Iker Lecuona's MotoGP debut has been moved forward a few days. The Spaniard will replace Miguel Oliveira in the Red Bull KTM Tech3 MotoGP team at Valencia, Lecuona's home Grand Prix.
Lecuona is set to join the Tech3 team for 2020, replacing the departing Hafizh Syahrin, and would have been riding the KTM RC16 at the official test on Tuesday and Wednesday anyway. With Oliveira choosing to have surgery on the shoulder he damaged in the crash with Johann Zarco at Silverstone, it made sense to put Lecuona on the bike a few days earlier.
Lecuona's early promotion opens up a gap in the American Racing Team in Moto2. The team have decided to replace Lecuona at Valencia with Sean Kelly, an American currently racing in the MotoAmerica series. Kelly has experience of Valencia, having raced in the Red Bull Rookies Cup for three seasons.
Motorcycle racing is many things, but above all, it is unpredictable. Just when you think a racing series has settled in to a pattern, either during a season or over the course of a race weekend, along comes some unexpected factor or other to throw a spanner into the works and turn it all on its head. Suddenly, the script has gone out of the window and the protagonists are all ad-libbing their way to a completely new and unimagined story.
This is why so many riders sport symbols of gambling on their leathers, helmets, or bikes. Look around the MotoGP grid, and you see dice, cards, and poker chips everywhere. With so many random elements which can affect the outcome, from mechanical misfortune to errors of judgment to choosing the wrong tires to the fickleness of the weather, there is always the hope that things can break your way. It's always worth rolling the dice, because from time to time, a gamble will pay off handsomely.
That is how we ended up with the polesitters in the three classes at Argentina all taking pole for the first time in their careers. And it wasn't just the riders on pole: in MotoGP, three of the top four riders in qualifying were on satellite bikes. In Moto2, two of the top three hadn't finished anywhere near the podium in the first race in Qatar. And the same in Moto3, the favorites qualified down the order, with fresh faces at the top of the timesheets.
Times are hard for American racers in the Grand Prix paddock. The series has seen a dearth of riders from the USA since Nicky Hayden left for the WorldSBK paddock after holding the fort for fourteen season, winning a MotoGP title along the way. Motorcycle racing in the US is clearly in a rebuilding phase, the MotoAmerica series focused on producing and encouraging new talent.
There are signs that it is working. Cameron Beaubier is taking on multiple champion and veteran racer Josh Hayes and winning. Jake Gagne, JD Beach, and Garrett Gerloff are all promising young racers capable of going places. But few have taken the leap of faith required to come racing in Europe. Josh Herrin tried in 2014, but never found his feet in the tough Moto2 class.
Now, there is Joe Roberts. The 20-year-old Californian moved to Europe this year after spending three years in MotoAmerica, winning the Superstock 600 title in 2015. He already had some experience, having raced in the Red Bull Rookies for a couple of seasons. He started the 2017 season racing in the FIM CEV Moto2 championship for the AGR team, alongside fellow American Jayson Uribe. When AGR parted ways with Yonny Hernandez in July after the Sachsenring, the team asked Roberts to step up the Moto2 world championship. It was not a particularly hard choice, as that was precisely the reason Roberts had come to Europe in the first place.