In anticipation of this Saturday’s Supercross opener in Anaheim, California, Kawasaki invited a select crowd of enthusiasts and journalists to join their employees at the corporate offices in Irvine, California, for the annual Team Monster Energy Kawasaki pep rally. We sat down with defending SX champ, Ryan Villopoto, and his teammate, Jake Weimer, to get their perspectives on the upcoming season.

Both men entered last season at less than 100%. For Villopoto, perseverance paid-off with both the SX and MX championships as well as winning the Motorcross of Nations and the inaugural Monster Energy Cup. Weiman struggled without much pre-season practice or training and ended the season in a disappointing 26th position, but bounced back to 4th place in the outdoor series.

Villopoto: I’m definitely at 100% and ready to get the season underway. Last year I struggled at the beginning and had some mixed results, but I’ve been able to train and practice in the off-season which makes me confident going in to this Saturday’s event.

Now that you’re the defending champion, is there more or less pressure?

Villopoto: It’s not really more or less pressure. The pressure, or desire to win, to do good, remains the same. But, if anything, there’s less pressure because I’m better prepared for this season than I was last season.

Although not defending champion, Weimer is in a similar position starting the season in good health.

Weimer: It’s definitely a good feeling beginning the season in full health. Last year I had no riding time on the bike prior to the start of the first race so I was at a disadvantage before the season even began. I haven’t changed anything for 2012, I’ve just been putting in a lot time riding the new bike and preparing for this year.

Any nervousness racing the 450s with people looking for good results from you?

Weimer: Will I be nervous this Saturday at the first race of the season, sure. But no more nervous than any other race in any other class. Some nervousness is a good thing, it means you’re taking the race seriously and that you want to win and give it your best.

Do you foresee any one rider being especially competitive this season?

Villopoto: All the same players are returning, Reed, Stewart, Dungey, Canard and any one of them have a chance of winning at every race. They’re all fast and want to win as bad as the next guy so this season should be as good as last season.

Weimer: There’s no one guy to beat, you have to beat all top five guys right now, not just one dominant guy. As long as no one gets injured there will be some really close racing this Saturday and the rest the season.

Does having a handful of riders equal in talent make the competition tougher, compared to having only a Carmichael or a McGrath to beat?

Villopoto: It’s definitely more difficult. You can have a couple fast guys in front of you you’re trying to pass and a couple of fast guys behind trying to pass you. With McGrath and Carmichael you only had to focus on beating them, now you’ve got five guys to worry about.

Weimer: You can get a poor start and have a better chance of finishing in a good position when there’s only one dominant guy, but against five guys, if you get a bad start you’re best finish will be in 6th place.

How’s the 2012 KX450F?

Villopoto: It’s a better bike all around. We’ve done some engine work as well as tweaked the chassis and suspension. The 2012 bike is definitely more competitive than last year’s model.

Weimer: Because I wasn’t injured and was able to ride in the off season we’ve made a lot of progress on the 2012 KX. There’s a little more power and the handling is improved.

Any predictions for Saturday night?

Villopoto: Wait and see.

Weimer: Not sure, but the race should be as good as last year’s.