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Sport Experience

A bigger jump than
Evel Knievel Racing on the other side of the ocean

The most romantic stories regarding motor racing are often those from the past. One of the stories is that of the American Flat-Track racers who tried their luck in international racing series between the late 70s and early nineties.

Their side-ways style used to tame the unforgiving 500cc two-stroke machines was unheard of in a time when Americans ruled the world of motorcycle racing.

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pj jacobsen

Montgomery, USA

james rispoli

Londonderry, USA

Nowadays the number of Americans racing abroad has decreased dramatically, but rest assured: change is coming. That's why we sat down with two of our REV'IT! heroes who made the jump on their own, and asked them a thing or two about how they did it. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome PJ Jacobsen and James Rispoli to the stage.

Right, let's start off with a bit of summarizing. Can you briefly explain your racing careers?

James
Like many US riders I started flattracking at a young age, in my case when I was six years old. After 31 nations titles and two grand championships I moved to Supermoto and then straight into the 600's. In 2011 and 2012 I won the AMA Supersport Championship, and in 2014 I made the jump to British Supersport where I had two podiums in my rookie season, followed by six more in 2015. This year it's all about British Superbikes for me.
PJ
I started even younger, as my dad –a former flattracker himself- put me on a flattrack bike by the age of three. I started road racing when I was 11, and I got to the Red Bull MotoGP academy when I was 12 years old. I went on to become 5th in the Spanish 125cc championship before going back to the US. When I returned to Europe, I went from British Supersport to British Superbikes and to World Supersport where I came in as vice World Champion last year.

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Both of you were racing successfully in the US. What was it that urged you to go racing this far away from home?

PJ
As a kid I was always focused on racing. My dad was looking for a path for me to go to explore my talent, and I've been working on becoming a world champion all my life. You can't become world champion in the US you know ;-).
James
Exactly the same thing: ever since I was a kid I dreamt about being a world champion. As much as I love racing in the US, you've got to step it up to the World Series to become world champion.

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Looking back, what was the biggest hurdle to overcome when you made the jump across?

PJ 
When I first came to Europe I was twelve years old. I went from hotel room to hotel room, eating different food every day and I had no friends with me. Also, it wasn't as easy to keep in touch with your family like it is today. When I started competing for Aspar a few years later it was better already, but I still wasn't comfortable. I had to get back to the US before understanding what I was doing it all for again.
James
Well, everything basically. All I brought with me was two suitcases and zero understanding about Europe. If you add up not having any friends or family around you can imagine life becomes hard, even with a clear goal in mind. I was happy to make friends quickly, such as Bradley Smith and James Ellison who looked out for me and showed me the ropes.

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The number of Americans leaving the international series is bigger than those jumping in. What's the story behind that phenomenon?

PJ 
To get noticed you need solid results, something for which you need a competitive package. Unfortunately in the US having a competitive bike requires a budget that not everybody has. At the same time the competitiveness in Europe has increased, making it even harder to enter.
James 
I think it also has to do with the recent economical situation. When the economy went through a bad time road racing wasn't hold as high of a sport as the rest of the world did. As a result, massive corporations who were involved in backing American riders decided to leverage other sports, pulling their marketing out of road racing. That effected the riders, but ultimately also the amount of money that went around in the series. As PJ explains, it takes money to be competitive.
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So if it's the star-spangled banner that we want to hear around tracks all over the world, what does it take for riders to make the jump?

PJ 
First of all, a rider needs to believe in himself (or herself). Basically all it needs is for a rider to go to Europe and win races. Unfortunately we all know it's not that simple, so it's a matter of bringing your talent and perseverance to a competitive team.
James
The most important thing is to create a following. Winning only gets you so far, and if you don't have a following a sponsor will probably not be interested in supporting you. Make a brand out of yourself, make yourself interesting for the fans and the sponsors will be persuaded easier into getting aboard, ultimately making both the rider and the sport great again.

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From your experience, what's the main difference between racing in the US and Europe (or the UK)?

PJ
In Europe there are more competitors, even when the number of riders in a class is the same. If you go to the US, there's the first five and then the rest follows at a distance. In the world series, the first fifteen riders are much closer. From my experience it's harder to end up in the points here than getting a top six position in the US.
James 
Yeah, the pace is higher and more guys have the pace. My biggest lesson was that as soon as the green flag drops in FP1 you have to be on the pace or you're playing catch-up the entire weekend. No matter if it's dry or wet; the level of speed is insane here. By being thrown in the deep from day one I feel I learned enough to continue my career in Europe and later on the World Series.

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After you made the jump across, the Moto America series got lit to pave the way for future US talent. What's the main advise you have for contenders who are looking to make it abroad?

PJ 
I'd say make sure you dominate in the States. If you do, you will get noticed and you increase the chance to make the jump. Show that you've outgrown the level you're in, and teams will be tempted more to give you a shot at a higher level. Actually it's the same when you look at Moto3, Moto2, and MotoGP. With exceptions, only those who excel in the lower classes get a chance to go one up.
James 
Always look for stiffer competition. That's why I think it's good that the series get more attention, to attract more –and better- racers. It's like they always say, "you're only as good as your competition". The talent is there, they just need to have more riders who can push each other to their limits.

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As for your personal ambitions, both of you are on competitive machinery in competitive classes. How do you see your near future?

PJ
This season I'm going to push to win races, as I always do. Of course I am aiming at doing better in the championship than last year (P2), but ultimately the goal is always to win races. For the future I want to be on a competitive bike in World Superbikes, so that's what I aim for.
James 
I'm in a new class, moving up from British Supersport. I am determined to get to the top of the series, so this means improving every weekend until we achieve this. The British Superbike Championship is one of the most hard-fought competitions in the world, so first I want to do well here before setting new goals.

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Finally, do you feel we get to see an American World Champion in motorsport soon?

PJ
Possibly ;-).
James 
Real soon! I think Nicky (Hayden) will have a shot next year as everybody expects a new Honda to arrive, and he'll have a year of experience in the series by then. However, at this moment there's only a hand full of us who are able to reach the World Championship stage, let alone win it. If we work hard and leave the ego aside, I believe we have the US talent to do the job.

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