Monday Conversation: Ryan Villopoto & James Stewart

Monday Conversation: Ryan Villopoto & James Stewart

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 If there’s one thing you can count on, it’s that Ryan Villopoto always seems to get stronger as the year plays out. Unfortunately for the competition, he’s showing signs of hitting his stride earlier than normal this year after encountering a few stumbling blocks at the Anaheim races. In Oakland, Villopoto said they’d made some significant changes to the bike during the week and it showed; the Monster Energy Kawasaki rider was fastest in qualifying, led every lap of the main and was never under any real pressure from anyone. Here’s what he had to see after taking his second win of 2014.

Racer X: Another win in Oakland for you.
Ryan Villopoto: Yeah, there’s a lot of guys that are quick, so it’s good to get a win, not only tonight but multiple wins on the season.

Did you make any changes on the bike during the week?
Yes, we made some more changes. We’ve been changing it since Anaheim 1. It’s kind of like last year, just running through things. We felt like we were a ways off at Anaheim, and we’ve been doing a lot of testing during the week, and I think we’ve kind of found an area where I’m more comfortable on the bike, and I feel like I can ride it the way I want it. It’s a lot more stable, it corners better and I can go through whoops better. We made some pretty big improvements over last week.

Villopoto captured his second win of the season in Oakland.Photo: Simon Cudby
Villopoto captured his second win of the season in Oakland.Photo: Simon Cudby

Talk about your start.
I had a great start out of the gate, and I’ll have to go back and watch the film to see exactly what happened, but I either wheelied or spun a little bit and [Justin] Brayton was able to come up the inside and just push me a little wide. I couldn’t sneak back underneath him, his wheel was a little too close, but it was a good start regardless, and I was able to come out of there pretty close to the lead.

What did you think of the track?
It was good, we finally had some better dirt. At Anaheim I asked one of the Dirt Wurx guys when the last time Anaheim had new dirt. It’s coming down to where the dirt there is really no good anymore. That’s what it feels like. I’ve raced Anaheim, what, nine years now? It seems like it’s gotten way worse in the last couple years. And no rain and no moisture in it definitely plays a part in that too, but I think its time for some new dirt. We came to Oakland this weekend, and normally it’s a 50/50 chance of rain, but it’s been clear and the dirt was still good. It was a really good racetrack.

How do you wear out dirt?
It’s us riding on it, it’s monster trucks riding on it, it accumulates rocks and it sits out all season when we’re not using it. You can wear it out

It looked like there were some places where you could separate yourselves out there.
Yeah there were, but also we were able to push the bike and push the track to its limit. Whereas when you have a track like last week at Anaheim you have to pretty much tiptoe around it and try not to slide out or fall over. It’s hard to race that track. Smoother and slower is faster there, whereas tonight you could ride it hard and see a difference.

RV is now seven points clear of Chad Reed.Photo: Simon Cudby
RV is now seven points clear of Chad Reed.Photo: Simon Cudby

How much did it deteriorate after practice?
A fair amount, especially now. The dirt here is pretty soft and it deteriorates pretty quickly. They try to keep up on it, but there’s just not much time once seven o’clock rolls around.

Do you feel like you’re where you want to be now?
I’m in a good spot. Obviously we can all do better and be better and race better, so we’ll keep trying to work on that. But I feel like I’m in a pretty good spot. It’s going to be tight for quite a while. Obviously if someone starts stringing a bunch of wins together that will change, but the way the field is now it’s going to take perfect starts and perfect laps to get a big points lead.

A big crash while battling for the lead at Anaheim 1 led everything to think, “Same old crash-or-win James Stewart.” But indeed something does seem different about Stewart since, he’s been solid and consistent in the 60 main event laps run since, and has been basically error-free in every lap except that bad one at the opener.After his second-straight second-place finish, we caught up with the Yoshimura Suzuki rider.

Racer X: How was it?
James Stewart: I felt like we made some good changes with the bike. All year, even in the last two weeks, the best I’ve ridden has been in the main event. I pride myself on my fitness and that flu took it out of me, but tonight is more like how we should be racing. We’ll be all right.

Was this one of the better tracks of the year?
I think in the main event it was better. The way they’ve been building the whoops this year is kind of dangerous. They’re just built really steep. You can build them ten feet tall, but when they’re really steep and guys miss them, they just endo. In practice I said, ‘Do you guys want to have a series, or are you going to have people hurt?’ They changed them, so that was better. The split lane was actually kind of fun. It kind of evened out. And that quad, I have to give Wil Hahn credit on that one. I saw him do it and that made me sack up and do it. I hit it in the main event and went from there.

James Stewart made it back-to-back podiums with a second in Oakland. Photo: Simon Cudby
James Stewart made it back-to-back podiums with a second in Oakland. Photo: Simon Cudby

You didn’t do the quad every lap. Was that because it was sketchy, or was it not that much faster?
It was faster, I just had lappers sometimes and it was more just having a clean track to do it. It was sketchy, but I did it. It was just whether or not I had a clean line.

It looked like you made a push at the end there.
Yeah, I felt good, kind of like Anaheim, and eight or nine laps in I started kicking it up another gear. But he was just a little too far for me to run him down without taking the chance of going down. Unfortunately I put myself in that situation in Anaheim. But these last three races have been really consistent. You take away that crash at A1 and we’re on the podium in three of four weeks. So I’m looking at that, looking at the big picture. When we head east I think I’ll get stronger and my fitness will get better after being sick. I’m looking forward to the rest of this season.

Is there a little more built-in restraint these days?
Yeah. I told someone last week that the difference between me this year and a few years ago is that I honestly don’t care if I win a race or not. If I win the championship I’ll be happy, and when I’m out there racing I’m managing my situation with points and all that. I know I still have James Stewart speed, and I know I have the fitness. When I’m in the zone I feel like I’m going to be tough to beat. Ryan is going to be tough to beat too.

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