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.
The biggest race of the NTT IndyCar Series season (and in the world) is over, and NBC Sports’ power rankings look very similar to the finishing results in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
Pole-sitter Alex Palou entered the Indy 500 at the top and remains there after his impressive rebound to a fourth after a midway crash in the pits. Top two Indianapolis 500 finishers Josef Newgarden and Marcus Ericsson also improved multiple spots in the power rankings just as they gained ground during the course of the 500-mile race on the 2.5-mile oval. Though Alexander Rossi dropped a position, he still shined at the Brickyard with a fifth place finish.
Santino Ferrucci, the other driver in the top five at Indy, made his first appearance in the 2023 power rankings this year and now will be tasked with keeping his A.J. Foyt Racing team toward the front as the IndyCar circuit makes its debut on a new layout..
Heading into the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix on the streets of downtown, here’s NBC Sports’ assessment of the current top 10 drivers through six of 17 races this year (with previous ranking in parenthesis):
- Alex Palou (1): Three consecutive top 10 finishes at the Indy 500, and yet the 2021 IndyCar champion still seems slightly snake-bitten at the Brickyard. A few different circumstances and a dash of experience, and Palou could have three Indy 500 wins. But he at least has the points lead.
- Marcus Ericsson (4): Some want to say the Indy 500 runner-up’s unhappiness with IndyCar race control was sour grapes, but the Swede had a legitimate gripe about the consistency of red flag protocols. Still a magnificent May for Ericsson, especially while the questions swirl about his future.
- Josef Newgarden (7): Strategist Tim Cindric and team did a fantastic job catapulting Newgarden from 17th into contention, and the two-time series champion did the rest. Particularly on a late three-wide pass for the lead, it can’t be overstated how brilliant the Team Penske driver was in his finest hour.
- Alexander Rossi (3): He winds up being the best Arrow McLaren finisher in a mostly disappointing Indy 500 for a team that seemed poised to become dominant. With a third in the GMR GP and a fifth in the Indy 500, this easily was Rossi’s best May since his second place in 2019.
- Pato O’Ward (2): Unlike last year, the Arrow McLaren star sent it this time against Ericsson and came out on the wrong side (and with lingering bitterness toward his Chip Ganassi Racing rival). The lead mostly was the wrong place to be at Indy, but O’Ward managed to be in first for a race-high 39 laps.
- Scott Dixon (5): He overcame brutal handling issues from a wicked set of tires during his first stint, and then the team struggled with a clutch problem while posting a typical Dixon-esque finish on “a very tough day.” The six-time champion hopes things are cleaner the rest of the season after the first three months.
- Santino Ferrucci (NR): Pound for pound, he and A.J. Foyt Racing had the best two weeks at Indianapolis. Ferrucci said Wednesday he still believes he had “by far the best car at the end” and if not for the timing of the final yellow and red, he would have won the Indy 500. Now the goal is maintaining into Detroit.
- Colton Herta (NR): He was the best in a mostly forgettable month for Andretti Autosport and now is facing a pivotal weekend. Andretti has reigned on street courses so far this season, and few have been better on new circuits than Herta. A major chance for his first victory since last year’s big-money extension.
- Scott McLaughlin (6): Ran in the top 10 at Indy after a strong opening stint but then lost positions while getting caught out on several restarts. A penalty for unintentionally rear-ending Simon Pagenaud in O’Ward’s crash then sent him to the rear, but McLaughlin still rallied for 14th. Detroit will be a fresh start.
- Rinus VeeKay (10): Crashing into Palou in the pits was less than ideal. But a front row start and 10th-place finish in the Indy 500 still were 2023 highlights for VeeKay in what’s been the toughest season of his career. The Ed Carpenter Racing cars have been slow on road and street courses, so Detroit is another test.
Falling out: Will Power (8), Felix Rosenqvist (9), Romain Grosjean (10)
PAST NBC SPORTS INDYCAR POWER RANKINGS
PRESEASON: Josef Newgarden is a favorite to win third championship
RACE 1: Pato O’Ward to first; Newgarden drops out after St. Pete
RACE 2: O’Ward stays firmly on top of standings after Texas
RACE 3: Marcus Ericsson leads powerhouses at the top
RACE 4: Grosjean, Palou flex in bids for first victory
RACE 5: Alex Palou carrying all the momentum into Indy 500