Season champ Ryan Villopoto crashes early in Seattle
by Terry Wood [April 23, 2012]
It was not the homecoming Ryan Villopoto was hoping to celebrate.
Villopoto, the 23-year-old reigning Supercross champion who grew up in Poulsbo, hobbled off the track with an apparent leg injury Saturday night after falling on the first lap of the Monster Energy AMA Supercross premier division (450cc) main event at CenturyLink Field.
Villopoto went down in the sixth turn of the opening lap.
Reporters were not permitted to interview Villopoto. Reid Nordin, senior manager of Villopoto's Kawasaki racing team, issued this statement:
"Ryan didn't get such a good start. He was charging through the pack, lost the front end and ended up getting a handlebar to the gut, which knocked the wind out of him. He got a stinger when the footpeg came down on him.
"He's really bummed out and upset with himself with what happened. He really wanted to do well for the fans here. ... We're going to have him checked out, but everything should be good to go."
The startling accident opened the door for Andrew Short of Smithville, Texas, to ride a Honda to his first career win, followed by Ken Roczen of Murietta, Calif., and Jake Weimer of Rupert, Idaho. Short, who missed seven races this season due to a separated shoulder, won by 2.1 seconds.
Villopoto's crash, occurring amid a small cluster of riders barely 20 seconds into a 20-lap race, was a stunning moment in an event that was considered little more than a ceremonial victory lap for him in front of home-state fans, which included 24 family members and friends.
Villopoto had already collected enough points to claim the 2012 Supercross championship by winning March 31 in Houston. He clinched the title with four races still left on the 17-race Supercross schedule, the earliest a rider has clinched an SX premier title in 39 years.
All this follows a dominant 2011 for Villopoto, when he rebounded from a serious leg injury to claim a dirt motorcycle grand slam: Supercross (indoor) and Motocross (outdoor) titles, the Motocross of Nations (a dirt bike Olympics) crown and victory in the inaugural Monster Energy Cup with its $1 million purse.
Villopoto entered Saturday's race, which attracted 52,731 to CenturyLink Field, with an insurmountable 115-point lead in the Supercross points race. Leg injuries have slowed Villopoto in the past. He tore an ACL in 2009 and had a tibia/fibula fracture in 2010.
One of Villopoto's prime competitors, Ryan Dungey, returned to racing Saturday night after an injury of his own, a broken collarbone that caused him to drop out of competition after the season's ninth race March 3 in St. Louis.
Dungey, the 2010 Supercross champion, finished sixth Saturday.