Ryan Dungey comes into this year’s Monster Energy Supercross season with a target on his back. It’s a familiar feeling for the 23-year-old Minnesotan who was in a similar situation two seasons ago after netting his first-ever Supercross and AMA Motocross championships. This time Dungey is riding for the Orange Team aboard KTM’s latest 450 SX-F Factory Edition, a motorcycle based off the same homologated racer you can purchase at your KTM dealer this spring.
“Everything’s been going great,” says Dungey when asked how his 2012 season ended. “The Motocross of Nations was a little tougher—it was one of the toughest races of my career but I gained a lot of experience.”
“Well the track just caught me off guard,” he explains in reference to the challenging track conditions which the American MXdN squad faced this past summer at Belgium’s Lommel track. “We got there early to test a little bit in the sand – and there was some deep sand that we practiced in, but as soon as it came time for racing it was different. I wasn’t way out there, but at the same time, for me it was just lack of experience – in that kind of sand. It was the deepest sand I’ve ever raced in.”
The tough track conditions and lack of ultra-deep sand riding experience were the primary reason why the American’s finished third this year, ending our seven-year win streak.
“From what I understand even back in Roger’s day [De Coster, KTM’s team manager and former pro motocrosser during the ‘70s] they’d go race there and would get their butts handed to them because some of the Europeans were so experienced there and developed a technique for riding it. Over time those guys get to spend months and basically live there… That’s no excuse. I mean, definitely it was tough conditions for myself and the team. I guess I didn’t really know what we were going up against. Unfortunately we didn’t walk away with the Chamberlain Trophy but we gave it all we had, we raced as a team and worked together as best as we could. Sometimes you can’t win them all. But I can say we did everything we could and we will be more ready for a race like that next time.”
Upon returning to the U.S. he and his KTM team went back to work preparing for October’s second-annual Monster Energy Cup race that takes place in Las Vegas, Nevada.
“We got right back into Supercross testing and getting ready for the Monster Cup,” remembers Dungey. “It was cool because in that short two week span we made a lot of progress. And that was possible just from the experience we gained from outdoors and the previous season of Supercross. We really kind of honed-in on how we could improve and were able to make some big progress. It was a good time to test and things got quite a bit better. Racing the Monster Cup went really good. We had a couple setbacks there—it could have been a little bit better—but we came out safe and healthy and mainly got to see where we were with the bike and got to put it under race conditions. And that’s where problems are really going to stick out. After that we actually did a little more testing and then I took a couple weeks off and kind of got refreshed before getting back in it going full bore here for Supercross.”
Considering the grueling demands of competing in-and-outdoors, pro moto racers don’t have a whole lot of time to relax during the year. That’s why Dungey says it’s important to enjoy some time off away from the motorcycle in order to recharge the batteries.
“If you think about it, we’re on the gas for almost 50 straight weeks,” reveals the reigning champ. “From training and riding every week, to flying all over the place—it’s lot of wear and tear on the body. We only get a really small window of off-season so it’s kind of mandatory—you need to take a little time off and let your body refresh—and that can include easy bike rides (pedal bikes) to just chilling. Mainly it’s just about having fun and doing the things you haven’t gotten a chance to do all year, whether it’s hanging with the family or whatever. I went to Minnesota and hung out with some family friends and just had a good time; eating the foods you probably shouldn’t [smiles]—and enjoying all the good things in life that get your mind off things and take you away from all the stress. After that it’s time to slowly get back into things and prepare to get back to race pace and hopefully beyond that.”
Dungey is in the second and final year of his contract with the Austrian motorcycle manufacturer. Having never raced professionally for any other team aside from Suzuki, Dungey is in a unique position to recognize some of the pluses and/or minus of working for a smaller team.
“The first year of the two has been amazing,” he claims. “Coming on board and having an atmosphere with all the mechanics and all the riders and just everyone getting along—that’s cool. It’s a good vibe. When it’s time to work we get our work done, when it’s time to play we play. If something is not working we address it and fix it. That way nothing gets in the way of the job we’re trying to do. KTM’s main focus is on racing dirt bikes. When we say ‘hey we need this’ it happens in a shorter amount of time so we’re able to improve quicker and faster.”
The 23-year-old from Minnesota will have a target on his back this season after winning the Supercross championship last year.
Similar to what some of the Japanese manufactures were doing in the street and road race scene during the ‘90s, in which manufactures would sell limited-edition motorcycles featuring trick and expensive works-style parts in order to meet racing homologation requirements, KTM is following suit with its Factory Edition production racer. But how much better is the 2013 model compared to last years? Dungey explains:
“With all the testing and being a part of the bike building process from the ground up to where it is now as a complete factory race bike, we definitely had a lot of stuff to sort through last year. There are a few minor changes, things with the chassis that will be helpful [this season]. If I said our bike was 100% last year, now I would say it’s 10 to 20% better. I feel like we made some gains with the bike – things that are going to help not only myself, but other riders too. The bike is more comfortable, handles better and all in all is just a better riding bike. It’s funny because the littlest issues can seem like the biggest when you’re looking for tenths [of a second]. For other riders, or a guy who just wants to ride locally and have fun and enjoy the bike, they will be impressed with the new one. It’s comfortable, it handles really good, especially with the steel frame—it disperses the energy a little bit better so you get a better ride. I really took a liking to it quickly and I think with these added changes it’s going to be that much better.”
With the crazy high-level of competition that defines the opening rounds of Supercross, Dungey talks about some of the guys that he believes will give him the most grief on track:
Dungey acknowledges his competition but says he plans to focus on his own program in order to come out No. 1 this year.
“I think there are a lot of great guys. It’s tough to say, you know? [Ryan] Villopoto winning the championship the last two years—he’ll be a tough competitor for sure. As well as guys like Chad [Reed] and James [Stewart] and a couple guys coming from the 250 class. I think it is important not to underestimate anybody and just be ready on our part for anything that may come our way. It’s all about handling each and every one of those situations; from the mind games that some play off-and-on track, to putting in our best performance every weekend. I think it’s important just to focus on ourselves, solid finishes and consistency. It’s going to be a long season. Seventeen races is a lot of racing so anything can happen. Never get too comfortable but always be ready for what lies ahead.”