Ryan Villopoto leaving American motocross, will race MXGP series for ‘final year of racing’

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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.

Will Power nips Jack Harvey at finish to pace Road America practice

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Will Power led the only IndyCar Road America practice of the weekend Saturday, shooting to the top of the chart on his 22nd and final lap of the session at 1 minute, 46.0021 seconds in his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet.

Dixon knocked Jack Harvey’s No. 60 Dallara-Honda from the top spot (which would have marked the first time that a Meyer-Shank Racing car led practice).

Josef Newgarden, Power’s Team Penske teammate, was third, followed by Felix Rosenqvist and Ryan Hunter-Reay (who went off course late in the session but sustained no damage).

Alex Palou, Colton Herta, Graham Rahal, defending race winner Alexander Rossi and Pato O’Ward rounded out the top 10 in the practice that preceded a Saturday-Sunday race weekend doubleheader for IndyCar at Road America.

PRACTICE RESULTS: Click here to see who was fastest in the session

RACE INFORMATION: What you need to know for today’s REV Group Grand Prix

RATED ROOKIE: Rinus VeeKay rebounding well from a tough debut

IndyCar tested some new cooling devices with cars from Andretti Autosport, Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske. Several drivers have said the cockpit heat caused by the new aeroscreen was stifling during last week’s GMR Grand Prix, and IndyCar repositioned drink bottles this weekend to keep liquids cool. The pieces tried by IndyCar during the Road America practice won’t be available during the races Saturday and Sunday at the Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, road course.

Scott Dixon, who is seeking to open the season with his third consecutive IndyCar victory, was 15th fastest in the 75-minute session. Other notables in Road America practice: Marco Andretti (12th), Simon Pagenaud (19th).

Power is aiming for his second consecutive pole position after qualifying first last week on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

Qualifying for the REV Group Grand Prix Race #1 will take place at 2:15 p.m. ET (NBCSNNBC Sports Gold).

The broadcast of the IndyCar race at Road America will begin at 5 p.m. on NBCSN.