Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki's Ryan Villopoto is on the verge of adding yet another achievement to his resume, as he heads to San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium poised to clinch the AMA Supercross Lites West Series this weekend.
Although the season's spotlight has been largely directed on Amp'd Mobile AMA Supercross series leader James Stewart of late - and rightly so given his remarkable run of five wins in six races - Villopoto will claim his share of the limelight this time around as he seeks to convert a similar recent record into an early title in the Lites West class.
Villopoto overcame a nasty practice crash and a tangle with a lapped rider in last Saturday's race in Houston to earn a come-from-behind victory, and the win puts the 18-year old in a very enviable position as he needs only to finish fifth or better in San Diego to clinch the 2007 crown. Just two races, including San Diego, remain in the series, and his rivals already have a lot of ground to make up.
“I was just trying to get the most points I could going into San Diego,” Villopoto said after his dramatic win in Reliant Stadium, “Running into the lapper was a bummer, but fortunately I was able to recover and take [the win].
“I'm lucky to have the fastest bike out there and a great team behind me. My trainer Randy Lawrence has really helped me be able to push hard at the end of races. I'm in a great position to win the championship and that's all I can ask.”
Boost Mobile Yamaha's Jason Lawrence is the only rider with a mathematical chance of catching Villopoto, but is 34 points behind, with only 50 up for grabs in the final two rounds.
While Villopoto is on the verge of winning the Lites, Stewart is a little further away from the Supercross title, but is working methodically towards his first championship in the premier class. The Kawasaki rider won last week's race in Houston to etch his name into the top ten all time AMA Supercross winners list, but also had to make a come-from-behind run.
“I took my time and didn't want to rush it,” Stewart said in a press conference after the Houston win, “When I caught Chad [Reed], I put a few good laps down and was able to pull it out. I struggled in practice and to put in a race like that, and build that kind of lead, I was just really excited.”
Stewart won Houston by over 17 seconds and, despite Yamaha's Reed holding on for second place, the result gives Stewart a 21-point lead in the standings. The Australian, having largely recovered from his pre-season shoulder injury, was dogged by a stomach ailment in Houston and admitted he didn't show his best.