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Monday Conversation II: Ryan Villopoto

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Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Ryan Villopoto finally lived up to his nickname “Villo-podium” at the Houston Supercross. Even more interesting than that, though, is that Villopoto says it’s his first-ever third-place finish in either class. We sat down with the Kawasaki star and talked to him about his night, and what he expects from himself.

Racer X: It’s four races into your 450cc career, and you put it on the box. Did you think it would be easier than that, or harder than that? Or did you think it would happen sooner?
Ryan Villopoto: I expected to be up there right away. The first two rounds didn’t go the way I wanted them to, and then it was better at Anaheim II – I ended up fourth, just off the box. I wanted to be up there, but I made progress. I’ve made steps forward every week, and I came here and rode a good qualifier – actually, I should say a bad qualifier, but it started off good. But I went down and got like sixth, so I had the 12th gate pick and started probably three or four from the very inside. I wasn’t sketched out about being that far inside, but it wasn’t ideal. But I was able to get a good start, get out there, and in the third turn, I was able to pass Mike [Alessi] right away and lead for a while.

For that little while that you were leading, it didn’t look like James Stewart was really catching you...
I didn’t really see that, but maybe he wasn’t, and then I started making some mistakes before he actually got to me, which made it easier for him to catch me. Once he caught me, he passed me, I passed him back – which was kind of cool, and I was able to hear the crowd on that one – but then when he did pass me, I stayed pretty close to him. I didn’t get pulled a huge amount, just a little bit here and there. And then I held second for quite a while and then laid her over in the turn.

Is it easier to make mistakes on a 450 than a 250F?
[Pause] I mean, racing it, yes. Actually racing it, yes. If you want to just ride it around and not really try to go for it, it’s easier to ride a 450, but really racing it, it’s tough.

I’ve heard that from other top riders that everything’s fine until you gas it just a little bit more to pass someone and that “little bit” can make a big difference on a 450...
Yeah, it’s got so much power that you gas it and you’re to the turn, or off a jump and you’re way up in the air, so it’s definitely a harder bike to race, for sure.

When you were leading, what was going through your head? You were out there more or less by yourself, so did you start having lapses in concentration or were you just trying too hard, or something else?
I don’t know. Being up front and wanting to stay up front, I was probably brain-farting a little bit, but other than that, I was just overshooting stuff here and there and making little mistakes. But I was able to run up front for a while, and if I’m racing with James and Chad [Reed], then I’m going to be on the box, and that’s my goal, is to race with the guys every weekend, and if I can race with them, then obviously I’m going to be able to see what they’re doing and I’ll be able to get a little bit faster.

And then hopefully, at some point, stand in the middle of the box, right?
Yeah, so that’s my goal, which is to race with James and Chad and be there in case Anaheim I happens over again – they both go down. If I pick it up and I can be right there racing with them, then maybe I can race with the guys and pass them back and forth and really put in a fight.

At the Anaheim I press conference, Chad Reed made a comment that he expects you to be up there with them. I think other people think the same. Do you feel that as well?
I expect to be up front, and the whole team expects me to be up front. They didn’t hire me to ride in fifth place, so I expect myself to be up there, and so does everybody else that’s putting in the time and effort. I think, obviously, when it doesn’t happen, we’re all bummed.

{LINKS}There’s a difference between thinking you can run the pace and knowing you can, right?
Yeah, there definitely is, and the start helps out a lot. I know I can run with those guys, and my lap times showed it, when in the second practice I was able to knock off a second and end up second overall for times in that session, so I can definitely be there, and without that fall, I know I could’ve at least held Chad off for five more laps. Where that five more laps ended up to be – whether it was lap fifteen or eighteen – who knows? But maybe I could’ve ended up with second. But I’m going to keep trying.
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