American Joe Roberts Scores Top-10 Finish In Moto2 Debut At Brno

Former Red Bull Rookies Cup racer makes the most of his new world championship opportunity with the AGR Team.

joe roberts moto2 race action
Joe Roberts, Czech Republic Moto2 Grand Prix at Brno 2017Courtesy of AGR Team

Coming home is always a nice feeling. When American Joe Roberts returned this weekend to the MotoGP paddock with the AGR Team—the same Spanish squad with which he earned two podiums earlier this year in the FIM CEV Repsol Moto2 European Championship—he recognized many familiar faces.

Following three seasons of international competition in the Red Bull Rookies Cup, the 20-year-old Californian has since gained a lot more experience, highlight being winning the 2015 AMA/FIM MotoAmerica Superstock 600 title. Roberts was the first champion crowned by MotoAmerica in its debut season and the first of its riders to reach any level of GP racing.

Roberts has replaced Colombian Yonny Hernandez on the AGR Team for the second half of the 2017 FIM Moto2 World Championship, and he performed exceptionally well in his debut on Sunday at Brno in the Czech Republic. After qualifying 31st, Roberts finished 10th in a hectic race initially stopped by rain and later completed with a six-lap sprint.

Now that Roberts has raised the bar for himself, as well as expectations within the paddock, he will be counted on to repeat his accomplishment next weekend at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria—hopefully in dry conditions. Currently the lone American in the world championships, Roberts has extra motivation to make his dream come true.

joe roberts moto2 brno race action
Joe Roberts, Czech Republic Moto2 Grand Prix at Brno 2017Courtesy of AGR Team

Congratulations. That was quite a race.

I couldn’t ask for more. It was a difficult race. I was trying to be as smooth as possible and keep the bike upright. I qualified 31st so I had to be smart about my passes and not get too excited. Staying calm is so important in the wet; just opening the throttle a bit too aggressively at the beginning can end in a highside.

You started the season with the AGR Team in the CEV Moto2 European Championship. Did you expect such a promotion?

I joined the team at the beginning of the year with the target to arrive in GPs, but I didn’t know if it would have been possible with this team or another. I didn’t expect that I would be able to do it this year. I was focused on the European championship, where I’m currently fifth, having scored two podiums, and always improving. Then, I received this opportunity and I took it.

How do you evaluate the level of the Moto2 class?

It’s really demanding for the number and high quality of riders on the grid. These riders are so fast, and we are all so close.

joe roberts moto2 paddock
Joe Roberts, Czech Republic Moto2 Grand Prix at Brno 2017Courtesy of AGR Team

What kind of work have you done this weekend to adapt to the new bike?

The Moto2 bike we use in the FIM CEV is the 2015 generation of this bike. Many things are different, such as the shock, the brakes, and the frame. So, it’s about adjusting. This weekend was difficult because we started with a wet session, then we moved to the dry.

Do you have a special skill riding in the wet?

When I was competing in the Red Bull Rookies Cup, I hated the wet. I remember I had a good race here in Brno and the following round was in the wet and I didn’t like it. But when I went back to competing in America with the 600 I found that I love the wet. I developed new feelings and ideas. Riding flat track helped a lot, too, to have control in slippery conditions and to not panic.

You know Brno from the Rookies Cup, but the Red Bull Ring will be new for you. What do you expect?

When I was racing in the Rookies Cup, I had to learn a new track every race and we only had one session to do it before qualifying. There is not exactly a technique to learn new tracks, but riding with the top guys will be important to learn the lines. There are 32 riders, so I think I can follow someone.

joe roberts czech republic brno race action
Joe Roberts, Czech Republic Moto2 Grand Prix at Brno 2017Courtesy of AGR Team

Was racing in Europe an investment for you?

I have proven this year that I can be competitive with this bike. Of course, coming here it’s always a gamble, but I took the risk. Everybody, myself included, was curious to see how I would do, and I started in the best possible way.

Have you moved to Spain?

I’m living close to Barcelona, and I have all the facilities to train. Living in Spain is also a way to embrace the culture. Sometimes, you tend to approach things in the American way, but we are in Europe and you need to do things their way.

How do you feel being the only American in the paddock?

One of the first people I met this weekend in the paddock was Colin Edwards. He came to see my data during the weekend and gave me some good advice. An example? He said I was crap getting on the gas [laughing], so I had to work on that. He had other suggestions about braking, opening the throttle… Everything in this championship is tenths, so whatever you can find to improve is precious.

Who has been your hero since you were a kid?

I have always been a fan of Casey Stoner. I really like his riding style. He was so precise and smooth. His riding style inspires me. I also admired Nicky Hayden a lot. He was a huge hero of mine. I always looked up to him.

joe roberts moto2 wheelie action
Joe Roberts, Czech Republic Moto2 Grand Prix at Brno 2017Courtesy of AGR Team

Do you feel a new hope for American fans?

There is a lot of weight on my shoulders, but I don’t want to think about that. I have to put my head down and work because this is a really demanding championship. I’m happy to be back in the paddock. I’m the only American rider and, for sure, we need more to join.

Speaking about passion, do you prefer music or motorbikes?

I had a band with my brother, and we used to play in the bars around Los Angeles. I played for a couple of years. I love music, and it will always remain part of my life, but my passion for motorbikes is bigger and here I am, doing what I like to do.