Motorcycle racing in North America has gone through a tumultuous journey over the past few decades. From one of the most popular motorsports in the 80’s and 90’s to a niche classic today, it has been a wild and unpredictable ride. From the AMA to DMG and back, everyone who knows a thing or two about motorsports in North America has attempted to create the phenomenon we all know two-wheel road racing can become. And yet, year after year, NASCAR level fame has eluded the sport.
The latest hero in this Sisyphean quest is MotoAmerica. Alongside the AMA, they have acquired the rights to promote and manage the Superbike series from DMG, and with the blessings of Dorna and the FIM, hope to create something akin to the revelation that is the Spanish CEV . The FIM CEV is the current cream of the crop national series which has produced the current legion of unstoppable conquistadors. Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa, Alex Espagaro, Marc Marquez, Maverick Vinales…the list goes on. The billion dollar question is the following: how did the CEV go from a humble national series to the premier MotoGP feeder platform?
Although we’d all like to speculate, there are a number of obvious factors. World-class tracks, grass-roots support, fervent fans, bountiful sponsorship, and excellent television coverage have all helped. None of these factors were easy or cheap to develop. So if I were in MotoAmerica’s shoes, how would I go about it?
To answer this, we have to have to do a quick assessment of what we want to accomplish. The goal of MotoAmerica is to get a pipeline of American road racers into MotoGP and eventually have the best of them win the MotoGP world championship. The way you develop MotoGP racers anywhere is by starting with youngsters at the grass-roots level. Enter the FIM Mini Road Racing series .
Mini racing has been a staple in the training of European MotoGP champs for a long time. Valentino Rossi himself began his training on minis. It is the most economical and efficient method of getting youngsters onto two wheels. Mini racing is huge in Spain and Europe, and is the entry point to road racing for both hobbyists and future champions.
So, what is the state of mini racing in America? Kept alive by the rebel alliance of small yet excellent local clubs like the superb NJ MiniGP . Spend some time talking to the NJ MiniGP regulars, and you’ll understand that this is by far the best way to get Americans into the sport of road racing. The minis run on kart tracks, cost less than a lawn mower to operate, and are nigh-invincible to even the most violent crashes. Thus, mini racing is a no-brainer. We need more of it, and we need it now. There needs to be the equivalent of a NJ MiniGP in every American racing hub. The only issue is the lack of spec machinery provided by a reliable manufacturer. Currently, the prototype classes run the Honda NSR50, which is no longer in production. More on this later.
Although excellent at training entry level racers, minis don’t fully prepare a racer for Moto3. For this, we need a proper Moto3 class. As such, the mini series needs to be coupled with a spec Moto3 class. State-side, the biggest Moto3 series is the USGPRU . They have numerous classes in the spirit of Moto3 on a variety of bikes, mainly consisting of the Honda RS125 and the new Moriwaki MD250H.
At this point you may ask yourself, what exactly is the problem? Why haven’t local clubs and USGPRU created a pipeline for American Moto3 racers? The unfortunate answer: lack of clear progression. The parent of a future racer sees no clear path to Moto3 from any of these platforms; they only see a training opportunity to be leveraged into a seat overseas at a series such as the BSB or CEV. These series are locally run and receive little to no support from manufacturers and sanctioning bodies such as the FIM and the AMA. For MotoAmerica to create an American MotoGP world champion, they need to create a stable nationwide series providing a clear path to Moto3.
The best example of a unified training platform leading to the premier class of motorsports is the Rotax MAX Challenge . Sealed, spec engines, only maintainable by licensed Rotax technicians. Spec tires, and a number of certified frames. The same kart that is used in the local Rotax cup is used in the international series. Everything is spec, and as a result, cheap. Only talent matters, so no paying to win. The engines are reliable and running costs are low because there is no performance war leading to cost explosions. It’s so successful and well run that it makes the motorcycle equivalents look incompetent by comparison.
How does MotoAmerica solve its racing problem, while simultaneously making motorcycle racing as big as Formula 1 worldwide? Create a spec class in the spirit of the Rotax Max Challenge. Pay Rotax and Kalex consulting fees to develop two bikes, one 70cc and the other 150cc, both based on the current Rotax kart engines. The bikes will be similar to the Honda NSR50 and the Honda RS125, respectively. They will have sealed, spec engines and run on spec frames, spec suspension, and spec tires. They will be tuned for reliability, not power, hence the increased displacement. They will be mass produced and sold at the same profit margins as the current Rotax MAX karts. A national spec series will then be created and promoted by MotoAmerica across the USA. If successful, this series can be expanded worldwide, similar to the MAX Challenge, with national champions going to an international final.
The winners move onto Moto3, and if the USA has the level of talent we’ve seen in the past, we’ll finally get our next American MotoGP champion.