Americans in MotoGP: We came, conquered … and faded away?
Following the 2014 MotoGP opener and in advance of the season’s second round in Austin, Texas, we noted just how precarious the United States’ position as a genuine power — or even marginal presence — in the Grand Prix world had become.
This season marks the first in nearly 40 years that an American pilot does not have a factory ride in the premier class. Those years weren’t merely spent making up the numbers either — a little less than half of them ended with an American world champion.
Fast forward four months and half a season and the situation has only become exacerbated.
Two-time Superbike World Champion and long-time MotoGP competitor Colin Edwards is not only taking part in his final race in the States this weekend in Indianapolis, it appears he’s being pushed out the door that much quicker, with only a limited MotoGP schedule ahead of him over the season’s second half as his decorated career comes to a quiet conclusion.
Meanwhile, the nation’s most recent premier class champion — Nicky Hayden — is not even riding this weekend, recovering from recent surgery. Hayden still has the requisite charisma and ability to excel at the highest level, but he’s lost all career traction in the Grand Prix paddock, and that’s something that is almost never regained. Considering his age and paddock politics, it’s hard to conceive of a situation in which the Kentuckian ever throws his leg over another Grand Prix motorcycle that offer him with a legitimate shot at the podium, let alone a second world title.
As for the nation’s presence in the feeder categories — well, let’s just say reigning AMA Superbike champ Josh Herrin is currently tied in the Moto2 standings with you and me.
Unfortunately, this is a self-perpetuating problem. There are few realistic scenarios which puts a front-running American on the MotoGP grid in the semi-near future. Cameron Beaubier looks to have GP-worthy skills, but he’s locked in for at least another year in the States and MotoGP talent scouts spend precious little time seriously considering its former superstar pipeline — an unfortunate reality likely to be further cemented by Herrin’s difficulties.
And as this situation lingers — and the memory of Ben Spies’ climb to MotoGP slowly ages its way from the memories of the nation’s up-and-coming riders — those youngsters will increasingly view a GP future as less and less likely, which then becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.
It’s the opposite of the environment young Spaniards experience, where budding riders have several examples to look to which inspire those who may aspire the same. There is a clear path and the numbers of those who attempt to walk it are great enough to ensure that the nation’s best and brightest are identified. And those who succeed then serve as reinforcing examples for the next generation and so on.
However, in the States, even if there is a Marc Marquez among us, he’s probably playing football or basketball. And if he’s on two wheels, those talents will likely take him to Supercross stadiums. And if he somehow happens to find himself on a roadracing bike, the lack of paying gigs out there might deter him from pursuing it as a career. And even if he does, he may ultimately hit a glass ceiling and consider himself lucky to have simply landed one of the few AMA Superbike rides to be had.
It’s a difficult problem to solve. Even if it wasn’t tied to outside, larger factors, such as market conditions, that sort of momentum is not easy to turn around. Even if it can, it would take years and serious dollars. Dorna recognizes this as a real issue. As much as it may have worked to build the current Spanish empire, it is now financially motivated to add some parity back into the equation.
This is especially true in the case of the United States — a vitally important market with vast potential for growth — one the series can no longer take for granted. But with two Grands Prix to support and a alarmingly shallow talent pool of local riders to plug and play at the world level, Dorna could be motivated to become a bit more proactive to protect the sport’s future in the States.
In fact, persistent rumors have suggested that it is preparing to do just that. Actually, there have been whispers of an announcement ‘next week’ for about a year now, but those rumblings have picked up their intensity somewhat recently.
What that plan might be — and whether or not Dorna has the dedication and power to actually make it work — remains to be seen. Check back ‘next week.’
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