see if we can build a bit of a cushion."

Villopoto knows what a little momentum can do.

On pace for his first title with seven wins in the 2010 Supercross season, he suffered a horrific wreck in St. Louis, shattering his right leg after sailing over the handlebars on a mistimed jump.

Following months of painful rehab, Villopoto won a season-high six races in 2011 to win his first major title on a dirt bike. He went on to win the outdoor championship and took home motocross' first $1 million prize by winning all three motos at the Monster Energy Cup last October in Las Vegas.

Despite leading the standings most of the season, earning the Supercross title wasn't easy; five riders went into the season finale and Villopoto had to finish third to earn his championship.

This season is shaping up as another tight one, even after Villopoto's three wins.

The 23-year-old from Poulsbo, Wash., won the opening race in Anaheim, Calif., but Ryan Dungey was atop the podium in Phoenix the next week. Chad Reed followed with a win in Los Angeles and James Stewart took the title Jan. 28 at Oakland, Calif., marking the first time since 1976 that different riders won the first four races of the Supercross season.

Villopoto got his groove back to win the second Anaheim race and again at San Diego last week, but his lead over Reed is just six points heading into Saturday's race at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Dungey and Stewart are still within reach, too, leaving Villopoto with little room for error with three former champions on his back wheel and 11 races left.

"The season is still young, there is a lot or racing still left," Dungey said. "We will keep going back to work and if we can get a little bit better, that will be nice."

The competitive start out of the gates has helped Supercross at the arena gates.

Both races at Anaheim's Angel Stadium were sellouts and attendance was steady or up at every stop except Los Angeles, where heavy rain hampered the race. The San Diego race last week drew 5,000 more fans than in 2011 and ticket sales are up for this weekend's race in Texas.

"There is a direct correlation between the parity of the field and our business results," said Ken Hudgins, chief operating officer of Feld Motor Sports, which runs motocross and Supercross. "This championship is anyone's game right now."

It is, but everyone's still chasing Villopoto, who's proven to be a pretty good front-runner.

Last season, he led the final 15 weeks and did what he needed to in the finale — stay close to the lead, out of the wrecks — to wrap up the title. After watching Dungey, Reed and Stewart trade wins following his opening victory, Villopoto led most of the way at the second Anaheim race and tracked Reed down at the white flag to win in San Diego.

He's also got the drive to stay out front, evident from his recovery from that gnarly wreck in 2009 that threatened his career.

"We've made some mistakes and put ourselves in difficult situations," Villopoto said. "I'm fortunate to have been able to come back from two bad starts and still finish near the front, so I hope that we've got those out of the way and can keep it up front from here on out."

Do that and this season will be just like the last one.

 

John Marshall

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