After visiting Qatar, Thailand, and Argentina, the 2015 MXGP World Championship arrived last weekend in Italy for their first European event. Pietramurata, a typically tight, rocky, and compact facility in the shadow of the stunning Dolomite mountains, was packed with spectators. Expectations were high for the 8-time World Champion Tony Cairoli, but the spotlights were on the American star, Ryan Villopoto.
In the first moto on Sunday, Villopoto fought hard with Tony Cairoli but narrowly missed the podium and finished fourth. Villopoto crashed out in the second moto, while being pressured by Desalle for third. In the heavy fall, RV hurt his tailbone, which may keep him from racing this weekend in Holland.
I met Villopoto at Kawasaki hospitality, where a loud group of fans had gathered outside to wait for the American star. I was expecting a living legend, considering that no supercross champion had ever left the AMA series before to join the FIM circuit to seek a world title. But in front of me was a man who had reached the peak of his professional career and is just aiming at a normal life, whatever that is.
Cycle World: A stranger in a strange land, how do you feel?
Ryan Villopoto: I never thought it was going to be easy. No matter what you are doing and who you are, making the decision of coming over here and racing was not easy. Everybody says, “he is the best” or “one of the best,” but coming here and racing on the European soil, is definitely different.
CW: Four races in four different continents. What surprised you most of the whole experience?
RV: Just the fact of how different it is. Nothing is the same, it’s hard to explain. The team, for example. You have a new team, you get along well, but you are a foreigner. In the States, I raced for Kawasaki and they are like brothers. I cannot say that I am homesick. I know that back home everyone is watching and keeping up, but in this new world I feel kind of disconnected from what I was used to.
CW: Are you riding 100 percent or are you still adapting?
RV: I don’t know if I will stop adapting this whole season, especially because all the tracks are new to me. I have no reference data, while these guys have a setting they know. For me it’s showing up in the dark.
CW: Regarding the racing, what are the main differences?
RV: In the US, we play checkers. It is a fast paced and aggressive game, where strategy counts but not so much. MXGP is like playing chess: Strategy is crucial and the pace is slower. You take your time and I find it harder. I’m a kind of aggressive person. On a track I am either “on or off.” But here I had to slow down. I made many mistakes, always trying to adapt quickly to the new tracks. The whole thing is so different.
CW: Who is the man to beat?
RV: I’d rather be the man! It seems that right now nobody is really established. There is not “The Guy” to beat every single weekend. There are a lot out there. Max (Nagl) has more wins so far, Desalle has been really good, Tony (Cairoli) has been good. I have been a little up and down.
CW: Looking at Ryan Dungey, newly crowned 2015 AMA Supercross champion, do you have some regrets?
RV: No regrets. A guy like Dungey works really hard. He was the perfect guy to win and it makes me look better. I raced Dungey for many years and beat him. Now he has found the next level, he is mentally strong and that’s it.
CW: Let’s say you nearly win the MXGP championship. Will you be back another year?
RV: Before any gates ever dropped, my decision was my decision, regardless of the results. That decision can change, obviously, like any decision. But I wanted to make it clear before the start of the season.
CW: It looks like you have a lot in common with Casey Stoner. Did you discuss with him your decision to retire in 2016?
RV: I met Casey for the first time last April at Houston Supercross. He came to a couple of races and then he came to stay at my house for a month. I had only met him two weeks before and we talked a lot. It was good to talk to someone on the same level. We talked about the decision to retire, how we grew up, and so on. We have a lot of stuff in common, we just come from two different parts of the world.
CW: Like Casey, you decided to stop when you are still in your prime. Why?
RV: At this level, there are a lot of things you dislike, but they are part of the job. Being in our positions since we were kids, we grow up and don’t have a normal life. Whatever normal is, I want to find out, whether it’s good or bad. At our level, you cannot be successful, as I have been, and have a normal life. I want a normal life. It’s a risky job and when you bring kids into the mix you don’t want to be hurt. But it’s not all about kids. I just want to have a normal life.
CW: Will you miss the adrenaline of the race?
RV: There will be things I will miss, and things I don’t. The traveling, the training schedule…
CW: Have you planned for the future? What about car racing?
RV: I have some ideas, but I want to give myself some time to decide what I really want. If I’m good at something else, I will have media, traveling and everything starts again.
CW: If you could edit your past, what would you change?
RV: I met a lot of great people in racing. I made good money so that I’m able to retire. I met my wife through the sport. Would I change something? Maybe yes, but then I wouldn’t have met the people I know. Definitely I would have liked to see some things go differently, but that’s just the way it is. It’s life and you move on.
CW: Who would you like to be for a day?
RV: Everybody thinks the grass is greener on the other side. We all deal with the same bullshit in a different sport. This sport is complicated. I would rather be Ryan Villopoto.