ANAHEIM, Calif. – The highly anticipated 2014 Monster Energy AMA Supercross, an FIM World Championship, will commence this Saturday at California’s Angel Stadium as three-time 450SX Class Championship Ryan Villopoto will stage his title defense against the deepest field of riders the sport has ever seen.
While the championship takes place over the course of 17 races, the season opener has proved to be a key ingredient in making a championship run. In 39 seasons, the eventual champion has finished inside the top five at the season opener 34 times. Last season, Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Villopoto staged the sport’s third-greatest comeback when he started the season in 16th place before rebounding to win his third consecutive championship.
Villopoto lines up for a shot at his fourth straight 450SX Class title Saturday night in Anaheim with history at stake. Only Jeremy McGrath, the sport’s all-time winningest rider, has won four consecutive titles. Conversely, only McGrath and Ricky Carmichael have won more than three titles, meaning Villopoto could place himself in elite company with another repeat performance this year.
Villopoto currently has 34 career 450SX Class wins with an average finish of 3.6, which is the pinnacle of consistency and the cornerstone of his championships. And while McGrath’s record of 72 race wins was once deemed unbreakable, Villopoto is making an impressive run at the mark, currently sitting fifth on the all-time wins list.
“I’m not here to break records,” said Villopoto in an interview. “My goals are to win and be as successful as I can while I’m on top of my game. If I were to break [McGrath’s] record, that would be a great accomplishment, but it is not a goal of mine.”
Standing in his way are proven champions, racers on the rise, and a pair of fast rookies: James Stewart, Chad Reed, Ryan Dungey, Justin Barcia, Eli Tomac, and Ken Roczen. Stewart and Reed have each won two championships and currently stand ahead of Villopoto on the all-time wins list. Dungey has one championship to his credit and has been Villopoto’s biggest rival during his three-year title run. Barcia scored two wins last year and has 250SX Class title triumphs on his résumé, as do both Tomac and Roczen.
Stewart sits third on the all-time wins list behind McGrath and Carmichael with 45 victories. In recent years he has fallen off the blistering pace he set during the first five seasons of his career, when he won 36 Main Events with an average of 9.5 wins per season. During the past four years, Stewart has won just nine races, averaging 2.5 wins per season. However, there’s no reason to count out the Yoshimura Suzuki rider, who is widely considered to be one of the best riders in history and will always be a threat to win every time he lines up on the gate. He proved that he still has the speed to win at the Monster Energy Cup in October, winning two of the three Main Events and the overall trophy.