Friday night at Le Mans and the MotoGP paddock has finally quietened. Mechanics and staff are busy toiling in the claustrophobic pit garages and the odd bike engine revs in the distance. The Grand Prix of France is just getting-going. There might be an eight-hour time difference to the west coast of the USA but – in contrast our situation – the AMA Supercross series is on the edge of wrapping.
Roger De Coster calls and hands the telephone over to the 26 year old Red Bull KTM rider, crowned less than two weeks ago as the best Supercross racer on the planet for a second year in succession. It’s press day at the Sam Boyd stadium in Las Vegas and the last round of seventeen in a gruelling schedule that has seen the KTM crew cover the breadth of North America since the second weekend of January.
Ryan Dungey has already talked about himself, his victorious and record-setting season, his works 450 SX-F, the teams, the training and the whole package repeatedly since re-booking his No.1 plate for 2017. About to walk down to the infield he still chats animatedly about his last spoils and third title even if the scene and circus around him is now at its biggest and probably most demanding. Rather than picking apart a campaign that most likely passed in a blur we try to focus on how Ryan feels being at the top of the tree …
Did winning this second title bring a sensation of relief just as much as satisfaction? The knowledge you had reconfirmed your performance level and capability from 2015?
“Erm, more than a relief I think it is just excitement. The first title was important but from the team, sponsors and manufacturer side it was good to keep up progress and try to push and do it again. We knew that if we did that then we’d have a good chance. Personally, and for my career, I haven’t gone back-to-back and it felt like there was a weight there. So I was conscious of that and we’re talking about Supercross, which is the height of our sport. It was my challenge this year and the fact that we did it as a team again means we can celebrate all the effort and the hard work to get it done.”
The last win is still fresh but are you conscious of the fact that you are leaving a legacy in this sport and your stock probably couldn’t be any higher right now … ?
“Yes and no! You know our sport. It is ‘onto the next one’! The next championship and the next race. It is important to stop and celebrate the good moments. I am trying to be the best that I can be, and that’s off the track as well. I want to be a good ambassador for the sport and a good role model. I hope I can encourage people and maybe young and upcoming riders as I once felt encouraged by riders like [Jeremy] McGrath and [Ricky] Carmichael.”
It is such a packed program for you with training, racing and other promo commitments. Is it possible to hit a limit? To reach a point where you cannot possible do, travel, talk or work any more?
“Your enemies would like to think so and that perhaps you’ve had your best days … but I honestly hope my best days are yet to come. It can be hard and for sure to get in the position we are means it [life, training] can be physically and mentally taxing but it’s important to have the right perspective. Like I was saying earlier I want to be the guy that can still stop and talk to fans and kids and say ‘hi!’ … I know just a few words can make the difference because I was once in their position. We can be busy … but I want to use the influence that I have and also do the right – and good – job for the brands and the sponsors and the people that are with us. I don’t want to take any of this for granted and we have worked hard to be in this position.”
It seemed like the KTM 450 SX-F didn’t miss a beat this season. Was there much difference between the 2015 and current race bike?
“Last year the 450 was brand new and we had to figure it out. It caught us off-guard a little bit at the start of both championships but when it came to this season we had a lot more data and ideas for the best direction. It is a big credit to the team and manufacturer because we were looking for tenths [of a second] and just fine-tuning and changing little bits and pieces, whether it was to the chassis or the engine. I still think we have some potential [to improve more].”
Was there one race or moment where you were hitting your peak? A stage where you really felt you were at the very top of your game?
“Maybe not my peak but I think we started to be really strong in that small spell at Santa Clara, Indy [Indianapolis] and St Louis. We had some pressure from the other riders and Ken [Roczen] was coming on strong and fast. It was close. We were pushing the limit of the bike as well as physically. The most enjoyable race? I’d have to say Indy. The track was so rutted and soft and just deteriorated lap on lap; that was the best one.”
Lastly, we are doing this call from the Le Mans MotoGP and I asked 2017 KTM rider [and very keen Motocrosser] Bradley Smith if there was a question he’d like to ask you. He replied: “Ask Ryan what chassis is better: the 350 or the 450? I’m curious about that”. So … ?
“Ha! Honestly I have never really ridden the 350. I have all the power I need! I’m sure that both bikes will offer Bradley what he wants but I cannot really comment on which chassis is better. Bradley will have to ride both and let me know!”