Ryan Villopoto’s knee injury boosts field’s title hopes for 2014 Motocross Nationals

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When the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship fires up in May, one key name will be missing from the starting gate.

Ryan Villopoto – the defending champion in the premier 450 Class and the most dominant rider active – will miss the entire 2014 outdoor season as he goes under the knife to fix a lingering knee issue.

On Saturday, Villopoto wrapped up the AMA Supercross season with his seventh win of the 17-race season. It capped off his fourth consecutive Supercross title, matching the record held by Jeremy McGrath.

With each title, Villopoto has inched closer to carving out a spot on the Mount Rushmore of motocross alongside legends like McGrath and Ricky Carmichael – the only thing holding him back has been his health. This will be the fourth time in the last six years that Villopoto has withdrawn from the outdoor Nationals due to injury.

“Going from a really great feeling after winning a fourth straight Supercross title, to knowing I am going to spend the summer rehabbing a knee injury is devastating,” Villopoto said in a press release issued by the Monster Energy Kawasaki team.

With the defending champion on the sidelines, the 450 Class looks wide open this summer.

The only other rider to win a 450MX championship in the last four years, Ryan Dungey now steps in as the early title favorite. The path to a championship this time around won’t be as easy for him as it was in 2010 or 2012 though – he was faced with a shallow field of challengers both of those years.

A pair of former champions may prove to be the most daunting competition this summer. 2008 champion James Stewart caught fire midway through the Supercross season, and 2009 champion Chad Reed was enjoying a career renaissance before injuries ended his Supercross season early.

Dungey will also have to contend with his own Red Bull KTM teammate Ken Roczen, a rookie in the 450 Class, as well as the likes of Justin Barcia and Trey Canard.

No one ever wants to see a champion relegated to being a spectator, but with such an open field, the stage is set for some incredible battles this summer – starting with the opening round May 24th at Glen Helen Raceway.

Neuville wins Rally Australia; Ogier takes FIA WRC title

Sebastien Ogier. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) Belgium’s Thierry Neuville won Rally Australia by 22.5 seconds on Sunday as torrential rain added drama to the last day of the last race of the World Rally Championship season.

Neuville entered the final day with an almost 20 second advantage after inheriting the rally lead Saturday when his Hyundai teammate, defending champion Andreas Mikkelsen crashed and was forced to retire for the day.

His lead was halved by Jari-Matti Latvala early Sunday as monsoon-like rain made conditions treacherous on muddy forest stages on the New South Wales coast. The rain stopped on the short Wedding Bells stage where Neuville was almost 5 seconds quicker than his rivals, stretching his lead to 14.7 seconds entering the last stage.

COFFS HARBOUR, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 17: Thierry Neuville of Belgium and Nicolas Gilsoul of Belgium compete in their Hyundai Motorsport WRT Hyundai i20 coupe WRC during Day One of the WRC Australia on November 17, 2017 in COFFS HARBOUR, Australia. (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)

That stage was full of incident. The driver’s door on Neuville’s Hyundai i20 coupe swung open in the middle of the stage and Neuville had to slam it closed as he approached a corner.

Latvala’s Toyota then crashed seconds from the end of the stage, allowing Estonia’s Ott Tanak, in a Ford, to take second place overall and New Zealalnd’s Haydon Paddon, in a Hyundai, to sneak into third.

Sebastian Ogier was fourth after winning the final, power stage but the Frenchman had already clinched his fifth world title before Rally Australia began. Neuville’s win was his fourth of the season, two more than Ogier, and was enough to give him second place in world drivers’ standings for the third time in five years.

Ogier owed his drivers’ title to his consistency: he retired only once and finished no worse than fifth all season.

Neuville admitted the last day was touch and go as the rain made some stages perilous, forcing the cancellation of the second to last stage.

“That was a hell of a ride,” Neuville said. “Really, really tricky conditions.

“I kept the car on the road but it was close sometimes. I knew I could make a difference but I had to be clever. You lose grip, you lose control and the car doesn’t respond to your input.”