until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


Why a rider who rejected MotoGP suddenly has another chance

by Simon Patterson
6 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Even before the start of his seventh season in the intermediate class, there was considerable pressure being placed upon the shoulders of American rider Joe Roberts.

And that was all thanks to events totally outside his control, with the arrival of new US MotoGP team Trackhouse immediately kicking off a wave of rumours hinting that there would be a premier-class seat available for him in the near future.

Roberts had already been mooted as a MotoGP rider of the future in the past, aided by the series' interest in having an American representative on the grid - but when he turned down an Aprilia ride for 2021, it risked being a sliding doors moment for the California native.

That year, Aprilia transformed itself into a genuine podium contender - and would get better still the following year - while Roberts found himself mired in the Moto2 midfield.

Starting in 2023, though, Aprilia's MotoGP presence expanded - and beginning in 2024 it has an American satellite team.

Heading into its first season, Trackhouse team boss Justin Marks told The Race that the team's goal was to help develop American talent for the team on merit, rather than simply promoting an American rider because of their passport.

Judging on Roberts' results up until that point (one win in six seasons), you'd have to say his Moto2 CV wouldn't be convincing enough to get him in on talent alone.

But Roberts has started 2024 in exactly the way that he's needed to if he’s serious about staking a claim to ride one of Trackhouse's factory-spec RS-GPs in 2025.

Roberts has been on the podium in three of the opening four races and leads the championship ahead of the likes of 2025 MotoGP signing Fermin Aldeguer.

It's comfortably his best streak of results ever in Moto2, coinciding with a return to the American Racing squad he raced for in 2019 and 2020.

He broke with the team not to join Aprilia in MotoGP but to replace world champion Enea Bastianini at Italtrans Racing - and while that three-year Moto2 dalliance might not have delivered the results he wanted bar a maiden win in 2022, it’s a decision that put Roberts onto the path he needed to arrive in 2024 competitive at the best possible time.

Joe Roberts in Moto2

(position and share of maximum points)

2017 - 30th, 3.3%*
2018 - 27th, 1.1%
2019 - 28th, 0.9%
2020 - 7th, 25.1%
2021 - 13th, 14.8%
2022 - 9th, 26.9%
2023 - 13th, 19.2%
2024 - 1st, 69.0%**

* part-time
** ongoing

“I've had my journey, as they like to say,” he said after his third consecutive second-place finish at Jerez.

“I've had my path through this and been through a lot, had my ups and my downs and I've learned a lot of things. But at the same time it's just kind of a 'no bulls***' year. Just get it done. 

“I've got all the tools I need. I've got the best team I've ever had, so I can really confidently say that. The group of guys I'm working with...it's a mix of an environment that's always fun, never too serious because that can be a little bit too much. 

“We can sit down at dinner and joke about stuff, I sure have a lot to talk about [ex-US MotoGP rider and rider coach] John [Hopkins] as far as messing around, talking about random stuff, he's got tons of stories.”

The occasionally tumultuous American Racing outfit's performance has been elevated as Roberts returned - it was the 12th-best team in Moto2 last year, but is currently a frontrunner, not just with Roberts but to a lesser extent with Marcos Ramirez, in what is Moto2's first season with Pirelli rubber.

“My data guy, for instance, he actually was a data guy for Speed Up for a lot of years, has a wealth of knowledge, has just kind of cleaned up an area for me that I never felt good with before," Roberts explained.

“I never felt I had a data guy that I could really work with, you know? And that's one thing, one checkmark that I know, confidence-wise, 'OK, he's great'. 

“My crew chief - Mario Martini - is actually somebody I brought from Italtrans last year. Which some would be like, 'Well, it wasn't a great year!' but he kind of was able to start working on the bike halfway through the season, and that's when we had a nice race in India [third place] and started picking up the season.”

Through all the highs and lows, Roberts says that he has no regrets about any of his decisions so far on the path that led him to 69 points from four races.

Roberts is taking that 69 points as an auspicious sign given that's the racing number of former world champion Nicky Hayden. Roberts is the first American since Hayden (en route to the crown in 2006) to lead a grand prix title race.

“To be honest, I don't regret it. I mean... I can't... What's a life if you live with regrets, man, right?" Roberts said of his journey in Moto2.

"You've got to live it and make mistakes and make things, but at the end of the day I've grown a lot as a person, as a rider, and I know for a fact the group of guys I'm working with won't have been available for me that next year. 

“And all the people around me right now, come from environments that they've not been happy with - and we've just found each other, you know? That's what me and John spoke about last year, before I signed the deal - there's some kind of things we had to figure out before and I don't know, maybe patch up. 

"My relationship with John has always been great, even when I left the team [American Racing], we've just always been friends. The motto that we always said is 'maybe these things all happen for a reason', you know? It's funny how the universe works. 

“[the Jerez race] I could have won but I wouldn't have that statistic of 69 points, you know what I mean? The world's a funny thing. All you can do is your best each day, and we'll see. Get those points, and see where we tally up at the end of the year."

That kind of attitude is part of the Roberts charm that could well serve both him and MotoGP well in the future, too.

A good-looking hippie surfer kid from the California coast who grew up playing in an indie band with his brothers, he's got more to offer to the series than just what he's showing on track right now, too.

With a rider who, as long as he is competitive, is easily transformable into an easy-going big star who appeals to the American audience in particular (in exactly the same vein as Hayden before him), Trackhouse is exactly the right vehicle to make that happen - something that Roberts himself is able to recognise as he attempts to make sure he's putting himself into the team's eyeline at the minute.

"There's not been a real competitive American for some years," he admitted after the Jerez podium.

"I've been here and I've had years that have been good, and I've had great results, but to fight for the championship, that was just Nicky, right? So...it's sometimes hard to keep the enthusiasm. And...I think America is a sleeping giant that needs to be woken up."

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