Joe Roberts starts a crucial year in his Grand Prix career in six days’ time as the Californian spearheads reigning Moto2 World Champions Italtrans’ effort in the intermediate category.
Following a breakout season with the American Racing Team in 2020, Roberts switched to Italtrans at the end of last year is now one of the clear title protagonists in a field stacked with talent and testing times closer than ever.
We spoke with Roberts, who is stationed in a hotel in Qatar with limited access to the outside world due to Covid-19 precautions.
“It’s strange, man,” Roberts said of his hotel lockdown. “It’s a little crazy. You can’t leave the hotel. They’ve blocked off most of it except for this one little area, but it is what it is. I’m happy to be here and ready to go racing.”
Three days of preseason testing at the Losail International Circuit in Qatar were the final hit-outs Roberts and his new team had before the green light at this weekend’s Qatar Moto2 Grand Prix. Roberts started off well, slotting into third on the day one timesheet behind Red Bull KTM Ajo’s Remy Gardner but would finish the third day in 14th behind the final pacesetter, Sam Lowes (Elf Marc VDS Racing Kalex). Despite the drop down the timesheets, Roberts is unperturbed, knowing he and the team have focused much of their attention on building consistent race pace at the venue Roberts stunned the Grand Prix paddock by taking his maiden pole position last year.
“The test has been great,” Roberts said. “Yesterday we didn’t quite get the lap time, but we’re in a much better position than the times show. There’s no panic in the team. We’re not putting too much emphasis on one-lap pace. I was good at one lap pace last year, and my race pace was good in some places, but there’s more work to be done on the last five laps. That’s where you win races.”
His move to the Italtrans outfit puts Roberts under the care of former AMA Superbike racer, team manager Robertino Pietri, and a new crew chief in Giovanni Sandi and his son, former 250cc Grand Prix and Superbike racer, Federico, who acts as the Italtrans riding coach.
“The connection there with Robertino is important,” Roberts says. “It’s good to have someone on the inside you know and can just chit-chat about random stuff. There’s a calm vibe. The bike is the same as last year with the same parts and components (Kalex chassis), but Giovanni has a different method for setting it up. I’m trying to learn all I can from him. He took Max Biaggi to his 250 and Superbike titles, the same for Jorge Lorenzo’s 250 titles, so he’s a bit of a legend. I think we’re in for a good season.”
Roberts is now in the best position of his career to capitalize on a journey that started when the former MotoAmerica Superstock 600 Champion left American shores for Europe in 2017.
The green light to start the 2021 Moto2 World Championship goes out on March 28.
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