Is there really anything wrong with Dungey?
A few weeks ago Jason Weigandt wrote a brilliant article questioning what was up with Ryan Dungey (read it here).
But what if there isn’t anything wrong with Dungey? Maybe Dungey is staying the same as he has been and the riders around him have lifted their level?
Traditionally Dungey has never been the fastest guy on the track, he has just been right there pushing the fastest guy to his limit, usually forcing mistakes. If they made one, Dungey won, if they didn’t, he came second.
Ryan Villopoto had figured out that to beat Dungey you needed to be faster (not easy in itself) but also maintain his consistency and not make mistakes. RV broke his leg in 2010 as Dungey won his first supercross championship trying to chase him down in the points. But from 2011 to 2014 RV walked the tightrope of extra speed and maintaining enough consistency to take four titles in a row.
With Villopoto’s leap to MXGP in 2015 and subsequent retirement it left the door open for Dungey to do his thing and neither Eli Tomac or Ken Roczen, who had the raw speed to win against Dungey, could figure out the consistency or race execution to win the title.
His association with Aldon Baker gave Dungey that added bit of aggression in the opening laps and made Ryan’s race execution almost flawless, added to his famed consistency it was very hard to beat.
That gave the smartest man in racing two supercross titles in a row and also that extra bit of confidence. “I trusted him with my riding,” explained Dungey on his alliance with Baker back in 2015, “I didn’t have to focus on what am I going to do on Monday, what am I going to do on Tuesday, I didn’t second guess it at all because he has 12/13 plus years with top professional athletes.”
But even then, when Tomac and Roczen were “on,” Dungey still didn’t win, but he would always take a second or third and win the next weekend when Tomac or Roczen didn’t execute the perfect race. It was relentless pressure from the relentless racer who forced you to ride perfect to win.
However, even last year when Roczen got things figured out on the Suzuki at the end of the supercross season he had Dungey’s number and once they went to outdoors Dungey didn’t have an answer as Roczen dominated the championship and Ryan surprisingly crashed out of the season.
Again at the start of the 2017 season Roczen was edging Dungey on speed but this time also executing the race to get the wins putting him in control of the championship… until that horrifying crash that put him out for the season.
That gave the championship lead to Dungey and his strategy of riding fast but smart had put him in pole position for the title again.
Eli Tomac wasn’t executing at that point, and now that he is, Dungey is looking at seconds and thirds.
Right now Tomac is trying to walk the tightrope Villopoto had perfected, but he is still 12 points behind and can’t make a mistake. Yet again Dungey is putting the pressure on his rivals to be perfect, if Tomac every race from now to the end of the season he is champion, anything less and Dungey will more than likely lift the title.
Dungey is doing what he always has, he is the smartest racer out there as well as being very fast. He tries to win every race but won’t crash out going above his comfort zone.
If Tomac does beat him to the championship he will have earned it the hard way because Dungey just doesn’t give titles away you have to beat him with an almost impossible mixture or incredible speed and ruthless consistency. Most of the time, it doesn’t work and Dungey brings home the titles.
His trainer Aldon Baker freely admitted that Dungey’s strategy is to remain healthy not risk injury going for race wins. “Could he be a lot faster? Probably,” admits Baker. “But then he would be on the edge on the 50/50 of going down and hurting yourself. You’ve got to remember the goals in the sport is to stay healthy, the team pays you for championships. Wins are good and that’s fantastic but the goals are championships.”
The ill-fated SMX last autumn was a microcosm of Dungey’s career; Gajser, Febvre and Herlings won the three races but Dungey won the overall through consistency, no mistakes and always being in podium contention. No-one does that better than Dungey, the guy is a podium machine.
But let’s leave the last word to Ryan Dungey himself, who summed his intelligent racing philosophy up back in 2015, saying: “You can go fast, you can go balls to the wall and set times faster than everybody else. But how long are you going to get away with riding on the edge that you can’t even handle or control? It’s not the fastest guy who wins, a lot of people just don’t understand.”