Kenny Roberts: MotoGP's never been better

'King' Kenny Roberts talks MotoGP 2019, aerodynamics, Marc Marquez, Valentino Rossi, the lack of US grand prix riders and more…
Kenny Roberts: MotoGP's never been better

"Unbelievable. It's never been better. I mean the talent of the riders, the equipment… MotoGP's obviously the best show in the world now."

Those were the words of American legend Kenny Roberts, back in the MotoGP paddock during the recent Austin round at COTA.

A triple 500cc champion during a premier-class career from 1978-1983, 'King Kenny' also oversaw titles for Wayne Rainey (3 x 500cc) and John Kocinski (250cc) as a Yamaha team owner.

In 1997, Roberts then turned his team into a constructor, taking on the dominant Japanese manufacturers by designing, building and racing their own KR grand prix machines.

Based in Banbury, in the heart of the UK's Motorsport Valley, Team KR looked to the cluster of nearby F1/four-wheel manufacturers for staff and cutting-edge technology.

Their 500cc two-stroke triple took a pole position, while the later Honda-powered V5 claimed two podiums and sixth in the 2006 world championship with Kenny Jr. However the following 800cc RCV engine was less competitive and Team KR closed its doors at the end of 2007, but Roberts remains intrigued by the technical side of the sport. 

"I love it," Roberts said of the new aerodynamic devices that have sprouted from the surface of MotoGP bikes in recent years.

"I was ahead of my time [with investing resources in aerodynamics] but we didn't have enough money to make it all work.

"We had one of the three-cylinders designed by Lotus and it was ten miles an hour quicker at Barcelona down the straight, but it wouldn't stop. And we didn’t have the budget with Lotus to find out why it wouldn't stop.

"It was a funny thing because you'd sit there and look at it going 'why is the back end coming off the ground?' No-one knew. There's a lot to it. They've just scratched the surface, in my opinion."

Roberts also feels that any of the six bikes on the present grid could be adapted to work with a particular riding-style by a top rider.

"You can make the bike, whatever you need it to be," he said. "It's just work and setting the bike up.

"From the little bit I know, the Japanese could not ride my motorcycles because the steering head was too steep. They just couldn't ride it. It would shake too much and if it shook, they didn’t like it. Eddie couldn't ride it.

"I think that with any of the [current] motorcycles, with a little bit of work on it, you'd have the same thing. It's a lot harder to ride. It's a lot harder on your body. But you are faster. So I think any of them would do that."

But does Roberts, famed for introducing a new dirt-track inspired style of riding, see anyone on track similar to himself?

"No, you could never ride as hard as they ride now with my equipment," he replied.

"If my '80 bike, the first with aluminium, had the grip these bikes had it would go 'boing' and away it would go. Which it actually did with me a couple of times. If you had too much grip, the flex would be so much it would spring back. So with these [modern] tyres you couldn't ride that motorcycle.

"I think, from my standpoint, Marquez probably comes closest to throwing the bike in. Making it turn. And exiting. Which is what I tried to do... I wasn't quite as good at it!"

Speaking before reigning five-time champion Marquez fell from a comfortable lead in the COTA race, Roberts added of the Repsol Honda rider:

"Yes [Marquez can be beaten] but it's going to be him beating himself, it looks like to me. Somebody is going to have to really step up and put the pressure on him that he needs to make a mistake and right now I don’t see that happening..."

While Marquez has dominated since his 2013 debut, winning all but the 2015 crown, seven-time premier-class champion Valentino Rossi remains the most successful rider on the grid.

The Italian, who made his 500cc debut back in 2000, has been on the podium in two of the opening three rounds and is currently second in the world championship.

Has Kenny been surprised by Rossi's performances at the age of 40?

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