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Monday, 07 May 2012 00:00

Ryan Villopoto

Written by DeAnne DeLunna | Photos by Roman Racela | Racing Photos Courtesy of Motor Sports
There are some athletes who are born to win and others who work hard for their victories. Then you have motocross/supercross champion Ryan Villopoto, whose accolades are a result of both. For the Washington state native racing isn’t just a career—it’s his life. The athlete competes to win and only win, which is why he’s at the top of his sport. Last year, the 23-year-old won the FIM World Supercross Championship, AMA Motocross Championship, Motocross of Nations Championship and the inaugural Monster Energy Cup, which was one of the most accomplished seasons in history for a rider.

Villopoto is constantly tuned into everything motocross/supercross related with an intense focus that can’t be matched, a perfectionist’s work ethic and a killer instinct. This winning combination has been key to his success throughout his career.

“My goal is to win, so I’ll do everything I can to make it happen.”

“My goal is to win, so I’ll do everything I can to make it happen,” he explains. “When you’re a top guy in the sport, it’s tough; you’re racing week in and week out for championships and there is no room for error. It’s an entirely different mentality than for someone who’s out there racing for a top 10. To be able to win, you have to not only be consistent but be out there every day, hitting it hard on and off the track.”

Supercross (which is the stadium version of off-road motorcross racing) starts in January and goes on until May, with motocross following throughout the summer until September. The saying “Championships are won in the off-season” holds true for Villopoto.“The real work is done in the off-season, constantly pushing yourself to hit that next level and build your base just a little stronger than the year before. However, that’s also one of the downsides of our sport, you never really get time off. You can take roughly 10 days off at the most, but in order to stay up on our physical abilities, we need to be out there every day. You get out what you put in.”

Villopoto makes it clear that his sport is not a ride in the park. People may think it looks fairly easy, but Villopoto refutes the claim, describing how hard it is to even just stay on top of the bike. “We race on dirt, which everybody thinks is soft and great, but for us it’s a different story. You have to be focused not only on the race itself, but the track that’s deteriorating below you with each and every lap. Then throw in 20-40 guys (depending on if it’s supercross or motocross) and mechanical factors, which you have no control over.” Fortunately for Villopoto, his Monster Energy Kawasaki Team is on top of their game, providing him with an excellent machine and a strong competitive edge.

For the past seven years, Villopoto has raced professionally, but his history with the sport goes all the way back to when he was barely four years old. “It first started as a hobby, with no real goal of becoming a professional,” he reveals. “I got to a point where I was doing pretty well so I decided to try and take it to the next level, which was the amateur nationals. It kind of took off from there.”

Ryan Villopoto

With a family of racers (his grandfather and father also competed), one could arguably say that his talent is innate, but Villopoto believes it’s only part of his winning formula. The rest being his rigorous training schedule, which propelled him to climb the ladder from amateur to professional quicker than some, and might have led him to mature faster. But according to Villopoto, all of these only helped fuel his success. He didn’t realize his potential until he turned pro (back in 2006 in the AMA West Supercross Lites Series at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, CA, riding a Kawasaki KX 250F), where he was able to size himself up against the sport’s other greats. “Once I did a couple of races and did pretty well, I realized I had the speed to run up front and knew it was just about tweaking a few things.” He did just that, winning three consecutive motocross titles and one supercross title before stepping up to race with the big boys in 2008 on a Kawasaki KX 450F.

Everything Villopoto does comes down to the focus of the No. 1 plate, whether it’s riding, working out or mentally preparing. “It’s hard for me to think about what it’s like, mentally, to line up at the gate for a fifteenth place finish because I’ve never been in that spot. I’ve always been a guy who’s going for the win and ultimately championships. I know that when I line up at that gate, I have done everything possible to be ready and I am confident.”

When stepping out on the track, Villopoto doesn’t rely on music to pump him up before a race—that’s what the crowd and fans are for. Every stop on the tour provides a natural adrenaline rush, which fuels his internal fire. “Music would make me just even more nervous,” he explains. “I just go there and do the opening ceremony stuff. Then I scope out the track and watch the guys in the races before mine. During that time, I get pretty pumped up from all the energy the crowd gives off.”

Ryan Villopoto

At the top of his game, Villopoto does know his limits and already has a plan in store for life after racing. Giving himself another three years of intensely focused racing, he plans on reevaluating where he stands in his life and career and if he’ll officially hang up his racing boots to pursue other options.

“I know I have a three-year window where I can race at this level, but I’d like to eventually try to start a company of some sort after I’m done in the sport. I’m not sure exactly what, but I know that given the sponsors I have now, I definitely have a few avenues to try out so the possibilities are endless for me right now.” He also admits he’ll try out other interests like winter sports, surfing and will get to focus all his energy in other things he hasn’t been able to enjoy while totally tuned into his sport.

But being on top does have its perks like winning the first Motocross of Nations Championship and the inaugural Monster Energy Cup last October. He was able to win all three races (each had 10 laps), which provided him a million-dollar prize. “I felt confident going into that race since it’s shorter than the regular ones and there were no surprises because some of my main competitors weren’t there.” Now a yearly event, Villopoto will enter this year’s Monster Energy Cup and looks forward to taking home the big prize again.

As Villopoto’s approach to racing is calculated and focused, it carries over into his financial and business approach as well. Despite being in the position to purchase almost any car he desires, he currently only has a Range Rover for his wife, Ford F-250 truck, and a GMC truck. But he does have his eyes on a Ford Raptor and also admits to having a liking for luxury cars, specifically BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Although, he would opt for an Audi R8 if he had “endless amounts of money to spend”. “I’ve heard good things about that car,” he describes. “I’ve never been in one, but I’ve been told that they’re fun to drive and you get more for your money than buying other sports cars like Ferraris or Lamborghinis.” As far as modifications, he confesses that he likes to keep his rides clean and opts for only custom wheels.

Ryan Villopoto

Ryan Villopoto’s success has attracted many sponsors, including catching the attention of Falken Tire (The Official Truck Tire of the AMA Supercross Series), who linked up with the Supercross athlete last year. “We chose Ryan for a few reasons,” says Nick Fousekis, Falken Tire’s Director of Motorsports Marketing and Events. “We first liked his personality. He’s very humble and easy to work with, so it was a perfect fit for us. Then, since he was a Monster Energy athlete and we work with Monster Energy through our Formula D drifting efforts, it was a natural progression to get him on board. We were also attracted to his motivation and desire for the sport even while recovering from the previous year’s horrible injury.”

For the shoot, Ryan was able to take Falken Tire’s custom-built Toyota Tundra out for some light wheeling. The rig showcases one of Falken’s newest entries into the off-road market, the Falken WildPeak A/T. The Tundra made its big debut at the 2010 SEMA Show, which was when they announced their collaboration with Supercross, and has since traveled across the country for nearly all AMA Supercross series events.

Their new WildPeak A/T tire is available in a wide selection of sizes and has already been used in a variety of off-road events, ranging from recreational trail rides to hardcore racing competitions, proving that it’s a winning tire. “We and a few supported teams competed in the 2012 King of Hammers and Every Man Challenge, which are two of the world’s most extreme off-road races to really punish and test our product. We feel that the WildPeak A/T tire is the perfect blend of off-road capability and street driving and proud to say that we have a product capable of enduring obstacles like those seen at King of the Hammers. Yet it still delivers a quiet and comfortable ride while commuting. The Falken WildPeak A/T truly is the best of both worlds.”