Ducati eyeing up American racer Joe Roberts for MotoGP promotion?

Ducati reveals it has its eye on Moto2 racer Joe Roberts over the possibility of him becoming the first American racer in MotoGP since 2016...

Joe Roberts, John Hopkins

It has been four years since the United States had a representative on the MotoGP grid and even longer since once stood on the podium, but this could change if Moto2 Joe Roberts is able to build on his strong start to the season. 

Though racing remains on an indefinite pause due to the coronavirus, the opening round of the 2020 Moto2 World Championship was able to get underway with Roberts emerging as one of the more unexpected stars of the weekend.

Entering into his third full season of Moto2 – his second with the American Racing team – Roberts came into the Qatar opener with a best finish of just tenth from 41 starts, but defied expectations by claiming his first pole position, leading the race and eventually finishing just off the podium in fourth.

The step forward has been credited with a new close working relationship with former MotoGP rider John Hopkins, who joined the team as a rider coach over the winter, as well as a switch from KTM to Kalex chassis.

Either way, Roberts’ impressive upturn in form goes a long way to raise his attractiveness to MotoGP teams as one of the few remaining American riders competing at a top level.

The last American to start a MotoGP race was the late Nicky Hayden during a brief comeback in 2016, while the last US racer to get on the podium was Ben Spies back in 2011 at Valencia. More recently, such was the importance of the American market that the nation held three events on the calendar as recently as 2013.

However, the talent pool – one that has given us Freddie Spencer, Eddie Lawson, Wayne Rainey and Kevin Schwantz and Kenny Roberts Snr and Jnr - has dried in recent years, making Roberts’ burgeoning ascension a big moment for MotoGP, no doubt eager to get some influence back in the American market. It’s a view held by Ducati sporting director Paolo Ciabatti, who admits the manufacturer is monitoring Roberts closely for the future.

“It is true that the American market is very important for Ducati and it is also true that we have a certain connection with the American riders,” he told Motosport-Total.

"I have known Joe for a long time, because he was introduced to me four or five years ago by one of my mutual friends who is a discoverer of talents, so I have been for some time.

“Last year Joe had a season far below expectations because he shared his stand with Iker Lecuona, who had good races. So I'm glad he became the pilot we saw in Qatar. He has great talent.

"This year, John Hopkins' arrival as a coach, in addition to the fact that the team now has an additional year of experience and uses a Kalex, has allowed him to show what he can do. He was strong in all tests and confirmed it with a great race.

"I think he has matured a lot and now he has a motorcycle up to the competition, with a team that includes several Italian technicians. He therefore has the best conditions to express his talent.”

Not only is Roberts the only American rider in Moto2, he is the only US rider currently competing in any of the four GP classes.