Interview: Gabriel Hernandez III, Red Bull Rookie
Following up on my recent interviews with Wayne Gardner and Nicky Hayden, both of whom I asked about the subject of getting young riders into GP racing from, in the first case Australia, in the latter from the United States – last night I spoke with Gabriel Hernandez III, who will be representing the US in the 2015 Red Bull Rookies Cup.
A few words about there Red Bull Rookies Cup
Now in its ninth season, the RBRC invites youngsters from around the world to apply for a seat in their seven-race-weekend season. The organization provides the KTM 250cc 4-stroke Moto3 spec bikes and everything else needed to line up on the grid save the travel expenses to attend the races.
Anyone who fits the modest criteria can apply via the website, and might then be invited to the Selection Event at which the season’s competitors are chosen.
Among five young Spanish riders, four Italians, and a selection from around the world, Gabe will be the sole American in the series, following in the footsteps of previous American participants, Joe Roberts, Hayden Gillim (Nicky Hayden’s cousin), Cameron Beaubier, Jake Gagne (who won the series in 2010, beating Danny Kent by a single point) and JD Beach (who won in 2008, beating Luis Salom by four points).
Johann Zarco was the first RBRC champ in 2007. Other RBRC alumni to have made the step up to GP racing include Brad Binder, Arthur Sissis, Jakub Kornfeil, Niccolo Antonelli, Livio Loi, Jorge Martin, Stefano Manzi, Enea Bastianini, and Karel Hanika, just to name a handful.
Riders might compete for up to three season in a row, so it’s possible to be a veteran as a Red Bull Rookie, with two years’ previous experience on the machines and circuits. Of the 24 riders in the 2015 season, ten are returning for at least a second season. Gabe will be a true rookie, having ridden outside the US only twice in his life, once for the selection event and then for a test at Jerez.
A few words about Gabriel Hernnadez III
You know the cocky young rider who can’t wait to tell you all about himself, to list his titles and best races, to lay out his plans and tell you all about how he’s going to destroy the competition? Gabe Hernandez isn’t that guy. Getting him to tell me about his accomplishments wasn’t easy – it seemed I could actually hear the blushing on the other end of the Skype call. So for a list of his titles, check out his bio page on the RBRC site.
Like his fellow RBRC riders, he’s been at the top of the level of competition he’s encountered so far and is ready to take the next step. Frankly, it will be a pretty serious step. It’s a larger bike on circuits he’s not ridden before, and against more experienced racers. He’ll be traveling to European races from California, and thus will have to deal with the jet lag and vagaries of different cultures. He’ll be away from his family and friends, traveling just with his dad, Gabriel Hernandez II.
I managed to catch Gabe the night before he and his father left California for Jerez and the first race of the RBRC season. It can be difficult to form an opinion of someone after a short telephone interview. It can also be easy. As a compliment to the natural modesty is confidence as well, stemming no doubt from the fact that this young rider is accustomed to winning. But he also knows that will be more difficult than ever before:
Scott Jones: How old are you and where are you from?
Gabriel Hernandez: I’m fourteen years old now, and I’m from Huntington Park, California, near downtown Los Angeles. I’ve lived here my whole life.
SJ: Can you please tell us a bit about your riding and racing experience?
GH: I’ve been riding motorcycles since I was 2. My dad made some custom training wheels so I could ride an XR-50 around. I started riding pocket bikes at six, and I’ve been racing ever since.
My first race on a pocket bike, they put me in the Amateur class, and in that race I lapped everyone. So they moved me to the Expert class, and that was more fun, I know I wanted to race motorcycles.
SJ: How did you decide to apply for the Red Bull Rookies Cup?
GH: My dad was talking to one of his friends, Stephen Ludwig, who’s a really good coach and has a lot of riding experience, and he recommended to my dad that I try out. It’s a good chance for exposure and experience to maybe get to a Moto3 team. Like Jorge Martin [the 2014 RBRC champion], he’s in Moto3 now. And Stefano Manzi and Karel Hanika, too.
So it’s just a way to have a better future in racing motorcycles.
SJ: Did you give any thought to competing in the CEV?
GH: I’d hoped to, but it’s a lot of money. That’s another reason why we picked the Red Bull Rookies Cup. In the Spanish Championship you have to pay for the ride and the travel, but in the RBRC you only pay for the flight and hotel.
SJ: So you were lucky to be selected for the Rookies.
GH: (laughs) Yeah I was very lucky!
More about the Selection Event and Gabe’s goals for the season on the next page: