Joe Roberts on That Aprilia MotoGP Chance

| November 28, 2020

Joe Roberts would have been forgiven for taking his eye off the ball at the 2020 season finale in Portugal. Arriving in the Algarve, the Californian learned of the Aprilia factory’s last-minute interest to sign him for a debut MotoGP campaign in 2021, leading to a few sleepless nights as he considered his options.

Joe Roberts Aprilia MotoGP
Roberts thought long and hard about the Aprilia deal but in reality, the Italtrans ride was already signed and sealed (the guy he’s replacing is on the screen behind him).

But, after finishing a solid seventh on Sunday, the one-time Moto2 podium finisher would ultimately turn the offer down. Roberts had already signed a contract with Italtrans, the team that just won the intermediate crown with Italian Enea Bastianini for 2021. And he wants to be victorious in the Moto2 class – a goal he feels is entirely achievable next year – before entertaining the idea of stepping up to the class of kings.

Cycle News caught up with Joe this week to hear the reasoning behind his decision.

When did you first learn of Aprilia’s interest?

I learned of it at the beginning of the weekend. My management told me there was some interest from Aprilia. Obviously, it materialized a lot more during the weekend, which in turn made me a bit distracted on the track.

Joe Roberts Aprilia MotoGP Enea Bastianini
The title-winning success of Bastianini has given Roberts and the Italtrans team cause for optimism in 2021.

Did you meet with Aprilia’s management?

With respect to Italtrans, I wasn’t trying to entertain other offers because I have a contract to ride in Moto2 next season. I was definitely curious to sit down and speak with them (Aprilia) about the project so they could explain what their plans were and how the bike has developed., and what their plans are for next season. I think it’s quite exciting what they’re doing. I can see their project is growing a lot. The way the bike is, the way it reacts and rides, I felt I would suit it quite well. Aleix Espargaro said it turned well and could turn in fast corners, which is generally my strong point.

Joe Roberts Aprilia MotoGP podium
Roberts bagged a podium in 2020 but expects to fighting for the title in 2021.

So why did you turn the offer down?

To be honest there are a couple of things which is why I decided not to go in that direction. One of the reasons was I haven’t won a race yet. If I went to MotoGP I’d be racing riders that have won races, won titles, and are top riders. They’re the best in the world. Not to say that I wouldn’t be able to ride with them, but for me, the mental side to go there is really important. As a rider, it’s important you understand how to win races. I remember obviously on a smaller scale when I was winning races in America, the confidence I had going into the season just knowing I could win was so crucial, you know? That’s one of the reasons I wanted to stay, to be ready 100 percent.
Also, the fact that I had already signed a contract with Italtrans. To be honest, if I say I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it. It was so late in the season that if I were to break a contract, it really wouldn’t have been good for them. Also, I saw both opportunities as really great ones. Italtrans has just won the Moto2 World Championship. Just spending the day with them yesterday (Tuesday) at Jerez and working together, man, the confidence they have right now after coming out of a championship (win) is so nice to be around. Working with Giovanni Sandi (crew chief for 2021) on the first day, and the whole crew, it was pretty awesome. We got on really well. The first feelings were that everyone was really happy and almost celebrating we are working together. Me and the team, we all think we have such a good chance to be fighting for the championship next year. It’s really exciting. I’m so excited to go to Qatar. It’s one of my favorite tracks after this year. Everyone knows Moto2 is one of the hardest championships in the world. It’s not going to be an easy thing but I think we have a great chance next year.

Joe Roberts Aprilia MotoGP podium Aleix Espargaro
Despite knocking Aprilia back for the ride, Roberts says there’s no hard feelings between the two.

Did Aprilia understand your decision?

Yeah, fully. I told them it was nothing to do with what I think of the bike. I said to them that my decision was because I really want to win races in Moto2. I’ve worked so hard here and this next year will be the first year I’m continuing with the same chassis. That’s something I’m excited for. They fully respected my decision. Obviously even after the test in Jerez Massimo (Rivola – Aprilia Racing CEO) messaged me to ask how the day went. I think everything there is really good. I don’t want to put down Aprilia. It was honestly an amazing offer. It just didn’t come at the right time. Neil Morrison

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