Advertisement

Wayne Rainey's Plan to Get American Riders Back into MotoGP

motoamerica at cota
MotoAmerica Creates Feeder Series For MotoGPMotoAmerica

MotoGP hasn't had an American star since Nicky Hayden and Ben Spies fought for wins in the late Twenty-Tens. One former MotoGP rider, now the president of MotoAmerica, is setting out to fix that.

Unlike Formula 1, there is no convoluted point system with a bias against American series. That removes the major roadblock that keeps some Americans out of F1 grand prix racing, but American riders have their own problem: Most racers enter the sport too late. Unlike karting and motocross, which have competitive classes beginning as soon as kids graduate out of their Pull-Ups, no feeder series accurately prepares young American riders for competitive motorcycle road racing.

Enter the MotoAmerica Talent Cup, the new feeder series to MotoGP focused on getting American riders ready for international road racing. Set to launch in 2025, the series will put American riders as young as 14 on competitive spec-built bikes created to prepare them to race on the global stage.

ADVERTISEMENT

MotoGP has been growing with the American audience. Pitbull's NASCAR team, Trackhouse Racing, entered the series this year, and Liberty Media, the owners of F1, spent $4.5 million to buy an 86 percent majority of the series. Having an American to root for goes a long way for a fan base that currently feels valued most for their dollars and metrics, not the long history of competitive American racing.

MotoAmerica president and former MotoGP racer Wayne Rainey is spearheading the program, which has been in the works for longer than most people realize. Twelve years ago, plans were scrapped when MotoAmerica focused its efforts on joining and growing the AMA U.S. Road Racing Championship.

Now that the American championship and class levels are operating successfully, the series was able to reassess the idea of a younger feeder series and exactly why certain countries were developing a large crop of exceptional talent.

"This idea got put on the back burner," Rainey told Road & Track. "As we kept growing the national championship, and then up until last year, we started thinking about the program again, and we could analyze what the rest of the world was doing. Why were there so many Spanish and Italian riders making it into MotoGP?"

Currently, nine of the top 10 spots in the 2024 MotoGP World Championship are locked up by Italian and Spanish riders, with the only outliner being South African Brad Binder in seventh. The two nations have secured a championship in 18 of the 23 seasons dating back to the beginning of the MotoGP era in 2002.

When MotoAmerica looked at what the Spanish and Italian series were doing correctly, it was all about getting kids adjusted to the right type of bike. That means learning to ride on a racing bike, not starting on a production or off-road bike and then transitioning over.

"[Their programs] were built around the base of starting the kids young, putting them on bikes that were really much more competitive," Rainey explained. "The bike was built to race at a very high level, in a GP spec–based motorcycle. That was the big difference between what they were doing and what we were doing here in the States."

Before the current MotoGP era, Americans competed for wins and collected championships, including Freddie Spencer, Eddie Lawson, and Rainey himself from 1990 to 1993. Since then, we've only had two: 2006 champion Nicky Hayden and one-time race winner Ben Spies.

Talking specs, the young riders will ride a purpose-built Kramer racing motorcycle powered by a 350-cc engine. For comparison, the current Moto3 bikes have a limitation of 250 cc. Racing on a competition-level bike instead of a production-level bike is the biggest key to the series being a successful launching ground.

Full technical specs, details, and photos will be released to the public in August, per MotoAmerica's press release.

From the MotoGP side, the series is happy to have a potential new pool of talent coming their way.

"We're very happy to welcome the new MotoAmerica Talent Cup to the Road to MotoGP," said Carlos Ezpeleta, chief sporting officer at MotoGP rights holder Dorna Sports. "America has a huge history in our sport, and we want to see more of that made in the future. The best way to do that, we know from experience across the Road to MotoGP, is to create an environment that provides valuable and relevant experience—but pairing it with the opportunity to progress."

It's not enough to prove that this next group of kids will be competitive enough against themselves. Since there are bigger and more developed feeder systems, MotoAmerica will need to partner with the other Road to MotoGP series to ensure the riders are measuring up.

"When these riders come and compete, they'll be able to ride these bikes at a certain level," Rainey explained. "The bikes are very responsive to riding them hard. Riders can come, they can challenge themselves, and they can challenge themselves against other riders."

The biggest stage for riders to show their level of competition will come at Circuit of the Americas, where the series will run as a support class to the MotoGP Grand Prix of the Americas. The best of the series will also have the chance to race in support of MotoGP in select European rounds by entering the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup.

Currently, the highest-performing American is Joe Roberts in Moto2. At 15 years old, Roberts left his home in Los Angeles to race in the Red Bull Rookie Cup and ultimately found his way into Moto2, where he sits second in the 2024 standings with two victories. The MotoAmerica Talent Cup opens the door for there to be more riders like Roberts and, someday, more like Hayden and Rainey.

Rainey explained the next step for the young riders: "If they're lucky and get in the top five in this championship, we're gonna have invites to the Red Bull Rookies Cup. The Rookies Cup is based in Europe, and it's run as a support class for the MotoGP events throughout Europe."

It's not a quick path to get an American back to the top step in MotoGP regularly, but it's an important one.

You Might Also Like