Born in the USA and on their way: America’s next super-stars and stripes racers

Joe Roberts, Cameron Beaubier and Garrett Gerloff are primed to return the USA to the upper echelons of motorcycle racing in Moto2 and WorldSBK

Wayne Rainey, Freddie Spencer, Kenny Roberts, both senior and junior… motorcycle racing is littered with candidates draped in the stars and stripes when the word ‘legend’ is thrown around the paddock.

Indeed, while there has always been a notable ‘us and them’ divide between America and, well, everywhere else when it comes to four-wheel motorsport, on two wheels the best of the USA have duked it out with the very best from Australia, the UK, Italy, Spain and more over the decades.

Except not recently. Indeed, if the USA had a golden age of quality stretching from the late-70s to the early-90s at the very least, the last 15 years have seen its representation on the MotoGP grid go from competitive to present to forgotten come 2020.

However, this is starting to change slowly with three riders primed to make their mark on WorldSBK, Moto2 and possibly also MotoGP in 2021…

The American state of affairs

MotoGP visited the USA on three occasions in a season as recently as 2013, but you need to go back to the 2016 Australian event for the last time an American rider - the late Nicky Hayden - started a premier class race. 

Even then that was a brief stand-in showing, with Hayden’s 2015 campaign the last full season completed by a US racer. His was also America’s most recent  title win in 2006.

It is a striking drought very much at odds with stats that read 15 premier class world titles. It’s not just MotoGP though, with precious few racers at Moto2 and Moto3 level - and even fewer with the talent to progress - while even WorldSBK only really had Hayden flying the flag post-MotoGP in the years after Ben Spies’ 2009 title.

The issues arguably begin at a national level. The AMA series once went toe-to-toe with the British Superbike Championship for depth in quality, while a roll call that counted the likes of Hayden and Spies gave it gravitas.

Then the AMA went into a sharp decline after 2010, culminating in its rebranding into MotoAmerica where it runs an efficient but less impactful operation. However, in a criticism that could also be levelled at BSB, there is questionable relevance to its approach relative to the largely European-based GP format, forcing youngsters to upheaval their lives in the hope of making it big there.

Joe Roberts: America’s next top MotoGP star?

While there still isn’t anything more than a trickle emerging across the pond in world championship terms, the 2021 season will nonetheless see three notable names in three notable positions.

Chief amongst these will be Joe Roberts, who has - arguably against most expectations - flourished into one of the sport’s most promising up and comers under the watchful guidance of ex-MotoGP racer John Hopkins.

Currently in the midst of his third full season of Moto2, few anticipated much from Roberts in 2020 following a tally of just four top 15 finishes from 38 races. Then he put his American Racing Team Kalex on pole for the 2020 season opener and heads were very much turned.

Since then Roberts has kept the front runners - of which three will step up to MotoGP next season - very honest with three pole positions, a maiden podium in Brno and only four non-scores to his name with one race of 2020 remaining.

It is form that has earned him a deal with Italtrans for 2021 - which will surely see him classed as a title favourite - and the attention of MotoGP, who will no doubt rubbing their hands at the prospect of getting a commercially-favourable American rider on their books.

Ducati is understood to be looking closely at him, though the latest rumours have suggested Roberts could make a shock switch to MotoGP as early as next year to assume the vacant seat left by Andrea Iannone.

In the meantime, the American Racing Team has launched its own Moto3-esque team to race in the USA as a first step towards establishing a ladder for the cream of a young crop.

Cameron Beaubier takes on Moto2 challenge

In the context of the US motorcycle racing scene, there is no bigger name than Cameron Beaubier.

AMA/MotoAmerica has had its stars in the past but in recent years Beaubier’s five superbike titles have seen everyone off

While a few US stars have resisted the allure of performing on a bigger stage in WorldSBK - where the circuits are different, the tyres are weird and the pay is probably lower - even fewer have gone straight into Moto2.

Replacing Roberts in the American Racing Team for 2021, Beaubier certainly makes sense for the team and its patriotic intentions to promote US talent but his performances will be watched keenly by anyone on a Superbike who might be considering a change of discipline. 

The last one to do so was Jake Dixon, so using that as a reference, Beaubier might be in for a rough ride initially… but not forever.

Garrett Gerloff, the unexpected standout of 2020 WorldSBK

A former rival of Beaubier, it was welcome to see Gerloff go against the grain in 2020 by swapping MotoAmerica for WorldSBK to single-handedly show his contemporaries what they could achieve on the international stage should they so wish to join him,

Based on Gerloff’s performances, they may very well be taking a close look. The latest in a line of talented Texan racers, Gerloff landed at the satellite GRT Yamaha Junior outfit for 2020 and had to learn his way around a series of different circuits, adapt to the electronics-laden Yamaha R1 and understand some very alien Pirelli rubber.

And yet he was quicker than highly-rated (albeit now axed) Yamaha protege Federico Caricasulo from the word go, despite limited testing, before it all clicked in unexpected fashion during the final three events as he took a maiden podium in Catalunya, started on the front row in Magny-Cours and added another pair of rostrums in Estoril.

The rapid turn of form just in time for contract negotiations means Gerloff has been rewarded with an extended stay at GRT for 2021 but will get to ride the same factory-spec Yamaha machinery as Toprak Razgatlioglu and Andrea Locatelli.

So while it’s not Ben Spies coming, seeing and conquering in his one and only title-winning campaign of 2009, 2021 looks set to be America’s most encouraging season of motorcycle racing in more than a decade.
 

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