MotoGP overlords Dorna unveiled this week the British Talent Team and British Talent Cup, a program to create more opportunities for riders from the British Isles to reach the World Championship.
Former MotoGP rider Jeremy McWilliams will serve as a British talent scout for the scheme, which will place British rider John McPhee into Moto3 this season and create a British Talent Cup series as part of Dorna’s Road to the MotoGP program.
Former 500cc rider Alberto Puig, who also served as Dani Pedrosa’s longtime mentor and manager, will work in the program in his current role as Dorna talent promotion director. Puig was instrumental in the development of Dorna’s Asia Talent Cup, which serves as a blueprint for the British Talent Cup.
It’s all well and good to see Dorna investing in breeding young talent from Asia and the UK. But look at the list of premier class World Champions since 1976. Just one British rider has claimed the top spot in the last 41 seasons — Barry Sheene.
And look at the list of riders from Australia who have won 500cc or MotoGP titles. There are just three: Wayne Gardner, Mick Doohan and Casey Stoner.
A longer look at the list shows SEVEN American riders as World Champions during the same span: Kenny Roberts, Freddie Spencer, Eddie Lawson, Wayne Rainey, Kevin Schwantz, Kenny Roberts Jr. and Nicky Hayden.
Americans have won more championships than riders from any other country in the last 41 years. So where the hell is the American Talent Team and the American Talent Cup?
Dorna tried to establish an American beachhead for the sport in the late 2000s, running races at Indianapolis and Laguna Seca. There were even three GPs in the USA in 2013, with Circuit of the Americas joining the lineup.
Yet that didn’t sustain American interest in the series because, like any other nation, Americans like to root for American riders. Especially when they’re at the front of the grid.
In 2016, there were no Americans with a regular ride in the premier class for the first time since 1975, the year before Pat Hennen broke through with his maiden career Grand Prix victory. The last time an American stood on a MotoGP podium was the 2011 season finale at Valencia, where Ben Spies finished second.
MotoAmerica gave motorcycle road racing a lifeline in the United States, and Wayne Rainey’s organization has stabilized the sport and given it some hope for the first time in a long time. But that series isn’t funneling talent toward Europe like the heyday of AMA Road Racing, and the lack of respect for American riders and American series continues to mushroom in the paddocks and race shops of Europe, where MotoGP teams are based.
So if America means so much to Dorna, why did it choose the UK as its second object of affection for its ladder system? Asia makes sense — it’s a huge market for manufacturers, especially Japanese companies Yamaha, Honda and Suzuki. Plus there never has been a premier class World Champion from an Asian nation other than Australia, and there are no Japanese riders in MotoGP this season.
But the UK already has four riders on the MotoGP grid this season — Cal Crutchlow, Bradley Smith, Scott Redding and Sam Lowes. Brits dominate World Superbike, with Jonny Rea and Chaz Davies pining for a MotoGP ride.
Yet Dorna boss Carmelo Ezpeleta lauded the long history of motorcycle racing in the UK as one of the reasons behind the formation of the program.
British riders have won two since 1976.
Those numbers are something for Dorna to chew on.