Joe Roberts says standing on top of MotoGP Moto 2 podium is ‘where I’ve got to be’


A sip of success for Joe Roberts in the 2020 MotoGP Moto 2 championship has him thirsty for more in 2021.

After two full-time seasons in 2018-19 that failed to produce a podium or points finish in the top 25, Roberts entered 2020 determined to revive MotoGP’s U.S. legacy at American Racing. His elevation to the top 10 in the standings might have caught some by surprise. But as is often the case, it just takes getting all the pieces aligned properly before things start to click. And once they start clicking, there is a lot of noise.

This week, NBC Sports announcer Leigh Diffey caught up with Roberts to get a glimpse of what to expect as the American rider heads to a new team with momentum on his side. This weekend, the MotoGP series kicks off the 2021 season with the Barwa Grand Prix of Qatar on the Losail International Circuit.

“It was a bunch of stuff that kind of came together to give me a great season (last year) and we had some great results – three poles and a podium,” Roberts told Diffey in the interview (video above). “It was something I always felt I could do in this class and finally got the package to be able to do it. It was a great year, but obviously I want more.”

Moto2 & Moto3 Winter Tests
American Joe Roberts and Italtrans Racing Team head down a straight during the Moto2 & Moto3 Winter Tests at Losail Circuit on March 20, 2021 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Mirco Lazzari gp/Getty Images)

Roberts’ career-first Moto 2 podium came early in the season when he finished third in the Czech Grand Prix in Round 4.

It almost came earlier when he finished just a little over a tenth of a second behind the third-place rider in the opening round. Roberts scored one of three 2020 MotoGP Moto 2 poles for that race.

“To get a podium is pretty incredible,” Roberts said. “Immediately it’s a weight off your shoulders that you have reached that point.

“But then you look at the guy standing next to you standing first and think, ‘that’s where I’ve got to be.’ ”

Enea Bastianini was the third-place rider who denied him his first podium in the opening round – and he was the rider standing on the top step of the podium in Czechoslovakia.

Bastianini is a great rider to try and emulate. He won last year’s Moto 2 championship. Roberts won’t get a chance to best him in 2021, however, as Bastianini is moving up a division to MotoGP. That left one of the most coveted rides in MotoGP Moto 2 open.

Two-thirds of the way through the season, the announcement came that Roberts would leave the American Racing Team. As it turned out, Roberts’ new ride is with year’s championship organization – the Italtrans Racing Team.

Last year was just the preparation Roberts needs to challenge for the MotoGP Moto 2 championship. Racing at the front of the pack is distinctly different than riding in the middle. When one is midpack, the race is about reacting to what is happening in front of you. The closer one gets to the lead, the more the task at hand evolves to strategy and race management.

“There’s a different kind of mentality you go into a race when you know you can win it,” Roberts said. “It’s something that last year … I don’t want to say I struggled with, but maybe I did a little bit. It was something new to me to be at the front of a Grand Prix race.

“The main thing is figuring out the structure of the race, when to push, what the pace is like. That was something, last year at this track, I didn’t know how quick everyone was going to be at the end of the race. Because when you’re at the back, you’re just working your way forward and doing what you’re doing. You’re not managing a race.”

OUT FOR TWO ROUNDS: MotoGP champion will miss first two rounds 

Roberts did not stand on the podium again after Round 4, but the remainder of his season was far from disappointing. He finished fifth in Round 9 at Catalunya, won his third pole the following week at LeMans and scored points in four of the next five rounds.

Roberts believes the added experience he gained in last year’s MotoGP Moto 2 competition will be that extra edge he needs to pad his points total in 2021.

Last year’s seventh-place finish was earned with 94 points. But the MotoGP system heavily favors winners with 25 going to first-place, 20 to second, and 16 to third. Bastianini’s championship came with 205 points, so there is considerable ground that is most easily made up by standing on that top podium step.

“There is a lot more different things,” Roberts said about the expectations of a front-pack rider. “Some more pressure. I think that’s stuff that I experienced last year and now I take it into this year and I know more or less the things I need to do.”

Kyle Larson wins third consecutive High Limit Sprint race at Eagle Raceway, Rico Abreu second again

Larson High Limit Eagle
High Limit Racing - Twitter

It took four attempts for Kyle Larson to win his first High Limit Sprint Car Series race in the series he co-owns with brother-in-law Brad Sweet, but once he found victory lane, he has been undefeated with his win at Eagle (Nebraska) Raceway. For the second week, Abreu led early only to fall prey to Larson.

The win was Larson’s third straight victory and the fifth consecutive top-five, giving him a perfect sweep of the season after finishing 10th in last year’s inaugural race at Lincoln Park Speedway in Putnamville, Indiana.

Larson started third behind Abreu and Brent Marks but was embroiled in a fierce battle with Anthony Macri for third during the first dozen laps. Larson slipped by Macri in traffic until a red flag waved for a flip by Lachlan McHugh.

Meanwhile at the front of the pack, Marks retook the lead from Abreu on Lap 18. Larson followed one lap later and then caution waved again. Tyler Courtney lost power and fell to 24th after starting eighth.

Marks scooted away on the restart but tragedy struck in Lap 26. Leading the race, Marks hit a pothole in Turn 1, bicycled and then flipped, handing the lead to Larson.

Abreu caught Larson again during the final laps and in a reprise of their battle at Tri-City Speedway, the two threw sliders at one another for several laps until Larson built some separation and ran away to the checkers.

“I didn’t feel like my pace in [Turns] 1 & 2 slowed down a ton,” Larson said from victory lane. “I missed it once there and then I saw his nose in 3 & 4. I didn’t know if he nailed the bottom that well behind me and I think he might have slid me in the next corner, so he was definitely on the top.

“I was nervous to move up there because my car was really pogoing up in the entry of 1. I got up just in time, made a few mistakes and he threw a couple more sliders at me but he was just a little too far back and I was able to squirt around him. Then I really had to commit to hitting my marks – back my effort down a bit to avoid mistakes.”

After leading early, Abreu fell back as far as sixth, but faith in his car kept hope alive.

“I just needed to do a few things a few laps before I did and fix some angles, then my car got a whole lot better,” Abreu said. “I’m thankful for this team; they do an amazing job. They don’t give up on me. I know my car is going to be there right at the end of these races, so it’s just the discipline of being patient.”

For Abreu, it was his third near-miss this season. He was leading at Lakeside in the 2023 opener until a tire went flat in the closing laps and he lost the lead to Larson late in the Tri-City Speedway race. Abreu has finished sixth or better in his last three High Limit races with each result being progressively better until his pair of runner-up results.

Third-place finisher Scelzi was the hard charger, advancing from 17th.

“I had a very specific plan; don’t go near [the hole in Turn 1],” Scelzi said. “It worked out. No one wanted to start on the top. I think I gained a couple of rows there on the choose cone and ran the middle, which seemed to be better than right around the bottom.”

Michael “Buddy” Kofoid in fourth and Macri rounded out the top five.

World of Outlaws star and former NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne was one of 41 entrants, but he was not among the 26 starters. He failed to advance to the Main after finishing eighth in the B Main and seventh in his heat.

Feature Results

A Feature (40 Laps): 1. 57-Kyle Larson[4]; 2. 24-Rico Abreu[1]; 3. 18-Giovanni Scelzi[17]; 4. 71-Michael Kofoid[5]; 5. 39M-Anthony Macri[3]; 6. 9-Chase Randall[9]; 7. 26-Zeb Wise[14]; 8. 1X-Jake Bubak[15]; 9. 8-Aaron Reutzel[10]; 10. 14D-Corey Day[18]; 11. 11-Cory Eliason[12]; 12. 5T-Ryan Timms[11]; 13. 88-Austin McCarl[13]; 14. 21H-Brady Bacon[22]; 15. 48-Danny Dietrich[16]; 16. 7S-Robbie Price[19]; 17. 21-Brian Brown[23]; 18. 22-Riley Goodno[26]; 19. 52-Blake Hahn[25]; 20. 15H-Sam Hafertepe Jr[21]; 21. 3J-Dusty Zomer[6]; 22. 14-Cole Macedo[7]; 23. 19-Brent Marks[2]; 24. 7BC-Tyler Courtney[8]; 25. 25-Lachlan McHugh[20]; 26. 53-Jack Dover[24]

2023 High Limit Sprint Car Series

Race 1: Giovanni Scelzi wins at Lakeside Speedway
Race2: Anthony Macri wins at 34 Raceway
Race 3: Kyle Larson wins at Wayne County Speedway
Race 4: Kyle Larson wins at Tri-City Speedway