With two-thirds of the 2012 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship series done and dusted, Red Bull KTM’s Ryan Dungey finds himself in the driver’s seat of the 450-class title race.
Barring something unforeseen, Dungey’s six-straight overall wins and resulting 80-point lead in the championship points chase make him all but a shoe-in for his second premier-class crown in the outdoors, but the humble Minnesota native isn’t counting his bonus check just yet. Hard work and determination got him where he is today, and Dungey has no plans of slowing down until the final wave of the checkers at the Lake Elsinore National on September 8.
Though four races remain on the 2012 outdoor schedule, Dungey will likely put a mathematical lock on the championship a round or two before it ends. Collecting title number two in the 450 class will no doubt be sweet for RD, but perhaps the true beneficiary of the team’s efforts will be KTM, as the Austrian manufacturer is set to celebrate their first-ever championship in U.S. motocross history.
With a short break in the action before round nine at Southwick on August 11, we sat down with Dungey to get his take on what’s shaping up to be a groundbreaking summer for team Red Bull KTM.
We were prepared to kick things off with a question about your 12 straight moto wins, but unfortunately Mike Alessi stepped in the way of that at Washougal two weekends ago. How bummed were you to have your streak snapped?
It was a huge bummer, for sure. I got off to a decent start and made some quick passes to move into second early on. I think Mike had about a five-second lead at that point. I closed the gap quickly but ended up having a tough time getting by him. It seemed like every line funneled into the same place, and I ended up going down while trying to get around him. I found myself about five seconds down again, but was back on his rear fender within a lap or two. In the end, I just couldn’t find a way around, and time ran out on me.
Alessi’s known for getting great starts and then riding a really wide bike, which definitely played into his favor at Washougal. Do you regret not getting a little more aggressive to force your way around him?
Not really. Well, maybe a little bit at the time [laughs]. It was definitely disappointing to have my streak snapped, but at the end of the day I’m going for a championship, so I need to be smart. I’ve had a lot of great rides this season and have a lot to be thankful for, so I can’t beat myself up over one moto loss. Yeah, I could have probably forced the issue a bit more, but that’s not really my style. You really have to weigh the benefits at the time. If you make it a habit of slamming into people, all you’re really doing is creating enemies and increasing the chances of breaking your bike or crashing out.
On the plus side, you put a good old-fashioned beating on everyone in moto two to secure the overall win. Did you feel like you had a point to prove after losing the opening moto?
I don’t know that I necessarily had a point to prove, but I was definitely motivated. Coming up short in moto one no doubt fueled the fire to go out and win the overall. I knew I just needed to brush it off and focus on getting a strong start in moto two, which I was able to do. I got the overall, I’m healthy and I still have a comfortable points lead, so in the end the weekend was still positive.
Let’s rewind a bit for a second. You came into 2012 on a new team, with a new, unproven bike, and countless critics questioning your decision to do so. With four Supercross wins and a healthy lead in the outdoor National championship series now in your possession, how would you rate your transition over to Red Bull KTM?
When I signed with Red Bull KTM there was obviously a little bit of risk involved like there is with anything new and uncertain, but I still felt good about it. Everyone involved, including all of the crew over in Austria, proved from the very beginning that they are willing to do anything and everything in their power to win races and championships, and I couldn’t be more excited about where we’re at today.
Despite my injury, we got four race wins in Supercross, and now, as you mentioned, we’re in a great position to win the outdoor championship. We still have four more races to go, but I’d say it’s been a pretty successful transition so far. And hey, we’ll always have critics. That’s just a part of what we do.
You and the team have accomplished several firsts for the Austrian brand this year. You secured their first Supercross-class main event win; their first outdoor moto win; their first outdoor overall win, and you’re now in a great position to give them their first AMA Pro Motocross Championship. That’s got to feel pretty amazing to break that kind of ground…
It definitely does. It means a lot. Winning races and championships is what we, as riders, get paid to do, though, so this is exactly what I set out to accomplish at the beginning of the year. It was really cool that they believed in me enough to bring me aboard, and being this close to winning a championship for them feels amazing. It’s definitely a great piece of history to be a part of, but there’s a huge staff of people involved that are helping to make it happen -- it’s not just me.
As the outdoor series continues unfolding you appear to be getting better and better. Other than that opening moto loss at Washougal, you’ve been absolutely dominant at the last six rounds. Can you pinpoint why everything seems to be clicking so well at the moment?
I think it’s an entire package of things, starting with the people around me. When you’re developing a race bike, you absolutely have to have a great crew around you to keep things advancing in a positive direction. Coming into this year, the bike was brand new, and there have been points throughout the season that we’ve had to make some changes to continue moving forward. As a rider, I only know so much about bike development, so it’s critical to have an expert crew around me to make the right decisions.
Of course, there’s also the work that only I can put in to be prepared physically and mentally, and all of it just seems to be coming together right now. It’s a nice feeling, and definitely instills confidence on race day.
A huge part of being successful in motocross hinges on the ability to stay healthy, and unfortunately a few of your toughest competitors are sidelined right now. Does not having the likes of Ryan Villopoto, Chad Reed and James Stewart present at all of the rounds this summer alter the way you prepare, or perhaps even lessen the significance of the series?
No, not at all. Whether those guys are there or not, I still have to put in the work and focus on racing, so the self-satisfaction is still meaningful. Of course I want those guys there, though. As a competitor, you want to prove yourself against the best… That’s how you progress. That said, their injuries are out of my control. Being healthy is a big part of our sport, and I feel that I’m ready and prepared for when those guys come back. I hope we’re all healthy when 2013 kicks off, but until then I’m going to continue working hard and executing my racing strategy the same as if they were present.
With just four rounds to go and a massive 80-point lead in your favor, can you just throw it in cruise control now and enjoy your summer?
[Laughs] No, that’s not my style. There’s still plenty of work to get done, and I won’t let down until this series is completely over. Besides, winning races is how I enjoy my summer!
You’re a focused, intense guy when you’re at the track; what do you do to loosen up and have fun when you’re not on your motorcycle?
I like to think that I’m just like everyone else when I have free time. I enjoy hanging out with my family at home in Minnesota, of course, and whenever possible my girlfriend and I like to spend time on the beach down in Florida. I like golfing and wakeboarding a lot, but one of my favorite things is heading up north to fish, camp and hang out with the family. Racing is a 24-7 deal most of the year, but I do my best to loosen up when I can.