Joe Roberts becomes Moto2’s first American pole-sitter in 10 years

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Joe Roberts’ record-breaking Moto2 run continued Saturday in the Grand Prix of Qatar.

The 22-year-old from Malibu, California, became the first American in nearly a decade to win a pole position in MotoGP’s intermediate class (Kenny Noyes was the most recent in 2010 at the French Grand Prix).

“It’s awesome,” said Roberts, who had qualified in the top 15 only once in 41 previous Moto2 starts (10th in Argentina 2018). “It’s a dream for me to bring Americans to the world stage and especially do it in a great way and be really fast. To be back on pole position for America, it’s awesome.”

CAREER BEST: Roberts leads, finishes fourth from pole position

Roberts did it with a lap of 1 minute, 58.136 seconds on his No. 16 Kalex bike around the Losail International Circuit near Doha, Qatar. The American Racing rider narrowly edged Luca Marini, who set the same time. Roberts won the pole because his second-fastest lap was better Marini’s.

WATCH: Moto2 season opener, Sunday, 12:30 p.m., NBCSN

Roberts’ pole lap broke the track record he set a day earlier in practice on the 16-turn, 3.34-mile course.

“It’s crazy; I wasn’t sleeping too much last night because I was thinking about this lap (Saturday),” said Roberts,  who won the MotoAmerica Superstock 600 championship in 2015 before moving full time to Europe in ’17. “Just trying to imagine myself doing the perfect lap and making everything exactly how I wanted to, and honestly, it’s so amazing to have my first pole. This weekend is filled with firsts, and I still have my lap record.”

The Grand Prix of Qatar will continue with Moto2 and Moto3 season openers Sunday. The Moto2 race from Qatar will air Sunday at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN (and also will stream on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports App).

Joe Roberts (Mirco Lazzari gp/Getty Images)

Roberts, who has been riding since 3 and started in flat track before moving to road racing, said he likes his chances starting first.

“It’s one thing to do a lap, and it’s another racing for 20 laps,” he said. “I’m going to try to get the best start I can and just try to stay with these guys. Who knows, maybe I’ll have the pace to pull away. I know Luca is going real fast and obviously other riders as well.

“It’s going to be a fight, and I’m looking forward to a fight because I love racing it’s actually my favorite part of the weekend is racing.”

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.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.