Published 09:10 IST, April 18th 2024

MotoGP racing for new momentum in America, with hopes of riding an F1-like surge into the future

MotoGP, the Formula 1 of motorcycle racing, is ready to make a run at replicating the sport's recent dramatic expansion and introducing two-wheeled speed to a new fan base, mostly from the United States.

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Alex Rins and Takaaki Nakagami steer through a turn during qualifying for the MotoGP Grand Prix of the Americas motorcycle race at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. | Image: AP

A new American team with ties to the NASCAR stock car series, a new television deal in the United States and upcoming American ownership.

MotoGP, global motorcycle racing’s version of Formula 1, looks primed for a bid to copy F1’s explosive growth in recent years and bring a new group of fans — notably from the U.S. — to the thrills of two-wheeled speed.


“It has what Americans really crave or demand out of their sports: A combination of physical ability and danger," said Bobby Epstein, president of the Texas racetrack Circuit of the Americas, which hosts MotoGP's only race in the U.S.

Liberty Media's purchase of Spain-based Dorna and the commercial rights to MotoGP by the end of the year has fueled speculation of what might come for a racing series anchored largely in Europe.


“They know what to do, they raise Formula 1 to the maximum peak we’ve ever seen,” said Italy's Francesco Bagnaia, the 2022 and 2023 MotoGP champion with Ducati. "It will be a great opportunity for MotoGP.”

Liberty took over Formula 1 in 2017 and has overseen its rise in popularity, with an expanded calendar, new races in Las Vegas and Miami, and the slick Netflix docuseries “Drive to Survive.”


Liberty has yet to reveal specific plans for MotoGP, but President and Chief Executive Greg Maffei called the series “a great sporting spectacle that we can expand to a wider global audience. The business has significant upside, and we intend to grow the sport for MotoGP fans, teams, commercial partners and our shareholders.”

MotoGP already has two key elements for growing its American audience: Trackhouse Racing's move into the series this season and its potential crossover appeal to NASCAR fans; and a broadcast deal with TNT Sports to carry every sprint race and grand prix live across the network's platforms.


“I see a tremendous amount of potential, which is exactly why I made the investment to come into this sport," said Justin Marks, co-owner of Trackhouse Racing with pop star Pitbull. "I understand the American motorsport consumer. I understand the profile of the American racing fan.”

Those fans will appreciate daredevil riders racing at speeds that can top 200 mph (321 kph), and short races that typically finish in under and hour, Marks said.


Trackhouse is already trying to lure its NASCAR fans into giving MotoGP a look.

Trackhouse NASCAR drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez were in the MotoGP paddock at the Grand Prix of the Americas last week before their own race on Sunday . Earlier in the week, Trackhouse MotoGP riders Miguel Oliveira and Raul Fernandez visited the team's NASCAR headquarters in North Carolina.

All of it was cross-promoted across team social media accounts.

“It’s our one time to race on American soil. I spent a spent a lot of time talking to fans who walked up and shook my hand and just said, ’Thanks for doing what your are doing and investing in motorcycle racing,'” Marks said.

American fans will look for an American rider. They won't find one — yet.

No American has held a full-time ride in MotoGP since 2015. No rider from the U.S. has won a MotoGP race since 2011. The last American champion was the late Nicky Hayden in 2006.

Europe dominates the talent development at all levels. Of the 22 riders this season, 16 are from Spain, including Fernandez, or Italy. Oliveira is Portuguese.

Joe Roberts, who races for the Onlyfans American Racing team, is the only American rider at the Moto2 level.

“An American rider at the top level of GP competing for wins is the absolute best-case scenario. It’s just going to get take a while to get there. Hopefully, Trackhouse can help curate that American talent,” Marks said.

The Liberty takeover announcement noted that Dorna would remain an “independently run company” that will remain based in Madrid. Carlos Ezpeleta, Dorna's chief sporting officer, last week downplayed the prospect of major changes in the immediate future. The series had already added F1-style sprint races and expanded its calendar to 22 races.

“Liberty does not think that the sport needs fixing, and we agree with that,” Ezpeleta said.

MotoGP had three races in the U.S. in 2013. By 2016, it was down to one. The Circuit of the Americas has hosted the series for a decade. Race sites are mostly set through 2026.

Epstein said adding a new U.S. race too soon would only dilute attendance at his race and a new one. Marks would like to see MotoGP follow the F1 model of expanding into new American markets with international appeal and flavor, such as Southern California or Miami. Marks chose Los Angeles as the site to unveil the Trackhouse team and liveries back in January.

Friends Vince Chu, 59, and Russ Smith, 69, of Las Vegas made their first trip to the race in Austin last week. They were decked out out in Ducati gear as they roamed the “Ducati Island” fan zone.

Both said they hope MotoGP will draw new fans and welcomed the idea of more races, particularly on the West Coast. But they also had a message for Liberty and any idea about expansion: MotoGP fans expect their series to remain affordable.

“I’m a Formula 1 fan, I'm from Las Vegas, and I couldn’t go to the race in Vegas. (Cost) was outrageous,” Chu said. “If its ridiculous like Formula 1, people won’t go.”

09:10 IST, April 18th 2024