Joe Roberts tries to revive MotoGP’s U.S. legacy at American Racing

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Joe Roberts didn’t win the Moto2 opener in Qatar on March 8, but the 22-year-old American still made quite the impression.

In qualifying, Roberts became the first American rider since 2010 to win a pole position in MotoGP’s intermediate class. He then went on to lead 15 of 20 laps on his No. 16 bike before finishing fourth in the race, his career-best finish to date.

Roberts’ weekend results represent a swift change in performance for the Malibu, California, native, who finished 28th in the Moto2 standings last year with a pair of 14th-place finishes as his best result.

WATCH: Joe Roberts talks about legacies of American riders

Joe Roberts and the American Racing team celebrate his pole position in Qatar. (Photo by Mirco Lazzari gp/Getty Images)

It wasn’t that Roberts didn’t have talent. In fact, he has previously shown that he has plenty.

In 2014, Roberts won all five AMA Pro Supersport events he entered. The next year, he won the MotoAmerica Superstock 600 title.

When Roberts first entered Moto2 in 2017, a lot of the necessary puzzle pieces to put together a winning formula were not there yet. But now, Roberts and the American Racing team are ready to compete.

Roberts is riding this season on a Kaltex bike, which is the chassis of choice for Moto2 teams. He also has an experienced crew chief in Lucio Nicastro and a talented rider coach in John Hopkins.

“The last two seasons were really tough for me. I didn’t have anything close to what I achieved the other weekend (in Qatar),” Roberts told NBC Sports. “This year, the team really helped me out with getting some really good people behind me. They’ve believed in me from the beginning.”


Judging by their performance in Qatar, it seems things have come together for the No. 16 team.

While being up front was a new experience, Roberts said being in contention for the win felt natural.

“It’s always something I wanted to do, and it’s always something I thought I was capable of doing,” Roberts said. “I’ve always visualized myself winning pole positions and leading laps, so once it started to come to life, it started to feel normal really quickly. I think that’s a good thing for the future.”

With such a great performance in the season opener, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Roberts is eager to return to racing soon. But unfortunately, the exact date of Roberts’ next race remains up in the air because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The outbreak has postponed the rounds in Thailand and Argentina, as well as the lone American round in Austin. MotoGP’s premier division, which canceled Qatar, currently is scheduled to begin its season May 3 in Perez, Spain, but even that seems optimistic.

“Obviously I want everyone to be safe, have this thing under control and have everyone comfortable to be at the race, but I want to go back to racing,” Roberts said. “I think everyone wants things to get back to normal.”

Until then, things will have to remain on hold. But the prospect of more good runs by Roberts brings excitement to a sport that has not seen a competitive American in quite some time.


American riders previously had found plenty of success in MotoGP (watch Joe Roberts discuss the connections to his countrymen in the video above).

Kenny Roberts (no relation to Joe) became the first American to win the world championship in 1978. He then went on to win it again in the next two seasons.

The 1980s and ’90s also brought more American dominance in the sport with riders like Freddie Spencer, Eddie Lawson, and Wayne Riley all winning multiple titles. But as the ’90s continued, and MotoGP raced into the new millennium, that dominance began to evaporate.

Kevin Schwantz was the last American rider to win a championship in the ’90s, taking the title in ’93. Kenny Roberts Jr. won the 2000 championship, and the late Nicky Hayden won it all in 2006, but no American has been able to clinch the title since.

Roberts’ team owner, Eitan Butbul, wants to change that. Butbul, who also serves as Roberts’ manager, purchased the Swiss Innovative Investors team at the end of the 2018 season and rebranded the team as American Racing.

The team’s facilities are located in Southern California. Spaniard Marcos Ramirez also races for the team.

In addition to purchasing and relocating the team, Butbul is also behind many of the personnel and equipment changes that have provided Roberts with a chance to compete for victories.

“My goal was to try to bring the U.S. back into the world championship through the team,” Butbul told NBC Sports. 

For Butbul, Roberts’ finish in Qatar was a rewarding result after extensive preparations.

“For me personally, I think it was the best feeling in my last three years working with Joe and the team. Even more than the podium we got last year (with Iker Lecuona) at Thailand.” Butbul said. “I think the main reason is because I’ve worked with Joe since the first day that he came to the world championship.

“It wasn’t easy. It was a lot of hard work and believing in his talent and that he could do it.”

Should Roberts and American Racing continue to find prosperity, MotoGP may see a resurgence in interest by his fellow countrymen. Roberts said he believes American sports fans take more interest in international sports when one of their own can be competitive on a weekly basis, so he knows that a lot could possibly come from his success.

“My goal is to be the best, and whatever people take from that is what it is. But it would be great if American fans took a huge interest in it,” Roberts said. “It would be great for the sport and great for America.”

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Joe Roberts rounds the bend on his No. 16 bike during Moto2 practice at the Losail International Circuit in Doha, Qatar. (Mirco Lazzari gp/Getty Images)

Cadillac confirms WEC driver lineup with Chip Ganassi Racing that will race Le Mans in 2023

Cadillac Ganassi Le Mans
Cadillac Racing
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Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing announced their driver lineup for a 2023 entry in the FIA World Endurance Championship, the sports car series that includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The Cadillac V-LMDh entry will be driven by Earl Bamber and Alex Lynn, who were teamed on the No. 02 Cadillac that competed in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship DPi class this season and won the Twelve Hours of Sebring. The third driver will be Richard Westbrook, who will return to Ganassi after helping the team to a GT class win at Le Mans in 2018.

The team also will compete in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the rebranded Grand Touring Prototype premier category, which is designed for crossover between the top prototypes in IMSA and WEC. Ganassi will field a second entry at Daytona with its No. 01 Cadillac that will compete full time in IMSA with Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande.

A Ganassi spokesman said the team hopes to run its second entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans but only its WEC team is confirmed (an AOC invitation would be required for the IMSA team). The team also is exploring options but currently plans to have the WEC’s team base of operations in Indianapolis.

Ganassi is the first American-based prototype team to confirm its entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans. It’s expected that Team Penske, which raced this year’s Le Mans with a full-time WEC entry in LMP2, also will race Le Mans with Porsche’s new LMDh car that is set for IMSA, but the manufacturer has yet to confirm its driver and team lineup.

Next year will mark the return of Cadillac to Le Mans for the first time since 2002.

Before joining Ganassi last year, Lynn made 28 WEC starts since 2016, winning the LMGTE Pro class at Le Mans in 2020.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to continue with Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing,” Lynn said in a release. “It’s a huge honor to drive for Chip in any capacity but certainly on a full factory sports car program, it’s seriously cool. Cadillac has so much heritage as a luxury North American sports car brand, so to be able to represent them is a huge privilege. I’ve had a lot of fun in my first year doing it and to continue that onto the World Endurance Championship stage is fantastic.

“For me, returning to WEC is sort of what I’ve always known and it’s a bit like going into my wheelhouse. This year in IMSA was a bit different with getting to know all-new circuits and a new style of racing so 2023 will be filled with a bit more of what I’m used to with more of a European focus. I think what’s significant about WEC is without a doubt Le Mans. As a sports car race, Le Mans is the crown jewel and everything that we want to win. To be able to take Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac back to Le Mans to fight for overall honors is a huge honor and that’s something that I’m going to work tirelessly to make sure we achieve.”

Bamber won the Le Mans overall in 2015 and ’17 with Porsche teams and also was a 2019 GTLM champion in IMSA.

“I am really happy to continue at Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac,” Bamber said in a release. “I’ve loved my first season in DPi and now to continue over into the LMDh era and WEC is super exciting. Looking forward to fighting for a world championship and another Le Mans victory.

“The World Endurance Championships gives us the opportunity to race at the world’s biggest race, which is Le Mans, the crown jewel of sports car racing. I’ve been lucky enough to win it before and it’s obviously a huge goal for Cadillac and everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing. To have that goal in sight is really exciting. It’s been great to have Alex as a teammate in 2022. We’ve been able to learn and grow together in the DPi, and we have a really good partnership going into WEC. We know each other really well and believe adding Richard will be a seamless transition.”

Said Westbrook: “After four really good years at Chip Ganassi Racing, I’ve got so many friends there and I’ve always dreamt to come back one day. It just worked so well between 2016 and 2019, and I’m delighted we found a route to come together again. I can’t wait, it’s an exciting era in sports car racing right now.

“I feel like I know Alex and Earl really well. I did Le Mans with Alex in 2020 and I’ve known him for years. It feels like I’m going back with an ex-teammate and exactly the same with Earl. Although I’ve never shared a car with Earl, we’ve always done the same sort of racing be it in WEC or in IMSA. We’ve had lots of battles, including this year in our dueling Cadillacs. We’ve always gotten along quite well, and I can say we’re going to have a great year together.”

The seven-race WEC season, which also includes a stop at Spa, will begin March 17 with the 1,000 Miles of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway in Florida.