Joe Roberts turns down Aprilia: “I don’t want MotoGP ride because of my passport

Up and coming American Moto2 star Joe Roberts explains the 'several reasons' why he turned down an Aprilia contract for the 2021 MotoGP season

Joe Ronerts - American Racing Team Moto2

Joe Roberts has explained why he became the third rider to turn down an opportunity to step up to the MotoGP World Championship in 2021 with Aprilia, saying he hasn’t proven himself yet and doesn’t want to jump the queue because he is American.

The 23-year old Californian blossomed into a hot prospect for the future on the back of an unexpected breakthrough Moto2 season in 2020 that yielded three pole positions, a maiden podium in Brno and a run to seventh overall. 

Crediting the input of the American Racing Team’s new rider coach - former MotoGP rider John Hopkins - with turning his fortunes around, Roberts’ best result prior to the 2020 season was only a tenth place finish, while he’d only cracked the points on five occasions in 43 starts.

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With Dorna desperate for an American rider to step up to MotoGP five years after the late Nicky Hayden became the last US rider to start a race in the premier class, Roberts’ stock has rocketed over the course of the year.

As such, Roberts found himself in target range for the Aprilia Racing team, which has been busily trying to source a replacement for Andrea Iannone after his appeal to overturn a drugs suspension failed. 

However, Roberts chose to turn it down ‘for a number of reasons’, saying he ‘doesn’t deserve’ to be promoted yet and wouldn’t want to be chosen on the strength of his ‘passport’ rather than talent.

"I liked the call from Aprilia," he told Gazzetta dello Sport. "I know I could have been fast, but I want to win and I this [Italtrans] is the best team to do it.

"I like the atmosphere, everyone seems like friends, and I don't want to race in MotoGP just because of my passport, but because I deserve it."

"Mental side really important" - Joe Roberts

In a separate interview with Cycle World, Roberts expanded on those points saying he also wanted to respect his new Moto2 contract with Italtrans - the new champions with Enea Bastianini - before adding it would be difficult to adjust his mental approach at such short notice.

“There were several reasons [sic]. One of the reasons was I haven’t won a race yet. If I went to MotoGP I’d be racing riders that have won races, won titles, and are top riders. They’re the best in the world. Not to say that I wouldn’t be able to ride with them, but for me, the mental side to go there is really important. 

“Also, the fact that I had already signed a contract with Italtrans. To be honest, if I say I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it. It was so late in the season that if I were to break a contract, it really wouldn’t have been good for them.”

Roberts - who is reportedly being watched closely by Ducati for a 2022 MotoGP season deal - is the third Moto2 rider to turn an Aprilia MotoGP ride down together with Marco Bezzecchi and Fabio Di Giannantonio, who will compete with Sky Racing VR46 and Gresini respectively in 2021.

Aprilia has revealed it will choose between Lorenzo Savadori and Bradley Smith for the vacant RS-GP seat alongside Aleix Espargaro.