Rennie Scaysbrook | February 1, 2022
The all-American Moto2 team is aiming for the top step in 2022. We caught up with the main players at the team launch in Calabasas, California.
By Rennie Scaysbrook
At a lavish event held in the Calabasas, California, countryside, the American Racing Team put its very polished best foot forward as riders Cameron Beaubier and Sean Dylan Kelly took the wraps off their Kalex MotoGP race bikes for the 2022 FIM Moto2 World Championship.
Resplendent in the red, white and blue, synonymous with this great land, there was an air of optimism as Beaubier smiled for the cameras and Kelly let the affluent neighbors of Team Owner Eitan Butbul know exactly what a Moto2 motor sounded like, valve-bouncing the three-cylinder Triumph 765 into the Californian night.
Now in its fourth season in the intermediate category of MotoGP, much is expected of the American Racing Team and in particular, Beaubier, in 2022. With a year under his belt and some notable performances, including his breakout ride in front of his home fans at Circuit of The Americas, he knows it’s time to make that final step and become a permanent front runner in arguably the most competitive championship in the world.
“I’m just stoked to get that first year out of my way. I’ve learned a lot,” Beaubier said matter-of-factly. “Increasing the comfortability has been important. I wouldn’t say I’m totally comfortable; definitely not like when I was riding my superbike at home, but way better than we started the year last year. I know what I’m getting myself into. I know the bike I’m riding. I know most of the tracks, and I feel like I’m slowly adapting my style to this bike.”
Beaubier’s career has predominately been on production-based machinery, with the Californian taking five MotoAmerica Superbike Championship victories in six seasons for the factory Yamaha team. However, a Moto2 bike is vastly different to a superbike, in more ways than one.
“On the superbike, it has so much decel [deceleration] and you can do so much with the rear of the bike. The electronics were so advanced that you could have the engine brake do exactly what you want in going into a corner. You could rely on traction control as a barrier, so you could be aggressive with the bike, and the chassis was so much less rigid than a Moto2 bike.
“On a superbike, you crank the thing over on its side, carry a bunch of lean angle and carve through the corner. You don’t necessarily have to hang off that much, but the way these things [Moto2 machines] are you can’t lean the thing over as far. I don’t know if it’s the chassis or if it’s the larger front wheel or tire, but you have to pick the bike up, and physically hang off the bike more. I’ve always had more of a neutral riding style, so that’s been a little bit tough to adapt to.
And there’s the politics of the Dunlop control tire, which is very different in its character than the control Dunlop used in MotoAmerica.
“I feel like grip-wise, they’re not much different,” Beaubier says. “It’s just the way the whole bike reacts. The front tire is a little bit wider and it’s just a super vague tire. It does not give you much feeling, but you have to ask for so much grip out of it, because everyone else is.
“I’ve had a lot of crashes where I release the front brake, where I’m already in the corner, and the tire is not loaded. That’s where a lot of them have been. Besides that, I’m stoked to have that year under my belt. I’m going to keep progressing.
Newly married to long-time partner, Shelby, who will join him for the majority of the 2022 season at his base about a half hour’s drive from Barcelona in Sant Pere De Ribes, everything is looking rosy for Beaubier to have a successful year in Moto2 against a field of riders hungrier than ever for their shot at the MotoGP big time.
“I remember Remy [Gardner, 2021 Moto2 World Champion] passed me at the beginning of testing at Portimao, the first couple sessions out. And I was like “How the f–k am I supposed to go that fast?” But, sure enough, you keep chipping away, chipping away. I don’t want to necessarily put a position on it or anything, but it’s kind of time. I want to run up front. I did on a couple of occasions last year when everything went right, and it felt really good. I want more of that.”
With Beaubier looking to cement his status as a full-time front runner in Moto2, on the other side of the garage, Sean Dylan Kelly is preparing to re-enter the European racing scene after three years as a contender in the Red Bull Rookies Cup.
Kelly comes to the Moto2 game armed with the 2021 MotoAmerica Supersport Championship title under his belt and prior knowledge of many of the tracks he’ll race in 2022, and he crucially got a few thousand miles on the Moto2 machine when he traveled to Europe near the tail-end of 2021 with his father and participated in several track days at tracks like Jerez, Misano and Portimao.
“Honestly, it was incredible,” the Floridian said of his first days on the Moto2 Kalex chassis. “I got some good kilometers down, but it was with no team whatsoever. I had no suspension changes, no telemetry, nothing. It was just me and a bike. It helped a lot to get to Jerez [for the end-of-season test], just knowing what the bike was like and all I had to do to get there, work with the team and try my best.
Kelly’s best was better than perhaps he or the team expected. His 1:42.749 put the class rookie ninth overall, less than a second behind pace-setter VR46 Kalex’s Celestino Vietti and in front of Moto2 regulars Jorge Navarro, Sam Lowes, Marcel Schrotter and Beaubier.
“We worked a lot to get me fitted and comfortable on the bike,” Kelly said of the Jerez test. “After that, we just were just ticking away, ticking away. I learned so much from the guys. We didn’t have to do too much, but it was more a case of how easy it is to learn when they have that much knowledge. And, obviously, I’m slowly adapting on the Kalex. There’s so much to learn from this thing.”
Having spent the last two seasons with Team Hammer on the M4 Ecstar Suzuki, what are the biggest differences between the production GSX-R600 and this Kalex Moto2 machine?
“The chassis is so stiff,” Kelly says. “The Triumph engine, honestly it’s beautiful. I love it. But, the chassis changes everything. The limit is just so much further, and that’s why the class is so hard. I think that test was super positive. We did a really solid job at the end.”
Kelly’s immediate progress with the Kalex came from understanding the crucial role the rear brake plays in grand prix racing. Compared to production-based superbike and supersport machines, the Kalex relies heavily on the rear brake in every phase of the corner, and this was something Kelly had to understand early to get down to competitive lap times.
“We put a brake lever on the top of the clutch, like a scooter style [similar to what Jonathan Rea uses in WorldSBK]. It was really weird at first, but once I started using it more and more, it was like, ‘Dude!’ I used the rear brake more in one day at Jerez than I did all year on the Suzuki. On certain tracks with the Suzuki, I’d use it more, some tracks less, but really, I didn’t use it much. On some tracks I didn’t touch it at all. It just wasn’t necessary. But on the Kalex, if you’re not using it, you’re screwed. It’s extremely important for corner entry. You use it to stop the bike, pivot the bike, everything. It’s crazy. The Kalex is super fun, and it’s definitely a difficult bike, but it’s just a motorbike, right? There’s still more kilometers to keep on learning the thing, but I’m looking forward to it.”
Like Beaubier, Kelly will relocate to the greater Barcelona area at the foothill of the mountains for the duration of the 2022 season, but he won’t have much time to settle in as the team is scheduled to run a private test at Portimao in mid-February before participating in the official Dorna/IRTA test on February 19-21 against the Moto2 competition.
“I’m set up with everything I need in terms of training [in Spain],” Kelly says. Plus, I’ve got all the tracks I need around there as well. As of right now, I’ll be going at the end of the month [January], and I’ll be going by myself. I have my girlfriend who is going to try to go as much as possible but flying back and forth to the races. It’s the same with my parents. They really want to go over there, but, as of right now, it’s not possible. I hope that, maybe by the end of the year they will be able to not only be going to as many races as possible, but maybe even find a place to stay there by the end of the year. It’s going to be good.”
The Boss Man
Eitan Butbul on his two chargers and getting respect in Moto2
Real estate mogul and American Racing Team Owner, Eitan Butbul, knows the 2022 season presents his best chance yet of putting an American back on top in grand prix racing.
Now in his fourth season as a team owner, Butbul has had to face some of the harsh realities of life as a grand prix outsider in recent years, but the success enjoyed with the team’s first American rider, Joe Roberts, and now Beaubier, has opened some paddock eyes that his team is seriously intent on staying for the long term
“On a personal level, I didn’t come from racing, and I got into this situation to own the team not by mistake, but without too much attention to manage the team,” Butbul said. “But we took it, and we changed the name to American Racing and said, if we do it, we do it right. So, the first year was difficult for many reasons. One of them was new guy coming to the neighborhood. Who is this guy? What is he doing? Where did he come from? He’s not from racing, not from anything, and then he’s running a team and calling it American Racing.
“I saw the feeling from the paddock, other teams, sponsors, everybody looking at me like, what’s going on? But I think when we finished ’19 and I got John Hopkins to work with us, and we showed in 2020 with Joe [Roberts] we could get some good results, it showed we were serious.
“Also, the appearance, the way we look and present ourselves and everything about what we do is serious. I think the attitude changed completely. I feel it. I think Dorna look at us in a different way. I think they understand that our intention is to stay and to do something good, and obviously my goal is to win the championship with an American rider.”
“We knew it was not going to be easy for Cameron to adapt from superbike to Moto2, but we saw in some races he is a hell of a racer. He got some good results and I think now he understands the bike better, from the front tire, the braking, the chassis, mainly because it’s a big difference than the superbike. He showed, especially in Austin, that he can fight to be on the top. Not just to be on the top for a few laps, but fight all the way to the end. So, we think with him there’s a good chance that we can be in the top five most of the year.
“At the same time, we have Sean that came straight from MotoAmerica. He’s young and a rookie, but we manage his academy. He’s part of the American Racing Academy program. We built him a bike last year as soon as he finished MotoAmerica.
“He came to Europe with his dad and did 11 or 12 track days. He did close to 4000 kilometers on the bike. This gave him a huge, huge step and it showed when he came to the official test when he finished ninth.
“The feedback that we got from him, the big difference the first day on the bike, and after he finished 4000 kilometers of private testing that he did, was amazing. It’s huge. So, it’s also proof to us that we cannot just bring American and just throw them onto the bike, start the season testing and let’s go race. We need to give them previous experience riding Moto2 bike, either in the U.S. or also in Europe before they can come and jump on the bike for real. So, this was a good step. We think he can be competitive.”
The Rider Coach
John Hopkins on teaching old dogs new tricks
If there’s a rider who’s been there and done it, it’s John Hopkins. Having ridden everything from 125cc, 250cc and 500cc Grand Prix two-strokes, to MotoGP four-strokes and every specification of superbike during a 20-year career, Hopper knows a thing or two about making a bike go fast. But he’s now learning to impart that knowledge to a new breed of rider, and one who has had considerable success doing it “his way.”
“I knew it was going to be tougher with Cam than with Joe,” Hopkins said. “Joe was a kid that wanted to soak up as much information as he could. But Cam was different because he’s had so much success doing it his way on a superbike, and with me racing 10 years on a superbike and 10 years on a grand prix bike, I know the differences between the two. They’re two entirely different machines. You have to ride them completely differently.
“The way you have to hang off, the way that you have to physically force the bike to get it apex. You use 10 times more rear brake on a grand prix bike, because you don’t have that flex from the chassis. Superbikes have a certain amount of flex. It’s easy to just get the thing picked up, whereas with GP bikes you really have to force them into the corner and then get them picked up for the exit.
“You could see it at the beginning of the year, where Cam was literally riding the thing like a superbike, his riding style and everything. I was like, ‘Dude, you got to do this, you got to do this.’ He was a bit apprehensive, but I knew that was going to be the case because he’s had so much success doing it his way. I knew he probably was going to come in and it’s like trying to teach an old dog new tricks. I’d show him pictures and stuff like that, and he would be like, ‘Okay…’ He would argue the fact. He would be a little bit difficult. But if you had seen pictures from the beginning of the year of into a corner, mid-corner, or exit compared to how he was riding the bike at the end of the year, he looks like an entirely different rider. He’s actually hanging off.
“The biggest thing was the rear brake. At the beginning of the year, he was like, ‘I never use the rear brake.’ I said, ‘If you want to be a competitor, you have to use your rear brake.’ We went through everything, man. We went through the scooter brake, and all kinds of different thumb brakes. He wanted to use it just manually [foot pedal]. Then eventually, halfway through the season, he finally started getting the rear brake down, then it instantly helped.
“It was funny because there were a lot of times during the year I said, ‘Dude, if you could do this, I know for a fact it will be faster. I know this will be faster.’ And he’d argue me. I’m like, ‘Dude, just do it.’
“Then eventually, we got there. He started to put full trust into me, and the advice that I was giving him, and it worked out good.
“But Cam is amazing. He’s such a nice kid, an amazing guy. It was just the season I expected from him. I knew it was going to be tough for him being in 18th, 19th place, having to learn to be there after winning non-stop for five years, six years straight. So, being in 18th and 19th, and then looking at the time sheets and seeing that you’re a second and a half slower, when you feel like you’re giving every ounce, that’s disheartening.
“When I was racing and the Suzuki was not competitive, I’d be giving my all, literally destroying my body, and I’m still a second and a half, two seconds off. Then things start clicking and it all changed for me.
“Austin, I think was a huge turning point for Cam. He finally had that self-confidence that he knew he belonged, and he could be competitive. These guys aren’t superhuman or aliens.”
And of his new pupil, Sean Dylan Kelly?
“Amazing, honestly. He’s really good,” Hopkins said. “I didn’t really know the level of MotoAmerica for a long time. Since over almost a decade there were no American riders in the world championship. So, I was kind of worried about where the level of MotoAmerica racing was. I didn’t know how good the MotoAmerica championship was and where the guys were at. Even Cameron, I didn’t know where he was at and how Sean would be initially. Instantly, Cam came over and showed his pace.
“With Sean, I know he’s got the talent. He’s got more determination than anyone I’ve ever seen at that age. His motivation and determination and what he does off the track is just unbelievable. He’s willing to do whatever it takes. I think Sean and Cameron will have a great working relationship. They’ll be able to push each other.”CN
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