Dani Ribalta speaks to riders from the 2017 Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup intake.
© Gold & Goose/Red Bull Content Pool

How to make it as a pro motorcycle racer

Get up to speed with MotoGP’s most authoritative talent spotters and arm yourself with these top tips.
Written by Joseph Beale & Joseph Caron Dawe
9 min readPublished on
What does it take to make it to the top in the ultra-competitive world of motorcycle racing?
For every Marc Márquez, there are thousands of other talented youngsters who don’t make it to MotoGP or World Superbike, despite having an abundance of skill and ability.
We spoke to five individuals who are involved in spotting, developing and overseeing the next generation of gifted young riders who have hopes and dreams of making it all the way to MotoGP…

Aki Ajo

A highly respected talent scout and rider manager, Ajo runs the Red Bull KTM Ajo teams in the Moto2 and Moto3 World Championships and the Ajo Motorsport Academy in the PreMoto3 RFME Spanish Championship. Ajo Motorsport has won six World Championship titles including the 125cc championship with Marc Márquez in 2010 and the Moto2 championship in 2015 and 2016, both with Johann Zarco.
Aki Ajo (far left) celebrates a Moto2 podium for Miguel Oliveira.

Aki Ajo celebrates with his Moto2 team

© Gold & Goose/Red Bull Content Pool

What are the main qualities you look for in young riders?
Speed on the track. If they are fast then you start to look more precisely at how they are riding – you look at whether they really understand what they are doing and what kind of talents and special skills they have. As we’ve worked with so many riders, you usually compare them to what you’ve seen in the past. First of all, it’s about what you see on the track. Then you try to talk with the people around the rider, try to collect some information, meet the rider and try to see how they behave. Then, after the talent and speed, it's about attitude. The attitude is really important. Not just the attitude of the kid, the attitude of the family and the people he is working with.
How can young riders improve their technique?
When they’re really young, say 10 to 15 years old I think it’s really important that they’re on the bike a lot. What I see a lot is a good motocross background, supermoto background, or that they’re riding a lot on gravel. Sometimes people come and they only have an asphalt background, but I think it’s important that they’re doing different things. Not just motorcycles – BMX, mountain bike, downhill bike and all the other sports. Road racing is really physical now and it helps you if you have a really sporty background because your body is ready. It helps you when you have done other sports because you know you need to work a lot.
What’s the best route to MotoGP?
The Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup is getting more important all the time. It’s not the only way, but it is a good way, especially for the riders who don’t have the economic resources. If you show some talent and are selected for the Rookies Cup, your family don’t have to invest so much of their money in your career. The FIM Moto3 Junior World Championship is a really high level and, together with the Rookies Cup, is excellent.

Hiroshi Aoyama

Aoyama is a rider mentor for hopefuls in series including the FIM Moto3 Junior World Championship, the Idemitsu Asia Talent Cup and the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup. Aoyama is a 250cc World Champion, has 70 MotoGP races under his belt, and will race at the Japanese Grand Prix in place of the injured Jack Miller.
Hiroshi Aoyama in action for Repsol Honda at the 2016 Malaysian MotoGP round.

Hiroshi Aoyama in action for Repsol Honda

© Repsol Honda Team

What are the main qualities you look for in young riders?
With 13, 14, 15 and 16 year olds, it’s a process of developing their potential. We want to see that they have the motivation to do a good job and keep training hard. When riders start to get a bit older they start to use their brain more. When they are 10 years old, they are just riding a motorbike with feeling, which is OK, but when they get older they should also use their brain to think about how to go faster.
How can young riders improve their technique?
By training on motorbikes for many hours and many days, in order to memorise the riding feeling so that they can ride without thinking so much about technique. Things then come more naturally and that means they have more space to think about other things, like racing tactics or which line they want to take.
What did you learn as a young rider?
When I was 14 and 15, I was still riding small motorbikes. And when I changed to 125cc or 250cc it was a little bit different – you needed a different riding style. I was fast with the smaller motorbikes and I thought I could use the same technique on bigger machines as well, but it wasn’t true. I started to realise I had to improve my riding skill, and I needed to have many kinds of riding skills to adapt to many kinds of motorbikes.
How can non-European riders make the transition to riding there?
Asian culture and European culture is different, so that’s a bit of a disadvantage for Asian riders. We have to adapt to different race tracks, different tarmac and a different thinking style. Everything’s different but you have to learn and you need time to adapt. That’s why it’s important that we are bringing Asian riders to the Spanish championship or Moto3 category when they’re still young. This makes the learning process easier and quicker.

Peter Ball

Ball is a motorcycle Racing Manager for the Racing Steps Foundation, which gives young British riders a chance to make it into professional racing. RSF works with riders such as Moto3 World Championship rider John McPhee and Rory Skinner, who competes in the FIM Moto3 Junior World Championship.
John McPhee in the British Talent Moto3 Team garage at a World Championship round.

John McPhee of the British Talent Moto3 Team

© Getty Images

What are the main qualities you look for in young riders?
They need to be determined to succeed in the sport rather than looking at the glamour that surrounds it. We’ve had riders in the past who were more interested in being a celebrity than being a World Champion. That tends to come out as they get a little bit older. They really need to be focused on winning. Riders also need to spend time away from the circuit, doing as much off track activity on loose surfaces as possible, to build their skills on loose surfaces. Some riders have natural talent that you can see immediately and others take a little bit longer to learn and understand and develop their skills. If young riders focus absolutely on what they’re told and are willing to listen and learn then as they get older, you see their ability growing.
How can young riders improve their technique?
As much time as possible on a bike. Away from the circuit, they need to be running off road, to be comfortable with sliding and so forth. They also need to focus on strength and developing their fitness. At a younger age, you need to be careful with this and they should deal with proper fitness trainers who know what they’re talking about.
What’s the best route to MotoGP?
It depends on where you are in the world. For any young rider who’s aiming at MotoGP, they should develop their skills off road and at circuits at a younger age. Then when they’re able to move into Spain, which quite frankly is the centre of the motorcycle world, the sooner the better. There are a number of series in Spain which are running mainly on Grand Prix circuits. They need to try as hard as possible to get selected for something like the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup – that can obviously accelerate the path to MotoGP.

Jeremy McWilliams

A former Grand Prix rider, McWilliams is a rider coach for John McPhee's British Talent Moto3 Team and talent scout for Dorna's British Talent Cup. He’s also a KTM development rider and runs his own Masterclass race schools.
Riders from the British Talent Cup line up for a photo with MotoGP stars.

The British Talent Cup riders

© Getty Images

What are the main qualities you look for in young riders?
The first thing we look for is their ability to learn and progress. I think when you first look at a rider, you don’t always believe that he’s going to be the next Marc Márquez. You’ve got to look at every rider individually and basically look at them over time. If you just look at them at one event or one selection process, it’s difficult to build a picture up. You need a bit of their history, their background, before doing that – where have they come from and how long has it taken them to progress. In the series I’ve worked in the riders who have made progress over time and not stayed static are the riders we expect to then go further and even make a career out of it.
How can young riders improve their technique?
Keep working. Always believe in yourself. The riders that tend to make it are the riders who are very, very self-confident, that have one goal. I don’t mean to a point where nothing else matters, I mean that the riders that I see getting to the top have always had pretty much tunnel vision about where they want to get to. The idea is to keep aiming higher and race against other riders, or train against riders of another level because doing that riders progress.
What’s the best route to MotoGP?
In the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup, British Talent Cup and Asia Talent Cup and so on – they’re where we’ll see riders progressing. British riders have to ride against the Asian riders, the Spanish riders and the European riders, and that’s where you hope to see them take that step up.

Dani Ribalta

Rider coach in the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup, Ribalta also runs the Dani Ribalta Pro School in Spain, helping riders to improve their technique and performance.
Dani Ribalta speaks to riders from the 2017 Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup intake.

Dani Ribalta and Red Bull MotoGP Rookies

© Gold & Goose/Red Bull Content Pool

What are the main qualities you look for in young riders?
The test events we do with the young riders are difficult because they have very little track time and they have to adapt to the circuit and the bike and so on. Not all the riders have the ability to adapt to the circuit and the bike quickly, and there are riders who, with a bit more riding time, would end up being much quicker. In the Rookies Cup they have free practice and qualifying on Friday, and then races on Saturday and Sunday – it’s very little track time, so in theory in the selection process you can see which fast riders will be able to adapt quickly on race weekends.
How can young riders improve their technique?
A lot of riders have come from schools where they’ve already learned the basic techniques. You see less riders these days making basic errors. The main thing is to have a good position on the bike, to know which line to take, anticipate the corners, and then later the talent and speed of the rider shows through.

Part of this story

Red Bull MotoGP™ Rookies Cup

Up-and-coming racing phenoms compete to prove themselves ready to take a step up to the next level of MotoGP™.

47 Tour Stops

Jack Miller

A race-winning MotoGP™ rider, Australia's Jack Miller has impressed ever since making the move directly from Moto3™ to the top class.