I

In the years since Grand Prix racing’s premier class shifted from two- to four-stroke motorcycles, four ex-Superbike racers—Troy Bayliss, Nicky Hayden, Ben Spies, and Cal Crutchlow—have stood on the top step of a MotoGP podium, their eight combined victories a small percentage of the actual number of races run during that period. “In the past, you had good examples with the Americans or the Australians,” Repsol Honda Team Manager Alberto Puig said on Friday at Circuit of The Americas. “For whatever reason, times have changed. It’s difficult to understand a country like the US that in the 1980s was [in the Grand Prix paddock]. Now it isn’t. When I think about it, I don’t find an answer.” Today’s path to MotoGP is paved, as it has been for some time, through well-organized feeder programs, the long-standing 125cc and 250cc two-strokes replaced years ago by four-stroke Moto3 and Moto2 classes. Joe Roberts, riding for the Dutch RW Racing GP squad, is the lone American in the paddock. The 20-year-old Californian has no Superbike experience.

Alberto Puig, Honda, MotoGP

MotoGp Test Sepang

Repsol Honda Team Manager (and 500cc Grand Prix race winner) Alberto Puig.Honda

“You have to be really precise with small machines to make the bikes fast,” Puig said. “I think it’s a very good school for young kids. It’s not expensive; a [production] Moto3 bike is cheap. The racing is super fair because all bikes are the same. So it’s at this point where you really see talent in kids—same bikes, same track, okay show your potential.

"The thing is, this environment is the environment—the top of the top. So if you are here, whether Moto3 or Moto2, people can check your progression week by week. If you are in Superbike, it's another championship run in another environment. Who will be checking my progress in Superbike and for what? To get a factory ride?"

Puig is known for his work with past and present MotoGP stars and more recently in the Asia Talent Cup, its participants hailing from Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Australia. Crutchlow has praised the new British Talent Cup, a six-round series for riders aged 12 to 17 that runs with the British Superbike series as part of Dorna’s official “Road to MotoGP” program.

“I would always like to think they could come from there,” Crutchlow said of domestic Superbike racing. “But the reality is it’s so difficult. You pick one every three years who is able to do it. And you know there is more than one guy coming up here every three years from Moto2. In the end, I feel the best way is something toward a Grand Prix bike.

Cal Crutchlow MotoGP Austin
After winning the Argentina Grand Prix two weeks ago, 2009 Supersport World Champion Cal Crutchlow qualified seventh for Sunday’s Grand Prix of The Americas in Austin, Texas, 0.798 second behind pole-winner Marc Márquez.LCR Honda

“That’s why the British Talent Cup is important to me because they are on these GP-style bikes already, and they will get rewarded at the end if they are good,” the 32-year-old Brit added. “I think there are probably five or six riders who could come through, though five or six are not going to get the opportunity.

“In the end, five of them are going to go into the domestic championship because that’s the way it is. There should be more of a feeder program, and British Talent Cup is that thing. The good thing is they are doing it earlier. I did it at 24, and that’s difficult. The riders who are fast here are only getting younger.”

MotoAmerica currently has factory involvement in its premier Superbike class from two manufacturers, Yamaha and Suzuki. Where are BMW, Ducati, Harley-Davidson, Honda, Kawasaki, and KTM? Elsewhere. If US fans want to see their countrymen standing atop a Grand Prix podium with the regularity in which they were once accustomed, Puig has laid out the roadmap.