Photo credit: Alli Sports/Matt Rice

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 This will be the fourth time in the last six years that Villopoto has withdrawn from the outdoor Nationals due to injury.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.

Lorenzo looking to Honda, Ducati for help in MotoGP title race

ALCANIZ, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 27:  Jorge Lorenzo of Spain and Movistar Yamaha MotoGP celebrates the victory on the podium at the end of the MotoGP race during the MotoGP of Spain - Race at Motorland Aragon Circuit on September 27, 2015 in Alcaniz, Spain.  (Photo by Mirco Lazzari gp/Getty Images)
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Jorge Lorenzo hopes that he can get some help from the Honda and Ducati riders in his championship battle with Yamaha teammate Valentino Rossi in the final four races of the 2015 MotoGP season.

Lorenzo currently trails Rossi by 14 points at the top of the riders’ championship, and with just four races to go, barring an unlikely run of results, the title will go to a Yamaha rider for the first time since 2012.

The formbook offers little in the way of clues for the Lorenzo/Rossi battle, for although Lorenzo has won more races, Rossi has been more consistent, finishing off the podium just once this season.

Lorenzo had hoped to reel Rossi in last time out at Motorland Aragon, but the Italian rider managed to finish third, minimizing the damage of his teammate’s victory.

Nevertheless, Lorenzo was pleased to bounce back after two disappointing races at Silverstone and Misano, having lost ground on Rossi in the title race.

“I am very happy with this victory because it came after two races that were a bit disappointing and I expected to take more points, but due to a few factors and especially the weather, I failed to achieve the desired result,” Lorenzo said. “The victory in Motorland [Aragon] was crucial.”

Rossi was beaten to second place by Honda’s Dani Pedrosa after a titanic battle in the closing stages of the last race, and Lorenzo hopes that the Spaniard, among others, could aid his cause inadvertently again in the remaining four races.

“[Pedrosa] was very strong and it was useful to recover the points lost earlier and it has given me more chances to recover with four races left until the end,” Lorenzo said.

“But [Marc] Marquez or maybe the two Ducati riders could also stand in front of Valentino and take away some points. It is a real possibility, but very dangerous for us both.”

The next round of the MotoGP season takes place at Motegi, Japan next weekend.

Steiner: Haas F1 Team could not afford rookie mistakes

KANNAPOLIS, NC - SEPTEMBER 29:  (L-R) Gunther Steiner, team principal of Haas F1 Team, Romain Grosjean of France, and Gene Haas, owner of Haas F1 Team, pose for a photo opportunity after Haas F1 Team announced Grosjean as their driver for the upcoming 2016 Formula 1 season on September 29, 2015 in Kannapolis, North Carolina.  (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Stewart-Haas Racing via Getty Images)
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Günther Steiner has said that Haas Formula 1 Team could not afford to have its drivers making rookie mistakes during its debut season in the sport, reasoning the decision to only sign experienced racers for 2016.

On Tuesday, Haas unveiled Lotus driver Romain Grosjean as its first signing for next season, luring the Frenchman away from Enstone after ten years of association.

The second seat is set to go to either Esteban Gutierrez or Jean-Eric Vergne, who both work as development drivers for Ferrari and both have at least two seasons of racing under their belt.

As team principal, Steiner (pictured left) will work under team owner Gene Haas, and said that both had agreed that a rookie driver for season one would be unwise.

“We looked around a lot to find the right guy because we wanted somebody with experience but still hungry to do something, to go with us this long way,” Steiner explained.

“I started talks with the management of Romain in Barcelona to see if he’s interested and, you know, we spoke to quite a few drivers, and in the end I spoke also with technical people, what they think about Romain, how he develops a car.

“We have got a steep mountain to climb here, new team, all new team members, so we needed somebody who knows what he’s doing. I think in the end we found the right guy because he has so much ‘want to drive’ now, and he’s still aggressive or still wants it.

“He’s not [so] young anymore that he’s inexperienced. We lose time by having accidents or doing rookie mistakes. I think we just picked the best one out there for what we are doing, and we focused on him and got him, and we are very happy and we are looking forward to working with him.”