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Ryan Dungey interview

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After the 16 second route by HRC / Honda’s Ken Roczen over Red Bull / KTM’s Ryan Dungey at the 2017 Monster Energy Supercross, an FIM World Championship series, opener in Anaheim, we all worried that the German would make this a very boring season. Kenny had won two of the last three previous opening rounds [now three of the last four], so we had seen the #94 start off with a win in the past, but it was never a runaway like we saw a week ago. With that, the questions loomed as to whether Dungey was mentally still in a place where he wanted to lift his game to challenge the youngster or ride off into the sunset resting on his already Hall of Fame stats.

In qualifying at the San Diego SX, Dungey looked comfortable on the gnarly Petco Park circuit and answered back with the fastest lap of the afternoon. With Dungey the overall fastest qualifier and Roczen the third fastest qualifier, the two were pitted head to head in heat race number two. The qualifying times did not appear relevant because, as we saw in Anaheim, Kenny got to the front in the heat race and rode away from the defending champ to a four-second victory. Unlike in qualifying, it was Kenny (52.514) that laid down the fastest lap in the heat race, and he was nearly a second faster than Dungey’s (53.214) fastest lap time.

When the gate fell for the 2017 San Diego SX main event, Dungey quickly got to the front, and after a few early assaults by Roczen in the first lap, Dungey secured the spot and began to set the pace. For the first seven laps of the main, the Honda rider looked comfortable with letting the KTM set the pace, but on lap eight, Roczen made a push across the start straight, got underneath the champ—standing him up for the second time in the main—and took over the point with thirteen-minutes left on the clock. Right at that moment, I looked down at the seats under the press box and saw a few fair weather fans begin to head for their cars thinking the race was over, but the chess match had just begun.

In Anaheim, Dungey got a mediocre start and Roczen never let him see his lines, but the San Diego main event was a different ballgame. With thirteen minutes left on the clock the bell rung for class, the #1 immediately went to school on Roczen, and as the race clock wound down, you could see Dungey found a couple of spots he was faster than the red plate holder. Unfortunately for Dungey, there were still spots where Kenny had him covered. The contrast kept the two about a second apart until the white flag waved with Dungey close enough to strike.

The fans in attendance were treated to a 250SX main event that saw five guys battling for the win and were now on their feet to witness a final lap head-to-head chess match in the 450SX class between two of the worlds best. With half a lap to go, Ryan got underneath Kenny in a rutted sweeper and made a huge run at Kenny through the next rhythm section but missed the triple at the end of it. Heading through the whoops, Ryan pulled back up onto Kenny’s rear wheel hoping for a look through the final rhythm section, but a second later the battle ended with a mistake by the #1. Kenny went on to cross the line with back-to-back wins to start his Supercross career with Honda.

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It was once again a win for the #94, but in this race, there were no losers. In a championship boxing match, you often have to knock out the champ to take his belt, and Ryan let Kenny know that he is far from being knocked out in just the second round of a 17-round championship fight. After the race, Ryan talked about the race and Dan Lamb wrote down his comments.

This weekend, it looked like in that qualifying session you said, “Even though I don’t have the red plate, I’m the guy with the #1.” You set the fast time in qualifying, you looked good in the heat race, and in the main event, it looked like you wanted it. He got by you early on in the main and it looked like you went to school. You studied a few lines, and with five minutes to go, it looked like you decided to make a push.

Nah, it’s good. We started out the day really nice and last weekend that wasn’t the case. We were trying this and trying that. I tried to really put my efforts into the track, and it was nice having the fastest time going into the night show. I had a decent heat race, made a couple changes going into the main and I felt much better. We were pushing the pace. I was out front first, he got by and the pace stayed the same. It was going to be a fast pace until the end regardless. We all took the same lines, and I don’t blame him ’cause I was in that line. I didn’t want to try anything different ’cause it was really rough. They didn’t have much time to do much maintenance [on the track], so the track was even more rough after the 250’s. A few things got changed, and a lapped rider in the way would make you venture off a little bit. I found a couple of good lines towards the end and I picked up on a few things. With Kenny out front, I just tried to keep that pressure on him. I feel like I accomplished what I wanted to coming into this weekend: stuff with the setup, a couple changes here and there, but minor really. I was happy with the weekend moving forward.

With you training with Marvin [Musquin] and Jason [Anderson], do you feel that helps you when you’re out on the track, having another fast guy to train with throughout the week?

Absolutely! I think for me now—I’m not 22 any more, I’m 27—it’s nice to have other riders there. During the week you’re able to ride with top caliber guys like Marvin and Jason, and now we have Zach [Osborne] there. We’re all on the same program as far as putting in the same laps. Whether I’m chasing them or I’m leading out front, we all kind of take our turns. It’s a nice race-pressure situation without the stress of a real race. For me, I think it’s the best. It keeps me sharp and pulls it out of me. I need that these days. Not that I’m not motivated to do the work, but it’s just better for me to be able to bring that intensity. It’s not such a shock to come to a race and have guys around you; you’re already used to guys coming up on the inside and trying to make a pass or whatever the scenario is.

You got inside of Kenny around that sweeper a little bit. I’m sure Ken knew you were there. Can you talk a little about what was going through your head? Right after that you made the mistake through the rhythm section.

When we hit the white flag, I had two spots. I was like, “I can do this!” I got inside of Kenny there—nothing that could make the pass or anything—but when we came around the sweeper to do the triple-triple-triple and then the left before the whoops, I made a mistake there. I found a new line there, and I was making some progress there. Then I rushed it after the whoops ’cause I knew I had lost a little time. I hit the turn and he was kind of right there and I got off center. At the end of that straight away, I would close in and thought maybe I would make a dent. The possibility was very good; I just didn’t make it work.

For the first half of the race, Kenny was a little bit better in the whoops, but you seemed to get better as the race went on. Was that something you were working on? Did you just send it? What was the difference there?

Nah, it wasn’t like sending it (laughs), but I noticed in practice that he was going good through the whoops and I needed to pick it up—and I was able to. Then after he went by me in the main, I noticed he was making up like a tenth of a second through the whoops, so I tried to carry my momentum through them. You’re not going to build speed through them because they were so slick. So I carried a lot of momentum into them and tried to stay light on the bike, and it worked really well. I was like, “I wish I would have figured this out a little earlier,” but halfway in [to the main] was alright. I was pumped. The bike felt great, and the whoops were nasty, too. There wasn’t much bite in them, so I was really happy with the setup tonight.

What’s your mindset heading into Anaheim 2 now?

It’s a long series. For me, I need to keep the focus on myself and not overthink anything. I’m having a good time. I’m having fun, and I can’t forget that and I need to enjoy that. We made a lot of progress from the past week. My fitness and everything is there, and we got a little bit better with the bike. The package is coming together and the plan is to keep getting better race by race—not that we want to start off way off the pace by any means. We were second last week, and he had more of a lead, but I want to position myself better and be there right off the start. I lost a lot of time in the beginning last week and that didn’t happen this week. There’s a lot of positives in what I wanted to do tonight. Kenny’s a good rider. He goes fast, he’s consistent and he’s been in the 450 class for multiple years now. So he’s getting the hang of it as well, but that’s where I’m going to have to use my experience to make up the gap, the difference and keep applying myself the best that I can. I gotta keep the focus on myself. I seen what happened outdoors when the focus shifted—you chase things a lot. Keep a calm mind. I’m confident my mentality is good and physically we feel good. I need to trust the people and the team of people around me. Keep working with team Red Bull / KTM, working with Aldon [Baker], riding with the boys each week and keep raising the level. It’s intense. It’s racing, and it’s what it is. It’s a good challenge and it tests a person for sure.

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