It has not been a terrible year for Ryan Dungey. Although he failed to beat his rival, Ryan Villopoto, in either the Monster Energy AMA Supercross title fight, or the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross series, he grabbed a couple of victories and finished on the podium more often than not. Unfortunately, a lot of negativity has surrounded him (on and off of the track) in recent weeks, which has really put a bit of a downer on his season.
Of course, all riders come under criticism at some point. However, when Roger DeCoster felt the need to openly criticise his prodigy in an exclusive MX Vice interview, it sparked a debate worldwide, as most began to question Ryan Dungey, and his mental strength. It is quite clear that at the Motocross des Nations (the race that started all of this debate) Dungey wasn’t on the level that he usually is, as he floundered to a sixth and a seventh in his two motos. In the minds of most, he should have been on the podium, at the very least.
Ryan seems to have blamed bike setup more frequently towards the end of the season. But, most believe that he is the reason that his bike may not be perfect – the common consensus seems to be that he is not the greatest test rider. But this isn’t exactly a unique fault; there are a lot of riders that struggle to find the right bike setup. It seems Dungey has allowed this to affect him mentally though, in my opinion, which is why some think that Ryan is imagining some of the setup problems with his Red Bull KTM.
At the Motocross des Nations, Ryan certainly did not look as good out on-track as he usually does; most would immediately blame bike setup, as that is an automatic response. However, Roger DeCoster shot this theory down:
“Ryan thinks the bike was the problem, it’s himself. Mentally, he is not focused on finding the best solution on riding, and finding the best lines. You know, it’s not a bike issue. It was not a setup issue – he used the same setup as Ken Roczen. I mean Cairoli is on a 350, but he has the same options. Ryan needs to look at himself, right now, and deep inside he knows that.”
In recent weeks, these comments have been analysed time and time again, so I will not get into them too much. However, there is one thing that is clear: there is more to the situation than meets the eye. Following the event, I thought that Roger DeCoster might have said this in the heat of the moment, when he had not had enough time to reflect on what went on. But, following the Monster Energy Cup this past weekend, I now believe that there is a problem with Ryan Dungey’s mentality, and focus, at the moment.
Of course, this is not something new – Ryan Dungey has not been the strongest mentally, in the past. Remember in 2008, when Jason Lawrence got into his head? I believe that the bike setup has done exactly the same thing; it is always in the back of his mind. But, the fact that he managed to win the Red Bull ‘Give Me Five’ event the week following Teutschenthal, and finish second overall at the Monster Energy Cup this past weekend, proves that his KTM 450f is more than capable.
The Monster Energy Cup was the event that ultimately led me to question his mentality, and write this piece, as there were a few things that went on, which were quite peculiar. Dungey was buried outside of the top five in practice, which again makes it seem as though he is not where it needs to be. Maybe he was fiddling with his bike setup in practice? In his defence, Ryan has never been the best at going flat-out for a single lap; he is stronger when the gate drops, and it is time to do business, which really isn’t a bad thing.
When Ryan Dungey completely forgot to take the ‘Joker Lane’ in the opening ten-lap main event at the Monster Energy Cup, I was shocked, and so was every other fan worldwide! It really made very little sense. Maybe the reason for the blunder was his lack of focus at the moment, which Roger DeCoster alluded to in our interview? Perhaps we could understand the mistake, if he was riding around by himself. However, Ryan Villopoto jumped into the lane right in front of him, which would have reminded Dungey, surely?
Now, a lot of you are probably wondering why Ryan Villopoto is not coming under the same kind of criticism, as he too missed the ‘Joker Lane’ in the second race. But I do not think that RV simply forgot. If you look at his helmet cam, it looked like he came in at an angle that did not allow him to enter the section. In comparison, it was quite clear that Dungey just forgot, as he did not realise until RV pulled up alongside him and reminded him. At that moment, it was clear that Dungey was both frustrated, and heartbroken that he would make a mistake as simple as that. Again, that mistake and frustration indicates that Ryan is not as mentally strong as he was in previous months.
In the first main event Ryan Dungey was just a tick off of Ryan Villopoto (we seem to say that a lot). So, his speed was pretty good, evidently. Although he did not win a single main event on the night, as he finished with a third and a second in the final races, there are certainly some positives that the Red Bull KTM rider can take from his night in Las Vegas. Of course, there were disappointing moments, but it wasn’t all bad. Interestingly, he has finished second overall at every edition of the Monster Energy Cup – he has to land on the top step eventually!
Now, Ryan Dungey will return to his Florida base and begin preparing for the 2014 Monster Energy AMA Supercross series. You can be sure that Ryan will be doing everything in his power to grab a number one plate, as his work ethic is undoubted. I think that the time away from his races will do him good, as he will be able to come out at Anaheim 1 in January with a clean slate.
Words by Lewis Phillips
Image courtesy of KTM Images/Simon Cudby