From Los Angeles, CA to the 2017 Czech GP is a long way by any standards, and it’s even further when that journey takes almost two decades. But Joe Roberts, who steps into the AGR Team in Moto2™ for the remainder of 2017, has made just that journey. Coming from early childhood memories of Flat Track to MotoAmerica and beyond, the Moto2™ World Championship now beckons as he moves up from the FIM CEV Repsol.
motogp.com caught up with the Californian ahead of lights out at the Monster Energy České republiky to get to know him a little better as the stars and stripes returns to the MotoGP™ paddock.
Beginning at the beginning, when did you start riding?
Joe Roberts: “I started riding when I was three, and my dad is the one who got me into it. He was a rider in England at club level and moved over to Los Angeles in 1997, the year I was born. He loved bikes and wanted to keep riding but he had four kids that he had to take care of, so he decided to get us all bikes. We’d go out into the desert and I’d ride in the Hollywood Hills on a little 50cc bike - that’s how it started. But ever since I was born I’ve loved wheels and rolling around on things, so I feel like I was kind of born to do it.”"We’d go out into the desert and I’d ride in the Hollywood Hills on a little 50cc bike - that’s how it started"
So when did it change from doing it for enjoyment and realising it could be a profession?
JR20: “At the beginning it was just a fun thing I did with the whole family, and then my dad kind of discovered flat track and he thought it would be a fun thing. We all grew up watching On Any Sunday, and loved flat track. When we found out there was flat track only an hour from my house we decided to go do that and then that’s kind of how the whole racing bug hit me. I found I loved racing against riders and being competitive. It blossomed from there and then went towards Supermoto riding. I found I was better on tarmac than dirt, and that’s how I got into road racing.”
Do you find that experience helps you now?
JR20: “I never got on to big bikes then, but towards the end of 2013 I got a 450 and started doing Flat Track riding and racing, and I found it’s pretty beneficial for road racing – one thing it teaches you is really good throttle control. You can’t just open the throttle and hammer it out of corners because you’ve got to find the traction. That’s key for different situations on a road race bike. Like with tyres going off towards the end of a race – you’ve got to be able to manage the throttle.”
You’ve been on the podium already in the FIM CEV Repsol. Has your season exceeded expectations thus far?
JR20: “I didn’t know how it was going to go, I’ve come from MotoAmerica and production racing and I’d never ridden a Moto2 bike before. I didn’t know what to expect. The bikes are very different but I just started on a gradual basis to learn all the different techniques, and how to ride these bikes. I found one of the biggest differences is braking and how these riders apply the brakes. You just have to grab them and then trail it off, in such a short period of time. That’s something I’ve had to get used to. I’ve found myself getting better every time I get on the bike and found I was quite competitive with the guys in the European Championship, getting quicker and quicker, so I’m thrilled with how everything’s gone. To get on the podium in the European Championship, which isn’t so far off world level – you know, they’re no joke, those guys – it’s been pretty cool. It’s always great to impress people!”"I figured if I get thrown in with some of the best riders in the world, I’m definitely going to learn something I don’t know"
And now you’re about to debut in the World Championship! What are you aiming for this weekend? Any expectations?
JR20: “This level is so high, and what these guys are able to do from the first session, the laptimes they’re able to get down to right away, is something that will take some adjusting to get used to. I think the main reason I wanted to come and do this Championship right now is that I figured if I get thrown in with some of the best riders in the world, I’m definitely going to learn something I don’t know. So I needed to take this step and see where I stack up with these guys. I may surprise myself, and it could be a really good thing…so I’m just going to try and learn as much as I can. This team is a really good team, really professional. They have some really knowledgeable guys and data from really good riders in the past, so I can compare myself to them and see what they’re doing. I think that will be really beneficial. And I’ve raced Brno before in the Red Bull Rookies Cup, and it’s the only track I won at in that. I got the lap record on a 125 so I’ve got great feelings here and I love this place. Me and my dad were talking about how cool it is to come here and debut here – it’s probably one of my favourite tracks ever!”
With that as a good omen, Roberts heads out for FP1 with the rest of the Moto2™ grid at 10:55 (GMT +2) on Friday - before his first showdown on the world stage kicks off at 12:20 on Sunday.