Joe Roberts caused a surprise on the opening day of the 2020 Moto2 season by putting his American Racing Kalex on top of the timesheets, with a new lap record, during Friday practice for the Qatar Grand Prix.

The 22-year-old hasn't finished higher than tenth in a Moto2 race and scored points just twice last season, on a KTM chassis.

But some key team changes over the winter, including a switch to Kalex and bringing in former MotoGP star John Hopkins as rider coach and mentor, contributed to a dream first day in the desert.

"It's incredible!" beamed Roberts. "To come from where I was last year to be breaking the lap record here and being first on the first day - I know it's only practice but it's such a nice feeling. I was celebrating like I'd won the race (pictured)!

"To me, it's such a big deal because where we came from to now is such a big step. I have to thank the whole American Racing team and everybody that has come on board to help me. My crew chief Lucio and John Hopkins, my manager Eitan and everybody has done such a great job to build me up to this level."

Roberts added: "John came on board for a lot of roles; to help prep my mind for the upcoming sessions or race. He's also very perceptive and can look at the other riders out on track - honestly, I wouldn’t have done that lap if he hadn't have told me a couple of things I needed to do differently in some corners. This championship is extremely hard and you've got to find the benefits where you can."

Hopkins - who took four MotoGP podiums during an eight-year premier-class career with Red Bull Yamaha, then the factory Suzuki and Kawasaki teams – was almost as thrilled as his rider after day one in Qatar.

"I just told me to go out there and make it happen – and he did!" Hopkins told the official MotoGP website. "No, it's a lot harder than that. It's a combination of loads of things. I've always said that in racing, confidence is everything and one of the biggest things I think he's been lacking is self-belief.

"After getting to know Joe this past winter - doing some Supermoto, dirt track, and all the different forms of cross-training that we were doing - he has no lack of talent. He has just as much talent, if not more, than any of the other guys out there.

"It's just been self-belief, confidence and the great thing is a lot of Joe's strengths and weaknesses on a road-race bike are the same exact strengths and weaknesses that I had throughout my career.

"So a lot of the things that helped me have been instant improvements to him. It's nice to relay all that. I think I definitely could have benefited from having that in my corner all those years.

"But he's the one on the bike, I know he has it in him, it's just good to see him making it happen."

 

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