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Ben Townley on Villopoto

BikesportNZ Interview

maddix park mx

The world can’t wait for the 2015 Motocross Grand Prix season to kick off and it’s probably all because of one man … American motocross hero Ryan Villopoto.

Words and photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com 

BikesportNZ.com’s Andy McGechan decided to do a Q&A interview with one of Villopoto’s former team-mates, Kiwi motocross great Ben Townley, to ask him his views on the recent news that multi-time US champion Villopoto will be racing the MXGP season in Europe for the first time next year.

The man from Taupo was Villopoto’s team-mate in the United States in 2007 and what a season that was with the two Pro Circuit Kawasaki riders banging handlebars throughout the outdoor motocross series, Villopoto eventually winning the US 250cc title, but Townley finishing not that far behind.

A much-anticipated clash between the two young men at the Motocross of Nations in Budd’s Creek, Maryland, at the end of that 2007 season never eventuated because Townley crashed heavily during practice on the Saturday. Villopoto, meanwhile, stunned the world when he went out the following day and demolished everyone, including his soon-to-retire team-mate Ricky Carmichael, riding a Kawasaki KX250F as MX2 rider to Team USA.

Townley was just as good as Villopoto at that time – The Kiwi had won the MX2 world championship in 2004 and then proved he could handle the transition from Grand Prix racing to tackling the AMA circuit.

The question the world wants answers to now is can Villopoto do the same thing as he switches from a career racing in the US to campaigning a full season in Europe?

Q: What was your initial reaction when you learned that Ryan Villopoto was heading to Europe for 2015?

A: I was excited for the sport; to have an American great go to Europe is a great thing for the sport as a whole. We’ve seen rider after rider go to the USA from Europe, but hardly any riders with RV’s credentials go the other way. It has already lifted the buzz and we are five months away still from the first round.

Q: Is he doing the right thing? Is he trying to prove something to his fans or to himself?

A: I personally think it’s a good decision for him. He looked burned out at the end of Supercross and (talk of) retirement was thrown around and I’m sure, financially, he is going to do well out of it for doing 2/3 the amount of events compared to the US! He doesn’t have anything left to prove if you ask me.

Q: You were MX2 world champion in 2004, just three seasons after you first touched down in Europe … can he be a world champion at his first (and possibly his only) attempt?

A: He’s a nine-time US Champion … of course he can win straight up!

Q. There are things in Europe that will catch him out. What will trip him up?

A: Well, the biggest factors are the lifestyle and living changes for an American rider. If he has an open mind and can enjoy the culture, it will help a lot. He’s in his late 20′s now, he ain’t 16 and living the dream like I was when I first went there, so it will be interesting to see if he can embrace the culture and not be thinking about the difference of his life in the US all of the time.

Q: You were his team-mate in the United States in 2007 and that season certainly produced some of the best 250cc class action ever seen over there as you and Villopoto banged bars throughout the outdoor series. You obviously know better than most people how to beat him. What weaknesses does he have? How did you beat him?

A: I’m not sure he has many weaknesses; I couldn’t find them, ha ha. Since then he has taken his entire programme to the highest level and it has shown when he is healthy he has won.

Q: Ryan Villopoto is obviously an extremely talented individual and the Americans like to believe their national series is the toughest competition in the world, but it’s not the world championships is it? You have raced both the motocross world championships and the AMA series and won races and titles in both, so what do you believe?

A: I don’t sway either way really on this one. I think each series has its place in the sport. The World Championship is so different; you race all over the world on different terrain, one weekend the track can be as hard as the road and the next round is like riding on the beach. In the US you race from January until end August and the first part of the year is almost 17 weekends straight, which is very demanding on the body and the pressure surrounding the top few guys is high with Supercross added in compared to Europe. Both are very different.

Q: Villopoto has raced the Motocross of Nations many times, so the pace of riders such as eight-time and current world champion Antonio Cairoli, Frenchman Gautier Paulin, Belgian Clement Desalle and Germany’s Max Nagl won’t surprise him will they?

A: No not at all, they’re fast and speed has never been an issue for those guys! What will be different for Cairoli with RV is that he is mentally very strong. I believe that Tony has those other guys mentally beaten most of the time before the gate even drops, so it will be interesting to see if they can rise up and lift their own game. Paulin and Desalle have definitely have shown glimpses, but they can’t match Tony week-in week-out and that’s been disappointing to watch from them.

Q: What will be Villopoto’s biggest strength or asset?

A: That he’s a very determined and tenacious racer. Maybe that’s the red hair coming out in him, ha ha.

Q: Will fan and media pressure distract him from his task?

A: This will definitely be a factor, I think. He is already in the spotlight more than ever now and that is only going to grow into next year and it looked from the outside this year like he was a little over dealing with all that. Well that’s about to go to another level in Europe now for him.

Q: Lastly, have you communicated with Villopoto in recent times? What advice would you offer him?

A: I chat to him now and then … we mainly trade pictures of fish and I show him how big the trout are in NZ, ha ha. If I was to give him advice, it would be to embrace the culture and enjoy it, everything is different to home from tracks to food, so accept it and get on with it.

 
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