After spending his first full Moto2 season with NTS, Joe Roberts joins the newly-branded 'American Racing KTM ' team for 2019.

In this exclusive interview, the only American rider in the grand prix paddock talks about his racing background, the new Triumph Moto2 engine and KTM chassis, his life away from the track and more...
How did you start off in motorcycle racing? Was it a family thing?

Joe Roberts:
I started riding motorcycles just before my fourth birthday. My dad was a big fan of racing and was not like a racer really himself. He did some club racing and stuff like that, but just really enjoyed riding and decided, ‘I want to get my kids into it.’ I always kind of had a knack for wheels and speed. So, I really loved bikes as soon as I’d get on them. I started off with that and it slowly went through the stages of dirt to mini road racing and then to really getting on proper tracks.
When did you start thinking ‘I’m good at this and I can take this a lot further?’

Joe Roberts:
Honestly it’s hard to remember because I’ve been doing it my whole life. I think it was kind of once I got to the racing part of it. It was just fun up until I was about six, and even until I was about eleven or twelve I didn’t know really if it was going to be something that was going to go somewhere or not, but I just really enjoyed riding. I just loved racing.

I think once I started getting good on the 125s and got the chance to go to the [Red Bull] Rookies Cup I was really like, ‘Yeah, this is where I need to be. I want to do this. I want to be a GP rider.’ I always was a huge fan of MotoGP and of course wanted to be there since I was a little kid. But whenever I thought that it was possible to get there, I think it was before I got selected for the Rookies Cup.
California has a legacy in this championship with guys like Kenny Roberts, Eddie Lawson and Wayne Rainey. Is that something you were aware of when you were growing up?

Joe Roberts:
If you look back to the time of them, it was a very different time, just for everything. Things have changed so much. MotoGP is more a European sport now. I think it always kind of has been, but when they were racing it was kind of… I think they brought something else to this championship. They came from dirt track. They were a bit fearless. They just went for it. Looking back on it, it’s such a long time ago and obviously it was before my time. I wasn’t even alive when those guys were racing, but I’m quite good friends with all of them. With Eddie especially and Wayne. So I always hear the stories about things. Obviously I’d love to bring back that thing of American riders killing it in this championship. That’s obviously what I’m going for. It’s nice to think back to it for sure.
Can you describe that sort of experience when you first came to Europe for the Red Bull Rookies? You were what, 13?

Joe Roberts:
Oh yeah. I remember the first test. We arrived like three days before the test started because of the jet lag. We wanted to really be prepared for it. I just remember telling my dad – the test was in Estero and he wanted to go around the city and do all these things. I’m just like, ‘Let’s just go to the track. Maybe we can see the bikes.’ I was really excited to do it, and then as soon as it started I really realised these guys, even these Rookies Cup riders, when you’re surrounded by a championship that’s so many fast riders, you just have to be quick right away. America is a little bit more relaxed with that. There’s not really a big group of riders that are really fast, maybe three or four that you really have to up your game to beat them. In Rookies Cup, it was like 23 riders. The first year I really struggled because in the Rookies Cup it’s such a short amount of time before you race. It’s only one practice and you go straight into qualifying. So I always struggled the first point to get the qualifying right. I’d always start kind of near the back, but I always finished pretty much in the points and close to the top ten in every race. I even won a race in my first one. So that to me was a lot. I learned a lot in those three years in Rookies Cup just being able to get on the track and just go and not think about things too much, and also be battling quite close with other riders. That’s another thing I noticed is that these guys will stick it anywhere. If there’s a gap, they’ll go in there. So that was nice to learn all that. It was different. Definitely when I went back to America I think people were a little bit… I even got comments in the press when I did, like five races in the Superstock class in 2013 with John Ulrich. I won all five of those races. Sometimes I’d have to battle quite a lot. I came from Europe where if there was a gap you go for it. I think I got some comments like, ‘You looked you quite aggressive out there, and you were putting it in places. Are you sure that was the right way to do it?’ So I don't know. It’s a different mentality.
Is that critical for young American racers to make the jump to Europe as soon as possible?

Joe Roberts:
To be honest, I’m just a believer in go where the competition is. If the competition is strong in America, then fine. But to me right now the competition is strongest in the CEV [Spanish Championship]. To me that’s the place where if you want to make the next step as a rider. It really depends what kind of career you want to have though. If you want to be a Superbike rider, I don't think there’s anything wrong with staying in MotoAmerica. I’m not singling out MotoAmerica, but I’m just saying national championships in general. I think there can be a crossover, but I think the days of going as a superbike rider to MotoGP directly or over, I think you definitely need to make the step here first.
What was that experience like, going back to America after you’d had some years in Europe? You rode for John Ulrich who is known for finding Kevin Schwantz and John Hopkins…

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