At 26 and with a decade of European experience behind him, including winning World Supersport races and a second place finish in the World Supersport championship, one might assume PJ Jacobsen would be getting ready to move into the MotoGP class in 2019, or a factory ride in World Superbike. Sorry, it doesn’t really work that way for American riders in Europe now. Jacobsen is racing two series in 2019–the AFT flat track series and also the Supersport series in MotoAmerica. He’s happy to be racing, happy to be back home in America and seems to want to put the last ten years of European racing behind him. But a couple of minutes into a talk with him immediately after the first Springfield Mile race, it’s not difficult to see that his European experience left him slightly bitter.
“The last three years have been, after getting second in the World Supersport Championship, it’s kind of been a downhill for me, to be honest,” Jacobsen says. “I was really struggling in World Supersport after getting second in the championship, with the rule changes. And then going to World Superbike was difficult as well. Just not being on a factory team and stuff. So everything was really difficult. But I don’t want to be too negative here. I came back to the States after, as you know, Europe was quite difficult to get a ride on a really good factory team. So I came back to the States, and now I’m racing for Celtic Racing in MotoAmerica, and I’m racing for Kenny Coolbeth and John Nila in the Flat Track series. Now I’m back, married, bought a house, I’m living the American Dream.”
The upside of domestic racing in America is that a rider doesn’t have the problem of a constantly bruised forehead resulting from beating his head against a wall in competing for rides with well-sponsored or connected European or Japanese riders in world championship racing. And PJ Jacobsen knows all about that.
“It’s difficult (to talk about). To be honest, over the years that I’ve been there, I was over there for like ten years – it’s very difficult for an American rider to get the right ride. You can go over there and get a ride, but it’s not the ride that’s going to be putting you in the top five, so it’s difficult. Everybody now, it’s kind of like Formula One, they just bring money to the team, and usually they’re European riders with a big sponsor budget behind them. So it’s really hard for an American rider unless you have a big sponsor budget to pay for a ride. But (even then), you don’t even know what you’re going to be getting, equipment-wise. It’s really difficult. If you weren’t already in the scene, like as a factory rider, like Colin Edwards and stuff like that, a little bit back in the day, or (Ben) Spies, already in there, it’s hard to make the step right now, as a young rider, to go in there.”
Jacobsen continues, “You know what really hurt a lot, is even Valentino Rossi, I respect him so much, and he’s the king, you know? But his new VR46 Academy, that’s really hurt a lot of things for American riders, for example, because we don’t have a school or anything like that, like an American camp in Europe that gets you on all these teams. So his Academy really places a lot of riders in the right teams, because a lot of the teams are Italian or Spanish. So it’s quite difficult, and even the Italian and Spanish teams know that as well. It’s usually just Italian or Spanish riders. World Superbike is more a lot of British riders, and it seems like they just keep getting more British riders. So yeah. It’s hard.”
The English have their British Talent Cup, the Spanish have CEV cup while Asia’s introduction into racing is underpinned by the Idemitsu Asia Talent Cup. All of these championships are officially endorsed by DORNA as a a way to “launch new riders’ careers and help them to compete in MotoGP in the future” according to Dorna’s web site. There is no Dorna-endorsed American Talent Cup.
Dorna is not really a villain in this. American Joe Roberts is the sole American Moto2 rider in 2019. He is racing for the American Racing KTM team and is currently in 27th place in the championship standings. It’s suggested that Dorna is helping to fund the Joe Roberts Moto2 effort. Additionally, Dorna have spoken to Wayne Rainey about how they can collaborate to get more American riders into world championship racing. So Dorna seems to be interested in helping American riders get back into world championship racing, but at this point it’s going to require Jay Leno-level money to obtain and support a Moto2 team that would exist to help American riders as a long term concern.
And the American branches of the OEMs are doing what they can when to support getting or keeping an American rider in MotoGP or World Superbike. When the Aspar team was seemingly unable to pay Nicky Hayden’s salary, American Honda stepped in and subsidized it fully. Moreover, last year Yamaha managers offered to subsidize a spot on the Yamaha WSBK team for Cameron Beaubier but there wasn’t enough interest to make it happen.
Certainly this frustrating situation for American riders in world championship racing wasn’t helped by Ben Spies’ career flaming out early or Moto2 rider Josh Herrin being sent home before his first season ended. Jake Gagne left America as one of the top riders in the series, and by the time he returned he was, in a lot of ways, lucky to have survived. Obviously American riders don’t seem to have much respect in world championship racing in 2019. Jacobsen seems to have made his peace with it, and just after this interview he raced in the top ten in the Twins class at the Springfield Mile and won two Supersport races at New Jersey Motorsports Park. Do those accomplishments help take the sting out of his European experience?
Maybe, a little.