Joe Roberts ‘proved we’re a front-runner’ with fourth in Moto2 opener

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Tetsuta Nagashima emerged from a spirited four-way battle late in the 20-lap race to win the Moto2 season opener in Qatar, but Joe Roberts still made an impact from the pole.

Roberts, who became the first American to start from a Moto2 pole, finished fourth and led the 15th of 20 laps on his No. 16 Kalex bike.

He excelled Sunday despite being on a tire that wasn’t as soft as Nagashima and other top contenders.

“We gambled with the harder front tire, there were a couple of moments, on the left side I was losing the front and had to save it,” Roberts said. “At that point, I was like, ‘OK, maybe there’s something going on with the front,’ and I had to play a little bit safe on the left side of the corners.”

MOTOGP ON NBC: How to watch the next race at Circuit of the Americas and the full 2020 MotoGP schedule on NBC Sports

It’s the first top-five finish in 42 Moto2 starts for the 22-year-old from Malibu, California. His previous best finish was 10th in his Moto2 debut in the 2017 race at the Czech Republic. He had finished no higher than 13th since until Sunday at Qatar.

“To be pole position and come away with a top five is the best result I’ve ever had in my career,” Roberts said. “You can’t be upset with that. I really wanted to get the win, especially for the guys back home. All the support I’ve had over the weekend was driving me for that win, and I was pushing so hard for it.

“We just missed out, but it’s a long season, and I think we proved we were a front-runner, and we can do this again. Maybe in our own GP!”

The next MotoGP event for Roberts and his class will be the April 3-5 weekend at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.

Roberts, who rides for the American Racing team, had set track records on consecutive days of practice and qualifying earlier in the weekend at the Losail International Circuit near Doha.

Joe Roberts leads the field during the season opener in Qatar (Mirco Lazzari gp/Getty Images)

He said his biggest lesson was “dealing with the nerves before qualifying” with a fast bike.

“(That) was one thing I struggled with last year, and to overcome that now this year, that’s a huge step for me and my own confidence in riding,” Roberts said. “And also now to be running up front with those guys and even led a lap. I can tick that off the box.

“Man, I want more. I really wanted to win. I really, really did. It’s a fantastic result and the guys in American Racing did a great job this weekend, and it was perfect.”

Luca Marini led 13 of 20 laps but crashed on the last circuit. He was seen and released at the track medical center.

Albert Arenas won the earlier Moto3 race, giving KTM its 100th victory in the class.

The Grand Prix of Qatar opened the seasons Sunday for Moto2 and Moto3. You can watch the full 2020 MotoGP season on NBC Sports’ group of networks.

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.