Late-race incident denies Joe Roberts MotoGP Moto2 podium, says ‘rubbing is racing’

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American motorcyclist Joe Roberts was moments away from a career-best MotoGP Moto2 finish and his second career podium in the series when he was bumped out of the way by Remy Gardner. But that did not keep Roberts from enjoying his fourth-place finish or deter from his feeling that this is going to be his best season yet.

“The last lap, I had an idea of where I wanted to pass Aron (Canet),” Roberts said after the race. “All weekend I’ve been really strong in the uphill right hand corner. I took a little bit of a chance on that corner, but I felt confident. The next corner: I didn’t have the confidence in the front (tire) to brake super late and I felt Aron was going to come up there.

“I didn’t realize Remy was there. I felt I had the line for the next corner. Then I felt a bike hit from the side, which is questionable, but I grew up racing in America Flat Track and ‘rubbing is racing’ is the term that we use a lot back home, so if that’s the way you want to ride that’s okay by me. I don’t mind that kind of racing.”

The hint of menace in his words were offset by the wide grin on his face.

After a sixth-place finish in the season-opening Grand Prix of Qatar and an early retirement in the Grand Prix of Doha on that same circuit, Roberts was encouraged by his performance in Round 3.

Before the season started, Roberts told NBC’s Leigh Diffey: “The main thing is figuring out the structure of the race, when to push, what the pace is like. … 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.”

Last Sunday, he showed incredible pace from the start, leading the first and second practice sessions. He was third in Practice 3.

As the front tire wore during race conditions, Roberts and the rest of the field were forced to manage their grip level.

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On the final lap, Raul Fernandez held a comfortable lead while Canet, Roberts and Gardner were nose to tail.

Roberts passed Canet for second. Canet quickly passed him back, bringing Gardner alongside.

Gardner and Roberts touched. Roberts almost wrecked with just a couple of turns remaining. The loss of momentum took him out of contention for the runner-up finish and sent him back to fourth. After the race, Roberts enthusiastically displayed the tire mark on his right shoulder and arm from Gardner’s front tire.

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Joe Roberts led more laps at Portimao in Round 3 than he has in any previous race. (Photo by Mirco Lazzari gp/Getty Images)

“I’m really happy honestly,” Roberts said in the post-race conference. “It’s great for the team. I led the most laps I’ve ever led in a world championship race. There are a lot of positives to take away from this race.

“I didn’t have the pace to pull away. I had my rhythm; couldn’t really give much more than I was giving, especially with the limits of the front tire. It was really slippery out there. … I gave my best on the last lap to try and get to second.

“The key for me is to be consistent everywhere. Fight for wins when we can fight for wins – and fight for top-fives if that’s what we can get.”

Gardner is the points’ leader over Fernandez. Canet and Roberts are tied for sixth in the points.

“I honestly thought that these guys were going to go wide, both of them, and I could have taken second, but they managed to keep it online,” Gardner said of the incident. “Joe kind of block-passed me there, so I just stopped it and just shoved it up inside. I think we had a little bit of a touch, but I had the line and there’s nothing he could do.”

“Race P4!,” Roberts posted later on Instagram. “Stoked to have led the laps we did and be in the fight. Last lap got a bit hairy but that’s how it goes sometimes. Step by step we are getting there!”

Fellow American Cameron Beaubier scored his first top-10 in his third Moto2 start.

He worked his to eighth by Lap 4, but was slowed when two rider crashed in front of him. After falling to 11th, he charged forward again and was running ninth at the checkers.

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

Verstappen Perez United States
Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, 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.”

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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, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had 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.”

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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 inevitably will 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 chief 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.