American Joe Roberts sets Qatar track record in Moto2 practice


Joe Roberts set a track record on the first day of practice for the Moto2 season Friday at the Losail International Circuit near Doha, Qatar.

Roberts, a 22-year-old from Malibu, California, turned a lap of 1 minute, 58.421 seconds around the 16-turn, 3.34-mile circuit on his No. 16 Kalex bike for American Racing.

“Honestly, it’s incredible,” Roberts said. “Just to come from where I was last year to be breaking the lap record here and getting first on the first day, I know it’s only practice, but it’s such a nice feeling. I was really celebrating like I won the race, but to me, it’s such a big deal just where we came from to now, it’s such a big step.

“I have to thank the whole American Racing team. Everybody that’s come on board this year to help me. Everybody has done such a great job to build me up to this level, and looking forward to the weekend, I think we have good chances to do something great. So I think we can be up at the front.”

Joe Roberts (Mirco Lazzari /Getty Images)

Roberts is entering his third full season in Moto2. He has yet to score a podium finish or pole position in 41 starts.

MotoGP veteran John Hopkins recently was hired as the rider coach for Roberts.

“John came on board for a lot of roles,” Roberts said. “For me just a mental coach to try to help prep my mind for the upcoming sessions of the race. He’s had so much experience in this paddock, but he has tons of knowledge, so there’s that aspect of things, and then also he’s just very perceptive. He can go on the track with a scooter, look at the other riders and I wouldn’t have done that lap if he hadn’t told me a couple of things that I needed to do differently in some corners. Every little helps. This championship is extremely hard, and you’ve got to find the benefits where you can.”

He also credited a rejuvenated team with prepping him well for 2020.

“The best way I can put it is if you picked everybody you would want on your dream team, and that’s what I have,” Roberts said. “It’s a combination of the best bike and the best group, and it’s just given me so much confidence, and I think I’ve really also gelled well with this track. I always thought coming to this track, I could do something really well, really great. Anyway, great first day, but we still have two more days, so let’s try to improve it. My ideal is a little bit faster, so.”

The Grand Prix of Qatar will continue with qualifying Saturday and races Sunday in the Moto2 and Moto3 divisions. The Moto2 season opener will be broadcast Sunday at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

The premier MotoGP class canceled its season opener at Qatar because of coronavirus-related travel restrictions. The season’s second race in Thailand also has been postponed.

Ford Mustang GT3 test has Austin Cindric dreaming of Daytona: ‘I want to drive that car’

Cindric Ford GT3 test
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Austin Cindric wasn’t the “mystery” test driver behind the wheel of the new Ford Mustang GT3 at Sebring International Raceway, but the Team Penske driver desperately wanted to be.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, an amateur sports car driver himself, made the big reveal via a Tuesday tweet that provided the first video evidence of the GT3 Mustang on track.

“I’ve watched the video in question about a million times,” Cindric said Wednesday during a Ford Performance Zoom news conference to promote NASCAR’s first road course weekend of the season at Circuit of the Americas. “Definitely exciting times for sure. I want to drive that car. It suits my experience level and also the relationships that I have.”

Ford will enter the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next season with its GT3 Mustang, entering a two-car factory effort (that will be managed by Multimatic) in GTD Pro and making customer cars available in the GT Daytona category.

That increases the likelihood of seeing more NASCAR drivers crossing over to IMSA. Cindric has been the only full-time Cup driver in the Rolex 24 at Daytona the past two years, but Ford Performance global director Mark Rushbrook has said the GT3 Mustang will provide more opportunities.

Ford has used its GT4 Mustang as a NASCAR driver development tool in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge with Harrison Burton and Zane Smith combining to win the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in January.

“We’re excited about the Next Gen car and the new architecture there and the similarities between that car and GT3 and even GT4 cars,” Rushbrook said at the announcement of the Ford GT3 program in January 2022 at Daytona. “We think it’s a great opportunity and to do be able to do that in a 24-hour race and get NASCAR drivers even more time is something we need to consider taking advantage of that opportunity.”

Given his sports car background, Cindric probably still would be in the Rolex 24 regardless. He has eight IMSA starts since the 2017 season opener at Daytona, racing a Lexus RCF GT3 and Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the GT category. The 2022 Daytona 500 winner made his second LMP2 start this year with Rick Ware Racing.

But Cindric’s preference naturally would be in a Ford, particularly with sports car racing enjoying convergence and crossovers in both GT and prototype racing.

“It’s an exciting time in GT racing, just as it is now for prototype racing with a lot of new regulations and manufacturers building new GT3 cars,” he said. “And also the opportunity with WEC (the World Endurance Championship) and Le Mans and how that all lines up for that category of car. It’s definitely an exciting time. I want to be as much of a part of that as possible.”

Though those odds seemingly will increase with multiple Ford entries in the Rolex 24 field next year, Cindric said NASCAR drivers still have to put in the networking to land rides as he has in recent years.

“Now how (the GT3 Mustang) relates to specifically NASCAR drivers and how often they want to be in the Rolex, could it be an influence? Absolutely, as far as the tie-in with the manufacturer,” Cindric said. “But the challenge and the drive and the logistics of getting an opportunity for a race like the Rolex 24 will be just as challenging as it always is to find your one-off ride for the race. At least from my experience, that’s what I still anticipate.”

It turned out the “mystery” test driver wasn’t from NASCAR (Farley revealed the driver to be 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Joey Hand after a fan asked whether it was Joey Logano).

But Cindric believes there could be more Cup drivers — and perhaps himself — behind the wheel of Mustang GT3s in the future.

“There’s definitely more of a pathway than I think there would be before as far as Ford drivers are concerned,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to drive that thing. It’s obviously a great looking car. That’s the first box you’ve got to check. And it’s cool (to have) a guy like Jim Farley, no doubt he’s a racer just as much as he is steering the ship for Ford. It’s cool to see he’s just as excited as the rest of us about it.”