In just two seasons of Supercross Class competition, Ryan Dungey, of Belle Plaine, Minn., is already considered one of the fastest riders on the planet. In 2010, the five-year pro became just the second rookie in history to win the Monster Energy AMA Supercross, an FIM World Championship, crown and came a mere 10 points short of defending his title one year ago. After two strong seasons in the Supercross Class, Dungey is making the biggest move of his young career for 2012, joining Red Bull KTM.
Since turning pro late in 2006, Dungey has ridden for the Factory Suzuki effort. He was handpicked by legendary rider and team manager Roger DeCoster to become the new face of the brand following the retirement of Ricky Carmichael, and became an instant sensation. Following two years of championship-contending success in the Supercross Lites Class, Dungey captured his first title in 2009 with the Western Regional Supercross Lites Championship, and subsequently captured three more championships over the next year-and-a-half to claim every AMA-sanctioned title by the age of 20.
Throughout the span, Dungey achieved his success under the tutelage of DeCoster, becoming a faster, smarter and more confident rider every step of the way. Dungey’s maturation into a star was evident, and it culminated with the most successful rookie season of all time during the 2010 campaign.
After climbing his way to the top of the motocross world, last year Dungey was forced to deal with the departure of DeCoster from Suzuki, a brand that he guided and brought to the pinnacle of the sport. Dungey’s mentor assumed the team manager role at KTM, who revamped its factory racing efforts in America in hopes of replicating its European success, and after seeing what he did for Suzuki, tabbed DeCoster to do so. With DeCoster no longer in the fold at Suzuki, many wondered how Dungey would fare. While he did not post the same numbers as his championship-winning season, Dungey still saw success in 2011, and ultimately was a fixture in the title fight until the final race of the year.
While Dungey’s one lone victory of last season suggests it was an off year for the reigning champion, he was in fact one of the most consistent riders in the series, posting 13 podium finishes in 17 races, the most of any rider in Monster Energy Supercross. In fact, if not for losing a drive chain in a freak occurrence at Anaheim 2, which resulted in a DNF, Dungey very well could have secured back-to-back titles.
Nevertheless, without DeCoster by his side, it appeared as if Dungey was not the same rider of his illustrious rookie year. With his contract coming to an end, Dungey revealed he would not return to Suzuki prior to the end of the 2011 racing season, making him the biggest free agent in many years. The rumor mill was in full effect almost immediately, with most indications pointing to a reunion between Dungey and DeCoster at KTM. Regardless of where he landed, it was sure to be the most newsworthy move of the offseason.
News of Dungey negotiating with the likes of Joe Gibbs Racing, American Honda, and Chad Reed at TwoTwo Motorsports came to light over the course of the next couple months before the formal announcement that Dungey was heading to KTM was given at the beginning of October.
“Roger wasn’t a deciding factor in my move to KTM, but it definitely helped,” said Dungey. “I’ve worked with him from the beginning of my professional career and we have four or five years under our belt. I know that if Roger says the bike and the team are good, then it is. I guess the trust I have in him, our friendship, and what we’ve been able to build over the last few years has helped and made the transition in coming to KTM a little easier. But more than anything, the level of commitment to win races and win championships was a challenge I looked forward to.”
In DeCoster’s first season at KTM, the team made significant strides, with Andrew Short and Mike Alessi giving the brand moderate success. Now, with a full year of his influence behind them, Red Bull KTM is ready to challenge for a championship with Dungey. The new era for both Dungey and the brand kicked off just a couple weeks following the announcement, with an impressive runner-up showing at the Monster Energy Cup.
“I’m really glad I raced the Monster Cup,” said Dungey. “I first decided not to because of the amount of time I had on the bike. I just wanted to be ready. But, to be honest, things were going really well. The bike was coming along a lot quicker than we all thought. From that point forward, we figured let’s go out there and race to see what we got. Although we didn’t win, we came in second, and I think it was a great night. And, we were able to walk away from that race knowing what we needed to improve on. We went back to the drawing board to see what we can do, and the next week (we) were out there testing, making improvements.”
The chance to compete prior to the start of the Monster Energy Supercross season could prove to be invaluable for Dungey and his team in the long run. With a total of four past champions set to line up on the starting gate in January, the Supercross Class field is arguably the deepest it’s ever been in over 30 years of Monster Energy Supercross. Any and every advantage that a team or a rider can get could ultimately be the deciding factor in the championship next May.
“I think for the 2012 supercross season we have our work cut out for us, for sure,” said Dungey. “There’s a lot of great riders out there and a lot of talented people, but I think in the long run for us, we (need to) work hard and do what we have to do. I think we’re driven and will do all that we can on any given night.”
“In the amount of time I’ve been on the bike, things are moving well. Right from the get-go, I felt like the bike was really comfortable. I adapted to it really well. From that point forward, it was just minor changes. You can do so many things with a factory bike that it allows you to make something fit and work the way you want it to. I think it’s just been a matter of finding those little spots that are going to help. It’s been great. As we keep moving along, making more and more progress, it’s really nice because nobody settles. Everyone is always pushing for more, so for us, we’re digging deeper and deeper to get better and better.”
Even with a new team and being saddled with so much change for the first time as a pro, Dungey’s goal is to obviously win a championship. That same goal is at the heart of Red Bull KTM, and with the proven guidance of DeCoster at the helm, the 2012 season marks the brand’s best chance to achieve success in the Supercross Class, a division in which it has never won. No stranger to making history, Dungey eagerly awaits the opportunity to write some more.
“As a team, I think we have a great atmosphere,” said Dungey. “There are a lot of hard-working people and everyone is 100% dedicated to win races, as am I. That’s what (means) more for me. Throughout my career, I’ve tried to surround myself with good people – people who are driven, who want to get to that (next level) and are also knowledgeable. I think we’ve got a great group of people with a lot of knowledge and it doesn’t hurt that we all want to win, which in the long run brings success and achievement.”
The 2012 Monster Energy AMA Supercross, an FIM World Championship, season gets underway today from Angel Stadium on Anaheim, Calif., on Saturday, January 7.