until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


MotoGP's US rider drought finally has a chance of ending

by Simon Patterson
4 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Ever since arriving in MotoGP only a few months ago, American team Trackhouse has been adamant that while it has goals of signing home talent and getting a US rider back on the premier class grid, that has to happen through natural progression rather than by promoting someone not yet ready for MotoGP to a seat that they might struggle in.

And that’s looked like a long-term project, given the lack of obvious US stars in the pipeline.

But Californian native Joe Roberts has finally found his form in Moto2, taking the first back-to-back podiums of his career across the most recent two rounds at Portimao and home track Austin.

It could well be that he’s picked just the right time to start delivering on results as the 2025 MotoGP rider market continues to intensify.

Since Trackhouse’s arrival into the series back in November as Aprilia’s new satellite squad, team boss Justin Marks has made clear that his desire to tap into the team’s American roots won’t lead to ill-judged or premature rider promotions.

“The holy grail for us,” Marks told The Race last December, “is an American rider on our bikes winning a MotoGP race.

“But we’re a long way away from that. We’re a long way away from it in the sport right now, and we’re not going to force it.

“One of the things that we’re going to do at Trackhouse is understand the current status of the American talent pool and what the development ladder in the United States looks like.

“We’re looking potentially at Trackhouse making investments in the United States to bolster up the development pool and give more and more kids an opportunity.

“We’ll give more of an opportunity by being advocates for the American talent pool and then hopefully one day there’s three, four, five good American riders in Moto2 and Moto3 who are able to get to MotoGP on their own speed and merit.”

Until now, that’s not really been a conversation that Roberts has been heavily involved in thanks to a rather lacklustre middleweight class career that now stretches right back to 2018.

He’s now on just one win (in 2022) and six podiums from 115 Moto2 starts.

However, reunited with fellow Californians American Racing for the 2024 season, he has started the year stronger than we’ve ever seen him before with back-to-back runner-up spots leaving him just two points behind championship leader Sergio Garcia.

That means a rather unexpected second opportunity for 26-year-old Roberts to find a path into the premier class on an RS-GP, four years after he famously rejected an offer to join Aprilia’s factory MotoGP effort just before its bike started to mature into a race winner.

He instead elected to remain in Moto2 as he replaced newly-crowned world champion Enea Bastianini at the Italtrans team. That didn’t pay out at all for Roberts - and even looked to have closed the door permanently for him in terms of MotoGP opportunities.

But with Trackhouse’s 2025 line-up far from certain amid a busy silly season and rather unexciting results so far in 2024 from current racers Miguel Oliveira and Raul Fernandez (inherited from previous team RNF Racing), Roberts could firmly put himself on its shortlist if his current form continues.

Trackhouse’s plans are set to be dictated in part by what happens in terms of Aprilia’s factory roster. Finalising that has in turn been somewhat delayed as Aprilia attempted to secure 2021 world champion Fabio Quartararo - who then chose to stay at Yamaha.

Aprilia is likely to try to keep Fernandez in some form (be it at Trackhouse or as a number two in factory colours). But Oliveira’s future on the other side of the Trackhose garage might be less certain considering how much he has struggled in the opening races of 2024 on the latest-spec Aprilia.

Though he’s outscoring Fernandez so far by 13 points to seven, that’s in large part due to a double DNF from Fernandez in the opening two races. On pace, Oliveira has looked the slower of the pair despite Fernandez having the older-spec bike.

With a lot of factory spots still to be decided long before the silly season moves on to satellite teams, Roberts’s biggest enemy in trying to steal away a seat from an established MotoGP race winner like Oliveira will be time.

While he’s shown for the first time in his career that he’s able to be consistently fast, he’s almost certainly going to have to maintain that form until at least the summer break now should he want to step up to MotoGP next year.

And given he’s already 26 and MotoGP tends to work in two-year contract cycles, if Roberts can’t make it happen this time, Trackhouse could be waiting a very long time indeed to find another American able to step into its MotoGP squad and end a long premier-class US rider drought.

Beyond Garrett Gerloff's one-off, COVID-related appearance for the SRT Yamaha squad in 2021, in full-time terms that now stretches back to Nicky Hayden’s final appearance in late 2016.

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