WSB: Exclusive Q&A with Garrett Gerloff

Garrett Gerloff will make his World Superbike debut in 2020 after making the move from the MotoAmerica Championship. 

The 24-year-old Texan joins GRT Yamaha after impressing on his debut season in the MotoAmerica Superbike class. Gerloff took four victories on his way to third in the overall standings. 

The two-time MotoAmerica Supersport champion is hungry for success and wants to become the latest American to taste success on the world stage, following in the footsteps of Colin Edwards, Ben Spies and Nicky Hayden. Learn more about Gerloff in the interview below. 

While MotoAmerica Champion Cameron Beaubier stays in the USA, you have come across to WSB after finishing third overall. How does that work? 

A lot of people say that, and I understand it. I can’t speak for him and what his goals are but I know I wanted to come to a World Championship and ride with the best guys in the world, trying to keep improving my level and one day win a World Championship. That’s my goal and what has always motivated me to push every time I get on the bike. It’s awesome to be here and to chase that dream of mine. I’m glad I have the opportunity and I want to grab hold of it with both hands and do the best I can with it.

When did you first realise this could happen?

I’ve been pretty vocal for the last few years about wanting to come to a World Championship, whether it was World Superbike, World Supersport, Moto2 or anything like that. Around Laguna Seca, where I won one of the MotoAmerica races in front of World Superbike, I had been trying to talk with the guys to see if they were interested in taking me to WorldSBK. 

When I made the trip to Magny-Cours I was really able to talk to people face to face. I couldn’t say anything to anyone, but I didn’t really know anything and had nothing to say at that point! I think they appreciated the fact I had gone all the way to France to speak to them, instead of them coming up to me in the States. I want this really bad and wanted to convey the passion I have for racing. I think they saw that and I’m really happy GRT Yamaha have given me the opportunity.

It just goes to show that, if you don’t ask, you don’t get…

Exactly! I had a lot of great people behind me, helping to get my name out there. People like Ben Spies and Josh Hayes plus Keith McCarthy from Yamaha USA. I couldn’t have done it on my own. It doesn’t do much if it’s just me talking about myself – and I don’t really want it coming from me anyway. I’m glad we’ve got it done so now I want to do something with it!

Why has there been a general shortage of American World Superbike riders over the last few years, compared with how it used to be?

I’m honestly not 100% sure. I think the interest is there in America and there are guys who want to do it. Sometimes I think it is hard – and it is a risk for any WSB team to take an American as I think a lot of people don’t fully know the level of the American series. I’m glad they have taken a risk on me. I think, back at Laguna, they saw what they wanted to see and that helped to make it easier for them to take the risk on me. I’ll try and do everything I can to prove them right!

How did you get into racing?

It’s funny. I was a motocross kid from the age of four. I didn’t race but was a weekend warrior, going with my dad. When I turned 12 I really thought that I wanted to be a motocross guy: ‘I want to race and become Supercross Champion’. Then my brother and my dad were interested in going road racing (short circuit). My dad had a bunch of injuries, back problems and stuff, so road racing looked easier on the body. They kind of took that direction. I was like, ‘No! Screw you guys! I want to be a motocross racer!’. 

Then, when my brother finally got his little Metrakit road race bike, a little mini road race bike, we took it to a parking lot, and he was riding it. It looked kind of fun and I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll try it’. I remember having motocross gear on in a parking lot, riding this road race bike, touching my knee down and stuff! I didn’t fall off that time, but I did the next time, when I had leathers on! Anyway…once I got on the bike and started riding it, I realised that it was really cool and that I really liked it. From that moment, I switched paths from motocross to road racing. I’m glad I did! I’m glad I’ve been able to at least get this far.

Garrett Gerloff with his GRT Yamaha

You were born in 1995. Which road racing guys (short circuit) can you remember watching?

I didn’t even know road racing existed until 2006! I just didn’t know. I didn’t see it on TV as I was always watching motocross. When I started riding that little bike, I started to watch professional guys in 2007. I didn’t watch the year Nicky won the World Championship, but I’d heard the stories about Nicky and thought, ‘That’s so cool! I want to be that guy someday’. 

I started following everything, watching all the AMA guys and people like Stoner and Rossi in MotoGP. At the same time, Beaubier was riding the KTM in the 125 class of MotoGP as Marc Marquez’s team-mate. I looked up to Cameron a lot: the American guy, against the odds, trying to make it happen. I was big fan of Nicky Hayden and Colin Edwards plus Ben Spies, who was still in the States at that time. Edwards and Spies are both Texan. I remember thinking that I am also a Texan and how cool it was. At that point I had never met them, but felt I had a connection with them as fellow countrymen and all from Texas. It made me feel like I could do this.

You’ve gone from Dunlop tyres in MotoAmerica to Pirelli in WSB…..

The Aragon test in November was my first time ever riding Pirellis and my first-time riding Aragon or any European track! It was also the first time with the team, with the crew chief and everything! All new, but a good new. We’re all working together smoothly and very well. I also had my first wet weather experience in World Superbike. I was very happy because, in the past, I’ve struggled a lot with the Dunlop rain tyres and really not knowing what’s going on with the bike. The Pirellis give you plenty of feedback, which gave me a lot of confidence right away. 

With the slicks, it’s a big difference for sure. The front almost feels uncrashable in terms of how far you can push it. The rear is a bit strange, a soft carcass which moves around a lot, and I feel I can’t be as aggressive with how I move on the bike because it upsets the whole chassis, starting from the rear tyre. It’s just small things like that which I’ll have to adjust my style for. I’ll need to be smoother. It’s really noticeable as the tyre starts to drop off.

Do you notice a big difference between the track surfaces in the US and Europe?

I think they use different compounds or mixtures in the asphalt to tackle the very high track temperatures in the US. Aragon felt very, very good track-wise. I like the fast and flowing layouts of European tracks, that’s definitely my style. I sometimes feel like a lot of the American tracks are tight and choppy, which isn’t really how I like to ride the bike. So, in America I felt I was at a bit of a disadvantage whereas here I feel I can ride how I like, and want, to ride.

Nobody is expecting you to come here and win the title, so is there less external pressure from that point of view?

I haven’t yet thought a whole lot about pressure, but I have high expectations for myself, as I always do. I’m going to take it one step at a time. I have my short and long-term goals and will try to just keep chipping away at those, hopefully one day getting to where I want to be…

And where do you eventually want to be?

I definitely look to be MotoGP eventually. I would love that. That would be the next step I’d want to take. Right now, I am 100% focused on this championship, trying to do the best I can in World Superbike. Hopefully it opens the door in MotoGP because that would be awesome: that’s the pinnacle of motorcycle and man.

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Greg Haines

By Greg Haines

Superbike reporter and Eurosport commentator