Arguably the biggest storyline coming into the 50th anniversary season of the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship is the return of motocross legends Ryan Dungey and Antonio Cairoli to professional racing. Dungey, 32, retired from AMA Supercross and Motocross in 2017 after wrapping up his fourth Monster Energy AMA Supercross title but will contest all 12 rounds of Pro Motocross this summer. Cairoli, 36, announced his retirement from MXGP racing last fall but left the door open for a cameo in the USA which he will now commence starting off with the first two rounds in California before deciding whether he wishes to continue.
Both riders are some of the winningest motocross athletes of all-time and with neither Cooper Webb nor Marvin Musquin lining up this summer for Red Bull KTM, the opportunity for both Dungey and Cairoli was ripe for the picking. As they prepare to take on reigning Lucas Oil Pro Motocross champion Dylan Ferrandis, newly crowned Monster Energy AMA Supercross champion Eli Tomac, and a host of other extremely talented riders, both men spoke with the media via Zoom to discuss expectations coming into the opening round this weekend.
Ryan you are back, what was it about this time that all the cards finally lined up and you got to do what you wanted to do which is race this summer. What is it about getting back out there behind the gate that made you want to do it?
Ryan Dungey: Yeah, for sure, I seeked it out a couple of times, this time it worked out really well, we were doing some testing things were coming together. The opportunity kind of came about when a couple of the guys on the team were going to sit out for outdoors. Marvin’s not doing outdoors as well as Cooper, so it just opened up that opportunity and you know we were riding a good bit already, putting in a good time. And for me this is a challenge I wanted to pursue for a while, so thankfully it worked out now, and here we are going forward.
After the time away that you had, the chance to reflect on your hall of fame career the championships and the races that you won, do you come into this one with a different mindset? Are you going to be searching for the perfection that you always search for and the frustration that you felt sometimes, you know that that’s going to be a part of it, do you have a different outlook this time or is it just like 2015, 2016?
Dungey: Yeah, I mean I think I have a little bit different perspective, I am in a different place in my life with kids now and family, so all good things. For the most part I approach it the same way I did before, go out there apply myself, put in the time, the training, the riding to be prepared. And to get the most out of myself, for me it’s always been, I want to be in it to win it. You know it’s a tall order, these guys are going really good, and it’s been some years so Saturday is going to be the true test. I want to be in a good spot that first race and then just build upon it as the season goes on. So, there is a lot of unknown for me, just where I sit, I haven’t really been able to put it to the test. I mean, press day is press day which is good to be able to ride with the guys, but Saturday is going to be the true test. Eli [Tomac] will be there and all of the other guys too. So actually, just really looking forward to the challenge ahead.
Tony Cairoli, for you what’s the first impressions of being in the U.S. and what are the expectations going into this weekend? Tell us about that.
Tony Cairoli: Yeah, first of all I am really excited of course to be here because it has always been a dream to ride Pro Motocross nationals. I had the chance this year, even if I am out of the riding program, it feels great, and I am looking forward to it for sure.
Ryan I was just curious how you actually feel on the motorcycle compared to the last time you raced outdoors?
Dungey: Yeah, I actually feel pretty good. Since we have a whole new model this year with the 450, I actually got a chance to ride it last September, a prototype, and was really impressed by it. And when we were coming out and doing some outdoor testing just naturally gelled with the bike, things were good. Really pleased with it, it’s in a good spot. We really didn’t have to do a ton of work, sorted through the stuff really quick. So, I am really comfortable on the bike and then the biggest thing was just getting in the time. The amount of time, the months, to build up to be ready. So, I am really happy and pleased they did a good job.
Ryan, to follow up on that, how long have you had this plan? How much prep have you had, is it relatively short or have you actually been training and riding the normal amount of time you would like?
Dungey: Definitely it was pretty slim, about three months. You know I have always worked out and kept in shape, back home it was a little bit cold but it started getting warm there so we could start riding, but the biggest thing was the unknown. There for a while there was a period there, I just had to put in the time, if it did work out, there was a lot of things that KTM was waiting on, if the other riders were going to do it. So, I was just like, “You know what? I’m going to put in the time I am going to go ride, do my motos, do all my training and everything and if it works out, I’ll be ready, and if not, at least I’ll be in somewhat good shape for whatever.” So, I got the call, things were good, so I was already in a good spot then and then probably the last six weeks just really been able to kind of stack upon that, the training and the riding, and getting to the tracks, the environment that’s going to push me physically closer to what it’s going to be on race weekends.
Tony with you coming over here this is pretty much the bookmark on another part of your career, World Champion, Motocross of Nations you’ve done everything. Is there something about watching the Americans where you’re excited to race them? Is it the tracks you’re excited about? The competition? Is there a challenge that you see that maybe you’ve never faced before in the MXGP’s, is there anything that’s really caught your attention before these two races?
Cairoli: Actually I was a little bit bored with the MXGP, everything around the races, and I said Ok I have always wanted to do some racing in the U.S. where the tracks look amazing, and so many lines. And on the race day it’s so much nicer than the GP rounds where its mainly one lined. Here it looks everything more wide and more lines so I would always love to come of course I would have loved to do it when I was at the height of my career not when I am 37 years old, but it is still fantastic that I have the chance to be here.
Are you surprised at the reaction that you’ve gotten, because there are so many Americans that are just so excited to see this limited, little bit that we get to see you?
Cairoli: Yeah, I mean I have always throughout my career loved American fans, they keep in contact with me on the social and they say, “Oh you come over here for one race” or whatever, “we would love to see you at the races” and its fantastic. I mean I am just so pumped to be at the races and meet some fans that never had a chance to see me. Of course, it’s always nice, you know I am Italian, and we are really warm persons and it’s nice to hang out with fans and always to spend time with them so it will be nice.
Dungey, it’s awesome to see you back racing, what was the motivation that got you to come back and line up? These Pro Motocross races are no joke no matter how fit you are no matter how fast you are, no matter how good your bike is, its still brutal and challenging out there. I know you’ve mentioned already that you wanted to come back before, and this is the opportunity that finally worked out but what made you want to come back, and do you look back and wish that you hadn’t retired when you did? What was that motivation that got you back in the gym and to the track?
Dungey: Like I said there were a couple of different times I seeked it out, and for me I could look back at decisions made but it is what it is now, but I have also learned a lot these last... jeesh five years so I think at the end of the day racing is something I have always been passionate about, always something I have enjoyed. Not to mention it challenges you in so many different ways in multiple aspects. So, I wanted that challenge and I know outdoors is a pretty big one to step into, just with the motos, the heat and everything you named it all. But also having the courage to man up and do it as well, I think the thing that makes this possible too, like I said before, we have a family now which is awesome, so being able to be in Minnesota, train there, we got good tracks, we got a good set up and everything, so I don’t necessarily have to uproot the family. So, if this was something where I had to completely move states and uproot the family, I probably wouldn’t have been able to do it. So, I am excited like I said it’s been five years and these guys have gotten more experience, their foundations stronger, I have a ton of respect for all of these guys. But I think that it’s a huge challenge, and I think for me as a man, and personally just wanting to do that again. You’ve got two pathways, you can either choose the fear or faith, so I want to pursue it with open eyes and focus on the right thing and hope for the best and just apply myself every single weekend. Just excited to be out again.
That’s cool. Will we see you at Bakers factory midseason getting ready for east coast rounds?
Dungey: [Laughs] Well if it ain’t going so hot maybe they’ll send me down there but no I plan to stay in Minnesota the whole year so that’s the goal.
Cairoli, it’s so cool to have both you and Dungey here. Antonio what’s it like for you getting ready for Pala this weekend where we have qualifying right away, you get about 2 laps of free practice and then its green flag, qualifying right away. And then you get one more 15-minute qualifying session. You have about two hours and then you go racing, two 35-minute motos back-to-back. MXGP you guys have a whole day for practice, a whole free practice, a lot of time to get used to the track. Now it’s going to be quick moving, so is that something you’re going to be looking forward to, are you excited to have all the racing all in one day or is that something that’s going to be new for you?
Cairoli: Yeah, of course it’s going to be something new but I like one day more because my physical condition is not like ten years ago when I was 27 or 25. Now it takes longer but it is all in one day so it is a little bit better for me. I really like it. Of course, the practice is short, and the time, you need to put a good time quickly so this is not what we are used to, but we can figure it out hopefully and we can make a not so bad time hopefully.
Tony, obviously you’ve had some similar question some of these other guys have had about family, but you’ve been able to do some of these bucket list type things, travel to different countries and stuff like that. Is it more important for you to be able to do this now with your family right by your side? Can you talk about what that experience is like having your family with you?
Cairoli: Yeah, of course we have always wanted to come to the U.S. like I said and now to bring the family, its good, it’s nice because we can do a little bit of holiday together and meet some friends that we didn’t see for so long. This is just the approach that we are taking to the race at the moment: having fun and meeting friends. Riding has always been my passion and they have always been in the back [behind] of me, especially my wife for so many years. So, it’s nice to be here and hang out with them and try to have some fun.
Watch the full preseason 450 Class press conference below:
Main image by Spencer Owens