Cameron Beaubier Interview
Cycle News Rider of the Year is 2020 MotoAmerica Superbike Champion Cameron Beaubier
It all happened quickly for Cameron Beaubier. Very quickly
By Eric Johnson | Photography by Brian J. Nelson
“It’s pretty tough,” reasoned Cameron Beaubier, almost as if he were talking to himself—or talking himself into something. “I have another year on my contract with Yamaha to race MotoAmerica here in America in 2021. I really do want to give it a shot in Europe. I feel like it’s crunch time now. I’m 27 years old. I know that’s not old, but it’s old compared to the kids that are 21 years old and coming up in Europe that have insane talent and who also want to become a world champion; it’s kind of tough. I definitely want to check out Europe, that’s for sure. I want to be there carrying the American flag. I just want to be smart about it and make a good decision.”
The Californian had just powered a Monster Energy Attack Performance YZF-R1 to his 51st career victory in the MotoAmerica Superbike Championship at the fabled Brickyard in Indianapolis, and in doing so, nailed down his fifth straight MotoAmerica Superbike Championship.
He also had a lot on his mind.
Two weeks removed from the clinching of the MotoAmerica title, and this time at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in sun-splashed Monterey County, California, Cameron Beaubier found himself the center of attention at a press conference held on his behalf. The date was Friday, October 23, 2020 and the Yamaha Motor Corp., USA was announcing to the world that it was releasing Beaubier from the second year of his contract with the brand to take advantage of an opportunity put forth by American Racing Team owner Eitan Butbul to compete in the 2021 FIM Moto2 World Championship.
“For me, I thought that I was going to Europe with Yamaha in World Superbike in 2021,” pointed out Beaubier who actually competed in the 2009 FIM 125cc World Championship as a teammate to the soon-to-be-sensational Marc Marquez before deciding he wanted to do his racing back home in America on a superbike. “I was like, ‘I never really even thought of getting back in the GP paddock because it just seemed so far away to me. It was so long ago that I raced over there.’ We put the deal together, and I’m super-excited for it. I think it’s going to be awesome. I think the bike, obviously I have a lot of adapting to do to new tracks, the bike, all this stuff, the team, the travel. But there’s no better time than now. I feel like I’m riding better than I ever have. The Moto2 bikes right now are 765cc, so they’re a little bit closer to the 1000cc bike I’ve been racing on. So, I think definitely it’s going to take some adapting, but hopefully I’m just going to try to do it as quick as I can and see what I have for the world guys.”
As motorcycle-racing history in the United States of America has taught all of us reading this feature centering upon the plight of Cameron Beaubier, the one and only Kenny Roberts of Modesto, California, stunned most everyone when he packed up his dirt-track racing skills on rough and tumble American half-mile and mile horse-racing tracks to Europe and duly won the 1978 500cc World Championship. That’s when the levee broke, as during the next two decades American-born racers such as Eddie Lawson, Kevin Schwantz, Wayne Rainey and Freddie Spencer ruled global road racing, winning 13 premier class championships in 16 World Championships seasons. But that was then and this is now and an American racer hasn’t won a significant MotoGP or World Superbike Series Grand Prix since Texan Ben Spies last won the Grand Prix at Assen on a Yamaha in 2011.
“Cameron is a great kid,” Spies said. “We talked a few weeks ago and he told me he had this option and asked me what I would do. He’s gotten to the point where winning here isn’t enough and he needs something new to spark his motivation and obviously Moto2 makes the most sense. I said to him, ‘Okay, here’s the deal: If you go over there, you’ve got to bring it. That’s the deal. You can stay in MotoAmerica and be with a great team and probably win another title or be the man to beat, or you can go overseas. You’ve got to show up there thinking somebody owes you something. You don’t want to act like that, but you want to feel that, because you’ve got to go over there thinking, ‘These f-ing Europeans aren’t good enough.’ They’re not.”
They certainly weren’t in MotoAmerica this year. For much of the 2020 season, the MotoAmerica Superbike Championship looked like a Cameron Beaubier benefit function, as the Californian romped to win after win after win. A perfect season was off the cards early after crashing out of a commanding early lead in race two, round two at Road America, but from then Beaubier put a sledgehammer to the chasing pack.
By mid-season he was already champion-elect, and he wrapped up the crown with a subdued (by his standards) scorecard of DNF-3-2, ironically, his worst round of the season. He righted the wrong at the final round in front of his adoring Monster Energy/Attack Performance Yamaha team at Laguna Seca, taking another dominant three wins from three starts.
Introducing your 2020 Cycle News Rider of the Year, Cameron Beaubier. Certainly, a young man with places to go and people to see and motorcycles to shake down and tracks to learn. Mere days before everyone in the USA gathered around for Thanksgiving, Beaubier found himself on the way to an airport and onto a passenger jet set to haul butt to Spain and the Circuito de Jerez-Angel Nieto for his first outing as a Moto2 World Championship contender. In fact, read Beaubier’s Instagram post from the Jerez circuit on Thanksgiving morning.
“Got my hands on the new steed today. It’s been great getting to know @american_racing_team and looking forward to the next 2 days here at Jerez!”
How’d he get there? How’s it going for him there? What’ll happen after he leaves there? All questions worthy of asking and questions Beaubier wants to answer. Right before Cameron reached high altitude and booked it to Spain, Cycle News tracked him down, sat him down and turned on the recorder. A man on a mission, one Cameron Beaubier got us all up to speed.
Okay, you’re about to get on a passenger jet and go to Spain. Crazy times, huh?!
Yeah, it’s kind of crazy, dude. I mean, it has all come together so quick. I’m excited, man. It’s going to be sweet.
Cameron Beaubier: Cycle News Rider of the Year. Has a nice ring to it, eh?
Everyone over there at Cycle News is awesome. I remember with Cycle News just being a kid and going into the dealership when my dad would order parts and I’d just be at the counter and read the latest Cycle News and look at all the pictures. I’m honored, to be honest. I’ve been looking at Cycle News since I was a little kid and I’ve seen the names of guys who won Rider of the Year throughout the years, and it’s special to me to be Rider of the Year for Cycle News, that’s for sure.
So, this first test set for Jerez on Thanksgiving Weekend, a time to try the motorcycle and meet and greet the American Racing people, huh?
Yeah, so I’m flying out on Sunday to go test next week with my new team American Racing in Moto2 in MotoGP. It’s a two-day test on Thursday and Friday and hopefully the weather holds off and we get a couple good days in. And yeah, it’s huge for me to be able to get on a bike before we go into Christmas and New Years and stuff like that. It’ll provide me with a good perspective on things going into next year and a chance to meet the team and all that. It’ll be cool. I don’t really know anyone on the team yet, but I know Eitan and I know John Hopkins. Eitan is a great guy. When we went to dinner with him at Laguna Seca when we signed the deal and everything like that. Him and his wife are great. They’re just finishing up the season at Portimao in Portugal this week and then the team will head over to Spain and I’ll meet them there and put in a couple of days on the bike and spend the week in Spain. Should be good.
So you know John Hopkins? John was a very talented GP racer.
I do know Hopkins a little bit. He’s a great guy. I looked up to him as a kid coming up. He was an American GP guy. Him and Nicky [Hayden] and Ben [Spies] and stuff like that. It’ll be really cool to have him helping out, and to have an extra set of eyes, it’ll be good.
Five MotoAmerica Superbike Championships to your name. Mission accomplished here in the United States?
Yeah, it’s honestly still so crazy thinking about all this. Yamaha and I have won five championships together, and it doesn’t really seem real. I’m not old by any means. I’m only 27, but to win five championships before the age of 27 is pretty cool and a pretty cool achievement that I’ll always look back on. The chapter that I’ve had with Yamaha in my career has been so amazing. I started with them back at the end of 2011 going into 2012 and was riding 600s for them and now eight years later to look back on everything and six championships and a bunch of race wins is pretty awesome. For me, for what I need to do it, I got a shot at the world stage and I’m going to take it. I’m ready to go see what I’ve got on the world stage, and I feel like it’s just time for me to grow as a rider and as a person and everything like that.
Obviously, it was a bizarre and trying season with the pandemic and all the chaos and uncertainty it caused on so many levels. When you take a breath and take a step back on it all, what’s your take on the MotoAmerica season?
The year started off really weird with Covid and everything. Also, and a lot of people don’t know this, but I was riding on a minibike track in my backyard, and I tore my knee up pretty good and ended up having a knee injury and had to go have surgery. Honestly, it worked out okay, because everything got pushed back because of Covid, and I ended up having surgery and that gave me enough time to heal up. I definitely wasn’t 100-percent going into the season, but it didn’t affect the bike. It was more just trying to get back in shape.
It was definitely a crazy start to the year, and it was pretty frustrating dealing with a knee injury. I was frustrated, man. I felt so good in the handful of tests that we did before we started the season. I knew that with my bike and how I was feeling that I was going to have a good chance to just crush everything. Luckily, I healed up and everything was good. It was all good, and I got better throughout the year. I was honestly surprised how dominant we were able to be all season long. It just showed how good of a job Yamaha and Attack did with our package. Everything just started clicking. The other championships we won, most of them were nail biters and came down to the last round most of the time. This year it was pretty cool to just put a stamp on things and just go out like we did, for sure. Honestly, it was so fun this year just being able to do what we were doing, and I was having fun with the team. As a rider, seeing the team happy and having a good time, it makes you feel good, you know what I’m saying? We were just able to go out and crush week in and week out.
Yeah, honestly, I think it is time for a new challenge for me. That doesn’t mean that the guys that I’m racing against are slouches. For example, my teammate Jake Gagne, it was his first year with the team and the bike, and he did incredible. He’s going to be even faster next year. Same with guys like Bobby Fong and Mathew Scholtz and Toni Elias. There is a ton of talent and a ton of good riders and competitors in the MotoAmerica Superbike class. I just think this year was our year and I’m happy to be able to get out of here with this season that we’ve had and to move on. Who knows? Those guys can step up next year and it can be a different story. I’m happy to do what we did and to move on and to go see what I’ve got on the world stage.
When word started to get out that you just might make a move to race overseas in 2021, I kept expecting to hear news that you’d compete in the World Superbike Championship with Yamaha. Did that opportunity ever present itself at all?
Yeah, there had been an ongoing conversation with Yamaha the last few years about getting over there, but truthfully, my deal here in America was too good to give up. Yamaha took good care of me, and we won a lot of championships together, and I was comfortable there with them, and I didn’t want to give up the opportunity that I had here for something I wasn’t quite sure about over there. Going into this 2020 season here in America, I was pretty adamant about wanting to get over there. I don’t know. I guess something kind of changed in my brain when I saw how good Joe Roberts and how good Garrett Gerloff have been doing over there this year. Honestly, they kind of inspired me a little bit to go do that.
Yeah, to be truthful when I was over there in 2009 and racing the 125 class, I didn’t have any one over there with me. I was just 15 or 16 years old and trying to find my way to the airport. It was tough. It was awesome and it was great, but it was a tough year on me away from the track. And at the track, we were on KTMs and that wasn’t the greatest bike at the time and we just kind of got smoked over there and it all kind of put a sour taste in my mouth about going back over there. I had a taste of Europe at a young age and realized and knew how good I had it here with Yamaha, and so I took advantage of that, and I’m super-thankful I did that just because of all of the great relationships I’ve built. I’ve been able to set myself up for the future. It’s been awesome, but just seeing how good Joe and Garrett have been doing over there, I’m ready to join them and try to do that myself. I definitely feel like this year has sparked some hunger in me and it should be good.
Have you been able to speak with Garrett Gerloff to compare notes and get a read on what you might be up against when you get established over there?
Yeah, I talked to him after he rode Valentino Rossi’s bike and stuff. I was so pumped for him and it is so cool that he got to do that. Yeah, he’s just been kind of adjusting to living over there and all that stuff, but he’s doing good. He just came off a really good two-day test at Jerez on the Superbike with Yamaha.
I guess getting back to what I was saying about Yamaha and if I did get any offers for 2021, there were talks for me to go over there to race. However, now Yamaha has so many good riders and so much young talent coming up over there right now that it would be kind of tough. It’s a little tougher right now to get over there with Yamaha than maybe it was a few years ago, but this deal with Eitan and American Racing popped up and I wanted to jump all over it.
That’s the dream, to get back into the MotoGP paddock, especially with kind of an American deal with the team and stuff like that and just kind of sees where it takes me. Going back now, in 2021, I kind of know what I need. I didn’t have that before and I feel like that’s pretty cool. Just looking back now, I know what I need to do, and it’ll be cool.
Just how did the Moto2 deal come together?
We were having some talks with Yamaha about getting over there and then my manager Bob Moore mentioned that he was at one of the back-to-back races and told me he had a conversation with Eitan. He said to me, ‘I just had a conversation with Eitan and he has some interest in having you come over and ride for his team.’ I was like, ‘Really?’ To be honest, I thought my future over there would be World Superbike. I saw myself there. I then started thinking about Moto2 and we kept talking, and the deal seemed like it was getting better and better. At the same time, the team found out that Joe Roberts was going to the Italtrans Racing team, and so the deal just kind of came together and we signed the deal at Laguna Seca. Time to go racing now.
Still a bit early in the relationship, but what do you think about of the Moto2 bike?
It’s hard to say. I mean, it’s easy to sit here and be like, ‘Oh, I’m going to get on this thing and be on pace right away!’ It’s easy to say that now, but I think it’s going to take a little bit of time to get up to speed. I mean those guys are no joke, you know what I’m saying? The bikes are pretty badass machines. They’re quite a bit lighter than the Superbikes we’ve been racing, and they have a Triumph 765cc-spec motor. The bikes are on Dunlop tires and we’re racing with the Kalex chassis. Obviously, there is going to be a lot to adapt to and to get used to, but it did make me feel a little bit better that they went to the bigger motor in Moto2 in 2019 and introduced the Magneti Marelli electronics.
You know Ben Spies well and have worked together in the past. Ben has made it real clear that those guys race for keeps over there.
I think they’re going to be good. I think those guys are really fast and really good. There are some guys that are still in the class that I raced with when I was on the 125s, and then a lot of other guys I raced against at a young age over there have moved up to the MotoGP class. Just based on back then, like 10 years ago, I know that they’re extremely talented. I know I can run with them. I think maybe it’s just going to take me a little time to get up to speed and hopefully I do that as quick as I can. Bottom line: I have a lot of respect for all those guys, and I just want to be in there mixing it up with them.
To be honest, after I made the announcement and all that, it’s been super-cool seeing how many people are supporting me going over there and all this stuff. It makes me feel good to have all this American support and seeing people wanting to pay attention to all this. It’s awesome. I’m taking America to Europe with me. The base I built here in America with friends and fans and to be able to take them over there with me is pretty cool and pretty special. I hope I make them proud. It’s going to be tough, but no better time to do it than now.
What’ll be your expectations these first few months with testing?
It’s really hard to say. That’s why I’m really excited to do this first test to just try and shake things down. I want to go into the off-season and kind of figure out what I need to work on for next year. Obviously, I want to be competitive, but I just don’t want to get ahead of myself. I’m another American coming over and I think they’re excited for it, which is really cool. But as far as expectations, I’m just going to kind of stay in my lane for now and let my riding do the talking and see where that gets me. And dude, I’m pretty pumped on how happy Wayne [Rainey] is for me going over there. Yeah, it just kind of goes to show that the bottom line is that it is not easy for an American to get over there and race at that level in GP. Wayne has really opened the door for us to do that, which is pretty cool. Yeah, I’ve talked to Wayne a little bit and just kind of picked his brain about all this. When all of this first came up, I said to Wayne, “What do you think about me doing this?” His belief in me has been really cool. Wayne Rainey. It’s Wayne Rainey, right? He’s my hero. Yeah, like I said, it’s cool to have all the support, and I just hope to make all of you guys proud. CN
Cameron Beaubier on his Moto2 Test Debut
Leaving his Monster Energy Attack Performance YZF-R1 and five MotoAmerica championship trophies back home in California, Cameron Beaubier hopped on a plane Thanksgiving weekend and flew on over to the Circuito de Jerez-Angel Nieto in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain to begin working with the Tennor American Racing Team.
Aboard the American Racing Team Kalex Moto2 machine that Joe Roberts raced in anger this past season, the 28-year-old took the 2.75-mile, 13-turn Jerez circuit and knocked out 60 laps over the two-day test.
“It was good,” offered Beaubier upon returning home to California. “I can do this. It was kind of a crazy trip just because all of the Covid-19 stuff happening, it was honestly just so good to get some time on the bike and get kind of a head start going into next year.
“I’ll definitely be able to sleep better at night now just knowing that I rode the bike and now kind of know what to expect going into next year. It was good just to meet the team and to get to know everybody and to get to know the bike.
“The first day was wet and it was slowly drying up a little bit, but not enough for slicks, so we just went out on rain tires and got a first feel for the bike. The second day was dry with some wet patches that never really dried up, but there was a dry line around the track. It was all cool. I got a good feel for the bike and the thing is bad ass, that’s for sure. They’re full-blown race bikes and it was awesome.”
Circulating the Jerez circuit in radically different wet and dry conditions, Beaubier’s best lap stopped the clocks at 1:42.664, the flying lap a mere 0.6 seconds slower than new American Racing teammate Marco Ramirez’s overall fastest lap of 1:42.064.
“The bikes are quite a bit different,” said Beaubier who impressed the Jerez gathering with his immediate pace. “They’re smaller and more compact. The shapes of the tires are different and that just gives you a different feel leaning the bike into the corners and stuff like that. I was pretty surprised with how torquey the motor was for being a middleweight bike. The bikes have Triumph 765cc motors, so they actually have a pretty good amount of torque, which is cool coming from Superbike. I wasn’t too far off either with my lap times. It wasn’t too bad. At the same time, it just goes to show you that it’s going to be a challenge next year trying to learn the tracks on a race weekend as fast as we can when everyone already knows them, but I’m looking forward to it.
“And yeah, I haven’t ridden Jerez since 2009. That was 10 or 11 years ago when I was a kid. All in all, it was cool and a good experience just to get my feet wet going into next season. I’ll definitely sleep better now knowing I got over there and was able to ride the bike before the year was up.”
For Beaubier who competed in the 2009 FIM 125cc World Championship with then teammate Marc Marquez, it was nice to be back in Europe and among some faces he hadn’t cast his eyes upon in a number of years.
“I knew quite a few people from racing over there at a young age and it was cool to show up in Spain and see a lot of people that I haven’t seen in a long time, and yeah, so far it seemed like everyone was excited that I was coming back there. It was good. It was cool. It was definitely a quick trip, but it was good.”CN