AURORA, Ill. – The highly anticipated 2014 Monster Energy AMA Supercross, an FIM World Championship, will commence this Saturday at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, Calif., as three-time 450SX Class Championship Ryan Villopoto will stage his title defense against the deepest field of riders the sport has ever seen. Live coverage will begin at 10:00 p.m. ET of FOX Sports 1.
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.”
2014 Monster Energy Supercross Trailer
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.
Get the Flash Player to see this player.
Reed sits fourth on the all-time win list behind his longtime rival at 41, but went winless after a full season of competition for the first time in his career last year. Rider and owner of TwoTwo Motorsports, Reed has changed manufacturers, moving from Honda to Kawasaki, in hopes of a fresh start as he enters his 12th season of 450SX Class competition. He holds the record for the most podium finishes in history with 121 in 162 starts.
Dungey, who became the second 450SX Class rookie to ever win a title in 2010, closed out the 2013 season in third place with an average finish of 3.3 and two wins, one of them at the final race inside the Minneapolis Metrodome in front of his hometown crowd in Minnesota. A winner of 13 Main Events, Dungey has not finished a season outside of the top three in the standings in four years of 450SX Class action.
Last year signified Barcia’s rookie season in the premier division and he emerged with two victories, the first being at the second race of the season in Phoenix followed by a similarly dominant effort in Seattle later in the year. Barcia joined Sebastien Tortelli and Damon Bradshaw as the only riders to win a Main Event within the first two races of their 450SX Class careers.
On how to beat Villopoto, Barcia said, “Consistency is the key. He is very consistent each weekend so to be in the hunt for the championship, I need to do the same.”
Tomac has emerged as one of the sport’s rising stars the past couple seasons, capturing the 250SX Class Western Regional crown in 2012 and coming just a couple points short of defending that title last season. He is arguably the leader of the rookie group making their premier class debut this season and past experience through select races in the 450SX Class should work in his favor. In 2012, Tomac turned heads with a podium effort at the Monster Energy Cup, proving he has the speed to compete with the world’s best.
Roczen has progressed alongside Tomac in the 250SX Class, with the duo establishing a captivating rivalry last season in their battle for the Western Regional title that Roczen ultimately came out on top of. The German native has also performed well in select 450SX Class Main Events, finishing second in Seattle in 2012 while also compiling many laps led. He, like his fellow rookie, knows what it takes to run up front in the premier class and could be an early contender once the season begins.
During the off-season Roczen implemented a major change to his training program by moving to Florida to prepare for his 2014 season alongside Villopoto and his trainer Aldon Baker.
“We’re friends, and I could say if I don’t win he’d be the guy that I’d want to see win,” said Villopoto. “It’s his first year moving up to the [450SX Class] so obviously it’s going to be a learning year for him and it’s a lot more racing than he’s used to.”
Two riders who will not line up on the gate this Saturday night are Davi Millsaps and Trey Canard. Millsaps, last season’s 450SX Class runner up, suffered a knee injury while training aboard his Rockstar Energy Racing KTM, while Canard broke his arm in preparations for the upcoming season with Team Honda Muscle Milk. Both riders will be out of action indefinitely, but are expected to return early in the season.
Angel Stadium has played host to 60 450SX Class and 52 Western Regional 250SX Class races. Monster Energy Supercross has sold out Angel Stadium 27 times since the 1999 season when it began hosting multiple races in the championship.
The first race held in Anaheim was on December 4, 1976, and Mart Smith won on a Honda. This weekend will mark the 61st time the gate will drop for a 450SX Class race in Anaheim and the 24th time the city has played host to the season opener. James Stewart, Ricky Carmichael and Jeremy McGrath are tied on the all-time 450SX Class win list at Anaheim with 8 victories. Ivan Tedesco holds the 250SX Class all-time win record in Anaheim with 5 victories. Angel Stadium is the only stop on the tour that will host three races – January 4, January 18 and February 1.
Tickets are available at the Angel Stadium Box Office, all Ticketmaster outlets, charge by phone (800) 745-3000, or online at www.SupercrossOnline.com or www.ticketmaster.com. Practice and qualifying begin at 12:30 p.m. and the Main Event starts at 7:00 p.m. Supervalue seats start at $20. Fans can also get in to the Pits for FREE from 12:30-6 p.m. Race Day when they recycle a MONSTER Energy Can at the stadium’s pit entrance (valid only with event ticket).
For the first-time ever, the entire Monster Energy Supercross season will air live on FOX Sports. FOX Sports 1 will air 13 races live and FOX Sports 2 will air four races live, in addition to every race re-airing on FOX Sports 2. The live Monster Energy Supercross programming on FOX Sports 1 and FOX Sports 2 also includes live coverage on the authenticated FOX Sports Go app.
For more information on the Monster Energy AMA Supercross, an FIM World Championship, please log on to www.SupercrossOnline.com.