Interview: Garrett Gerloff doesn't want a hand out; he wants a chance

The MotoGP media had the chance to sit down with Garrett Gerloff at the recent Aragon Grand Prix. While the American was an unknown to many he left an impression with his maturity and intelligence. Now the Texan wants the opportunity to prove what he can do on track

Garrett Gerloff has taken the MotoAmerica Supersport championship by storm in recent years, claiming back-to-back titles. The Texan has amassed 19 wins in the class, but it was his form this year in beating JD Beach to the title which turned a lot of heads.

At the recent Aragon round of MotoGP, a group of journalists sat down with the American to hear about his plans for the future and his reasons for making the trip to Europe. The lasting impression was that while Gerloff knows the importance of having an American in MotoGP, he wants to get an opportunity based on talent and hard work rather than his passport.

“I’m not here for business necessarily but I do like telling people I want to be here in MotoGP one day,” said the 22 year old. “This is my goal, to be in a world championship paddock, whether it’s here or WorldSBK. That would also be a goal of mine. I want to race with the best. I want to be one of the guys holding the American flag around here for a world championship. I want to start coming to more of these races so that I can be more than just someone that you've heard of who lives 5,000 miles away. I want to be a face that’s here in the paddock and is ready to do something in the future.”

What that future holds remains uncertain for Gerloff. The Graves Yamaha squad of Cameron Beaubier and Josh Hayes in the MotoAmerica Superbike class looks set to remain unchanged for 2018. As a result Gerloff could once again find himself waiting in the wings for an opportunity on a bigger machine. As a double Supersport champion there is nothing left for him to prove on the Yamaha R6 in the United States, but a lack of opportunity to grow and progress could see him once again remain in the class.

“I’d really like to ride a Superbike next year on the R1 for the Graves team,” admitted Gerloff. “Hopefully that’s an opportunity that I will have, but if not, I would like to try to do something soon over here in Europe. I think that I would probably race the Supersport again next year but I’ve been on a 600 for so long that I want to take steps forward. I feel like being on the same bike next year on the same program would be nice, but it’s not a step forward. I want to keep moving forward in my career and I want to keep learning more things.

“Yamaha has always been really good to me in America. I would really like to continue with them and ideally that would be on a Superbike next year and hopefully there's an opportunity next year to do that. Yamaha have stuck with me for a really long time and hopefully I can prove myself with them on a Superbike. I want to earn my opportunities over here in Europe and I want people to see that I can get the job done and then give me an opportunity. I still have a lot to prove but I feel like lately on the 600 I’ve been able to do that. We had a really good last half of the season.”

The second half of 2017 saw Gerloff in almost total control of the Supersport class, as he reeled off eight wins in the final nine races. It was dominance that hasn't been seen in the US for a long time and having been able to beat the highly regarded JD Beach it wasn't as easy as his 42 point margin would suggest. The Yamaha teammates were the class of the field but it was a hotly contested battle throughout, and for Gerloff he hopes the victory can be stepping stone to getting some notoriety.

“I’d love to be able to use this to have an opportunity in Europe. To be able to race in Moto2 would be awesome, and even to wildcard would be great. The difficulty is that I’m 100% committed to Yamaha. I always ask Yamaha if there’s any chance that I can do something as a wildcard, if somebody ends up getting injured or something like that on a Yamaha team, I’d love to have the opportunity to go try to fill that spot and see what happens.

“When WorldSBK comes to America we’re also racing that same weekend in MotoAmerica. A lot of teams don’t want to do the back-to-back thing and race in both series. We have championships that we’re focused on to try and win. I think that it would be cool if we had a standalone round Laguna Seca that didn't count for MotoAmerica points. That way we could have the option to enter the WorldSBK race. The tires are different, but other than that the spec is the same. That’s what’s cool about MotoAmerica now because it’s all the same pretty much except for the tires.”

While MotoAmerica may not be at a similar level of technology to WorldSBK, for the leading teams at least, the road to the top is very different in the US compared to Europe. Improvements are being made with the introduction of a Supersport 300 class for 2018 but for young riders the biggest issue is always getting themselves noticed. The sheer size of the country means that racing in regional races is the only way for riders to cut their teeth. This offers them a chance to race at an early age but a big challenge to get noticed by teams in the national series.

“It’s so hard as a kid because the US is huge. When you're racing at a young age it's hard to travel across the country because it takes forever to drive everywhere. So they have these little regional championships but then you kind of miss out because the competition isn't as great as it could be. In different championships there’s better riders but you’re kind of just stuck to your local series. Luckily, my parents were able to take me all around, so I got to ride with everybody.

“The more riders you can ride with, the more you’ll learn and the faster you’ll be at the end of the day, which is what the European guys are able to do. They’re on a high level but I’m not afraid to learn and try. I’m not saying I’m going to come over here and do anything right away. That’s my goal, but these guys are fast. I'd like to just come over and try and learn as fast as I can.

“MotoAmerica is improving all the time with the class structure. Every year they have made really smart decisions on how they change the classes so that we can be closer to the WorldSBK standard. It means that if any of us have the opportunity to race in WorldSBK that we’re not completely lost. There are more teams and riders being added each year. There have been more fans at races this year, they’ve had a lot more advertising and the TV package with BeInSports is getting better all the time. They’ve really broadened the viewership of the series, I think, which will help out for sure in the future. And that should only get better the next couple years.

“Wayne Rainey has been awesome with the series. He sees us ride and he knows the quality of guys that we are as riders. So for sure, I think he’s always pushing for us when he talks to people from MotoGP and WorldSBK . I try to tell people too if there’s an opportunity, I want to try. I want to have an opportunity to show what I have over here. It just probably is going to take some time and maybe they don’t want to put us straight into the world championships because we are unknowns. There hasn’t been a lot of Americans that have come over here and done the job in a while, so maybe they will want to put us in the CEV or something first but we’re good riders and we'd all welcome that challenge.”

Just when the next American rider gets that opportunity remains to be seen but for the likes of Gerloff the hunger and determination is certainly there to succeed at a higher level. The clock is ticking for the 22 year old and he is keen to prove to Europeans how strong he can be. His intelligence and charisma made many in the Aragon paddock take note, now he wants the chance for speed to do the same on track.


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Comments

Seems like he has the right idea. I have only the slightest inkling of what's truly involved, but it seems to me that if the ambition is there, getting oneself to Europe is worth almost any price--even if it means a step backwards from a bike perspective. It's a huge risk, but you'll never be more than a big fish in a small pond here in the States.

Joe Roberts seemed to have the right idea, at least until he disappeared a few races back. I haven't seen any mentions of what happened...it seemed like things were going well. Did the team fold? I mean, even if if the circumstances were a bit special, a top-10 finish in your first Moto2 race is nothing to sneeze at.  

No idea what Beaubier is planning, but if the ultimate goal is WSBK or MotoGP, continuing to duke it out with Hayes, Hayden, and Elias doesn't seem like the way forward. 

But maybe that's not the goal. I could see it being really hard--possibly a big career mistake--to walk away from a secure, reasonably lucrative contract, fighting for wins on a competitive bike and living in your home country. The alternative is living in a foreign country, probably riding a less-competitive bike, working your butt off for less money, and riding against stronger, hungrier opponents. 

Is he related to Patrick "PJ" Jacobsen?  We of certain Scandinavian descent are sensitive to the difference between "sen" and "son".

On a more serious note, it is ironic that Jacobsen does not get to race in the US, since WSS is not held at Laguna Seca.  There really needs to be separate dates, so WSS could happen in the US, and MotoAmerica riders could be in WSBK as wild cards. (My $0.02)

Of course if Jacobsen did not have bad luck, he would not have any luck.  Put him on a proper WSBK team, and he might not beat Rea and Davies, but could certainly compete with the "best of the rest".

"Joe Roberts seemed to have the right idea, at least until he disappeared a few races back. I haven't seen any mentions of what happened...it seemed like things were going well. Did the team fold? I mean, even if if the circumstances were a bit special, a top-10 finish in your first Moto2 race is nothing to sneeze at. "

Been kind of wondering the same thing myself.  What did happen to that kid?

 

 

The team that Joe was wriding for in Moto2 withdrew. I assume he stilll has a ride in the Spanish equilivent. 

He has been contracted to ride next year in Moto2 for RW Racing