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American Joe Roberts sets Qatar track record in Moto2 practice

American Joe Roberts reacts to setting a track record during the first day of Moto2 practice at the Losail International Circuit near Doha, Qatar.

Joe Roberts set a track record on the first day of practice for the Moto2 season Friday at the Losail International Circuit near Doha, Qatar.

Roberts, a 22-year-old from Malibu, California, turned a lap of 1 minute, 58.421 seconds around the 16-turn, 3.34-mile circuit on his No. 16 Kalex bike for American Racing.

“Honestly, it’s incredible,” Roberts said. “Just to come from where I was last year to be breaking the lap record here and getting first on the first day, I know it’s only practice, but it’s such a nice feeling. I was really celebrating like I won the race, but to me, it’s such a big deal just where we came from to now, it’s such a big step.

“I have to thank the whole American Racing team. Everybody that’s come on board this year to help me. Everybody has done such a great job to build me up to this level, and looking forward to the weekend, I think we have good chances to do something great. So I think we can be up at the front.”

Moto2 & Moto3 GP Of Qatar - Previews

DOHA, QATAR - MARCH 05: Joe Roberts of USA and American Racing smiles in pit during the Moto2 & Moto3 GP Of Qatar - Previews at Losail Circuit on March 05, 2020 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Mirco Lazzari gp/Getty Images)

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Roberts is entering his third full season in Moto2. He has yet to score a podium finish or pole position in 41 starts.

MotoGP veteran John Hopkins recently was hired as the rider coach for Roberts.

“John came on board for a lot of roles,” Roberts said. “For me just a mental coach to try to help prep my mind for the upcoming sessions of the race. He’s had so much experience in this paddock, but he has tons of knowledge, so there’s that aspect of things, and then also he’s just very perceptive. He can go on the track with a scooter, look at the other riders and I wouldn’t have done that lap if he hadn’t told me a couple of things that I needed to do differently in some corners. Every little helps. This championship is extremely hard, and you’ve got to find the benefits where you can.”

He also credited a rejuvenated team with prepping him well for 2020.

“The best way I can put it is if you picked everybody you would want on your dream team, and that’s what I have,” Roberts said. “It’s a combination of the best bike and the best group, and it’s just given me so much confidence, and I think I’ve really also gelled well with this track. I always thought coming to this track, I could do something really well, really great. Anyway, great first day, but we still have two more days, so let’s try to improve it. My ideal is a little bit faster, so.”

The Grand Prix of Qatar will continue with qualifying Saturday and races Sunday in the Moto2 and Moto3 divisions. The Moto2 season opener will be broadcast Sunday at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

The premier MotoGP class canceled its season opener at Qatar because of coronavirus-related travel restrictions. The season’s second race in Thailand also has been postponed.