Ryan Villopoto is officially headed to Europe – a move that will dramatically impact the landscape of motocross racing series on both sides of the globe.
The most dominant rider of the last few years, Villopoto will leave behind the Monster Energy Kawasaki team in the United States for its European counterpart in an attempt to capture a brand new title in 2015 – the FIM Motocross World Championship.
Next season is also set to serve as a farewell tour for the distinguished veteran. “I am ready for the final chapter of my career, and in my final year of racing I am looking to accomplish something no one else has achieved,” Villopoto was quoted as saying in a press release from Kawasaki. “I’ve never been one to look at the record books so when an opportunity like this comes around, to race against the best in the world and represent the U.S.A., I have to see it through.”
Villopoto won a record-tying fourth straight supercross title back in May but missed the entire Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship after undergoing knee surgery. He’ll close out his racing career in the U.S. with a total of nine national championships, and injuries have been the only thing preventing him from collecting even more titles. With the FIM Motocross World Championship starting in late February, Villopoto will benefit from extra time to make sure his knee is fully recovered.
Reportedly burned out by the intense rigors of the racing schedule in America and the pressure of feeling that anything other than a championship is a failure, going to Europe to race the MXGP series should hopefully allow Villopoto to relax and enjoy racing more than he has been, while also earning him the support of prideful American fans who would love to see one of their countrymen defeat some of the world’s best overseas.
As unbeatable as Villopoto has looked here in the States, racing in Europe will be no cakewalk though. Not only will there be a lot of new tracks to adapt to, the veterans of the MXGP series – such as eight-time champion Antonio Cairoli – have a lot of pride at stake and will have no shortage of motivation to beat the American.
Back in the U.S., Kawasaki will have a big hole to fill in their lineup, with Davi Millsaps and Wil Hahn tapped to replace Villopoto and Jake Weimer on the factory team’s revamped 450 Class roster. Millsaps finished as the runner-up in the supercross championship to Villopoto in both 2012 and 2013, while Hahn has a regional 250 Class supercross title to his credit from 2013.