With Garrett Gerloff confirmed for 2020 at GRT Yamaha a goal of MotoAmerica has been achieved; to get a rider to WorldSBK. What next for Gerloff? The challenge only starts now.
The cat is out of the bag and Garrett Gerloff has finally been confirmed as moving to WorldSBK for 2020. The Texan will join the GRT Yamaha squad and arrives highly regarded as a two-time MotoAmerica Supersport champion.
What can be expected of him however? What will be the challenges that Gerloff will face as he comes across to Europe?
When Wayne Rainey became president of MotoAmerica he stated that his goal was to get young American riders back on the world stage. The triple world champion has made no secret of the fact that this is remains his objective. For a long time Cameron Beaubier was the man expected to make the jump, but the triple domestic champion has consistently turned down opportunities to move across and continue racing at home.
However, after two years of racing a Superbike in the domestic championship Rainey now feels the time was right for Gerloff to make the switch.
Chasing the dream
"We are very happy to see Garrett get this opportunity to chase his dream," said MotoAmerica President Wayne Rainey. "He had a great season in MotoAmerica this year and we think he’s picked the perfect time to show his talents to the rest of the world. He was fast all season, won four races and was in the championship battle until the very end. I think Garrett has an advantage in that our rules are in line with those of World Superbike, so he can jump on a bike and just go race."
"When we put MotoAmerica together we wanted to make sure that when our riders got the opportunity in the World Championship, they would be completely comfortable with the regulations, the technical rules and the procedures so they really just have to learn the racetracks. We know Garrett can do the job well and everyone at MotoAmerica wishes him the best of luck and we’re looking forward to following him in his first season of World Championship racing."
The regulation alignment of MotoAmerica and WorldSBK is a clear advantage for Gerloff. This year Leon Haslam returned to the world stage from the British Superbike championship and spent much of the early rounds trying to understand the electronics of his Kawasaki. Trying to get the most from that package proved a challenge after three years of riding without traction control in the UK, even for the experienced Haslam. For Gerloff the importance of electronic strategies won’t be a new item to learn, as it’s one that he’s been able to understand in recent years.
Less to learn
In comparison to Jake Gagne, the last American to jump to WorldSBK, Gerloff will do so having ridden for a top team in the United States. Racing alongside Cameron Beaubier in the Yamaha Factory Racing team, he’s been challenged by the best rider in the series and a serial champion. The Yamaha Factory squad leave no stone unturned and, compared to Gagne’s experiences, had huge resources.
For Gagne, the jump to WorldSBK was massive and the Ten Kate Honda squad admitted as much when they commented about the challenges he faced. Every time the American jumped on his Fireblade he made improvements in his riding style, understanding of the bike and the settings. Every time he jumped on the bike it felt better. Every time he went out the bike was the best bike he’d ever ridden. How can you find fault in a package that is better than you’d ever experienced? It was hard for Gagne to pinpoint those shortcomings of the Honda. Gerloff won’t have the same issue because the team and bike he’s been riding is already at a very high level.
At the Misano round of WorldSBK, before Gerloff was seriously being touted for a move in 2020, Spies talked about his fellow Texan and said that he was already developing strongly and with the right progression could come to WorldSBK and do well.
On giants' shoulders
Spies explained how it all got started. "The day before I went to Portugal, Garrett called me and asked what I thought the possibilities were of putting this all together. I told him that it was definitely possible, it just wasn't going to be super easy with everything up in the air, with a lot of sponsors not being signed, and some of the World Superbike regulars not signed yet."
"So we just started working through everything, and I told him I would pretty much help him with anything he wanted to." Spies went and talked to as many people as possible, and tried to put himself in Gerloff's shoes thinking about the best options for the future.
Spies got some help from Laurens Klein Koerkamp, former boss of the Yamaha World Superbike team and manager to Michael van der Mark. "We actually got Garrett hooked up with him to be his manager, which I was really happy with. Then just started talking with [current Yamaha WorldSBK boss Andrea] Dosoli a whole lot, and some of the American guys, to try to get everybody on the same page, and at least get all the major players at the same table so we could figure it out as quick as we could. He had a lot of support, but obviously, it wasn't the easiest thing to get done in the amount of time. But everybody got behind it and made it happen, and I think it's a great thing."
For Gerloff one of the biggest challenges will be adapting to a new life and a new culture. He plans to settle in Misano, close to where Spies had his European base. If he can use the time to learn the language and the culture it will help ease the transition to European life. For Gagne this was key for what turned out to be his sole season of WorldSBK action.
Before returning to domestic action the Californian native spent the year maximizing every opportunity he had to explore new cities and cultures. At the time it was clear that Gagne might only be having a 'one and done' year in WorldSBK but for Gerloff the goal will be aimed firmly towards the long term.
"I really think Garrett has the end goal," Spies said. "I've started talking with him a lot, and he's got unbelievable drive, which to go do what he's going to do, you've got to have. And I know he's got the talent. So I just hope he's in a good environment, good mechanics, good bike, good crew chief, and that whole package. And if he is, I think mid-way through his second year moving on, I think he's as strong as anybody, really."
When he came to the Aragon MotoGP in 2017 he spoke of being willing to move to Europe and grab the opportunity with his hands. It will be the same with GRT. The squad is aiming to be the proving squad for Yamaha in WorldSBK with the team taking young riders to the Superbike class. For their first year in the one liter class they elevated Sandro Cortese, the reigning World Supersport champion, but now with Gerloff and Federico Caricasulo the real goal is being achieved; giving young riders their chance.
From Supersport 300 to Supersport to Superbike Yamaha now has a plan in place to offer genuine progression. That they’re also willing to take riders from the domestic series also show younger riders that there is a real chance to move forward with the Iwata concern. How far can that lead? With Toprak Razgatlioglu also joining Yamaha this year the opportunities that present themselves in MotoGP are also clear. An obvious path for success towards the premier class.
Adapting off track
While the opportunities will be there what of the challenges? For Michael Laverty the biggest challenge won’t be ability but rather adaptability. When the Ulsterman moved to America early in his career it was to be used as a springboard for his future. With his future brother-in-law, Chaz Davies, also racing in the US the duo had to learn to adapt to being away from home and away from their friends and family. For the god of their careers all three riders were presented with a choice to move to new pastures.
"Moving away from home is hard," said Laverty. "For Garrett he’ll need to learn the language if you're living in Italy with the team. You need to have support around you and you need to decide who that is. For some it's a friend or a girlfriend or a family member. It can be boring and lonely in another country. You can feel isolated at times and that can be a culture shock. Gerloff is young and he'll have a lot to learn."
"For me when I raced in America it was easy. I shared hotels with Chaz, spoke the language and it wasn't a tough transition. The culture was similar to the UK and I enjoyed traveling and seeing the cities over there. If Garrett does the same he can enjoy the experience but you have to come committed. It's not a holiday and you need to have the right mentality."
The right building blocks
What lessons can be garnered from the experience of Spies who has been acting as an advisor for Gerloff? Getting the ducks in a row, building your program the right way is key.
"Ben came with the attitude of training and winning, and he had the money from America to allow him to put his perfect program together. Ben came in with multiple AMA titles, millions in the bank and already a successful career where he could afford the best facilities and trainers. Garrett is younger so I don't know how that will be for him."
"It’s different in WorldSBK now compared to what it was in 2009 when Spies came. Bayliss had retired and the top Superbike rider in the world wasn’t there. There was a vacuum to be filled, but now you have Jonathan Rea. He’s a real standout performer that’s raised the level at the front of the pack to be so high. I'd say that WorldSBK is tougher now than ever because of the level that Johnny has set for everyone else. To come in at this time is a tough task because the top guy has won five titles with the same manufacturer and every year he's getting better and better."
"The guys chasing him are getting better and better, to try to get closer to Jonathan. If you're finishing inside the top ten now the level is higher than it was before, and for Garrett to come in and try to fight for even the top ten will be a tough task to do. It's very difficult to compete in WorldSBK now because the level that Rea has set has been so high for everyone else. The field is very deep now."
Technically the regulations are the same for Gerloff as they are in America but he’ll need to adapt to new tires and tracks. Speaking to Endurance World Championship riders, who have to adapt between different tire manufacturers, the general consensus for riders that have had to adapt from Pirelli to Dunlop tires is that the construction of the Pirelli tire allows a rider to get heat into the tire easier and quicker. The Dunlop that Gerloff used in MotoAmerica is a more rigid tire.
MotoAmerica is like riding in the British Superbike championship. The tracks are narrower, less flowing and more undulating. The circuits force riders to ride in a certain way. Coming through the ranks American riders are forced to adapt their style to certain corners and types of layouts where, just like in Britain, the run off can be limited.
The style of riding in BSB is such that when he returned to WorldSBK Haslam commented about being able to use the full power of his Kawasaki on the Grand Prix style of tracks. The limiting factor in BSB isn’t that they don’t have traction control to tame 220bhp, it’s that they rarely need to actually use the full power available. The track layouts see to that, and the same is true in MotoAmerica.
For Gerloff the challenge will be adapting to flowing from corner to corner and using the Grand Prix style tracks to his advantage. It will take time to adapt to this, even for Spies it took time, but it will come eventually. Learning from the top riders will be key and for Gerloff he’ll be able to assess his improvement against some of the best riders in the paddock. With Razgatlioglu, Michael van der Mark and Loris Baz all racing for Yamaha in 2020 he has experienced yardsticks against which to judge himself.
After years of hoping that an American would come across to Europe and follow in Spies footsteps we finally have one taking the plunge. Gerloff has the talent to succeed. He’s young enough to give it time. Yamaha and their WorldSBK project leader Andrea Dosoli are backing his move to GRT and offering support. The opportunity is there for Gerloff but now it’s up to him to get the job done.
"I expect and hope for big things out of him," Ben Spies said. "Be nice to see a championship come back to Texas some day, and America as well. So that's what we need, we need Americans going over there."
There are plenty of riders lined up to follow Garrett Gerloff's example. "We've got another couple of young guys coming up as well, Sean Kelly, he's young, I think he's 17 or 18 now, Rocco Landers is coming up too, and he's obviously showing a lot right now. So I think it's bright, MotoAmerica's doing a good job too developing the young talent," Spies said. Gerloff should be one of many to go and represent American racing on the world stage.
Gathering the background information for detailed articles such as these is an expensive and time-consuming operation. If you enjoyed this article, please consider supporting MotoMatters.com. You can help by either taking out a subscription, by making a donation, or by contributing via our GoFundMe page. You can find out more about subscribing to MotoMatters.com here.