Red Bull Rookies Cup Round 2 – Assen
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After interviewing Red Bull Rookie Gabriel Hernandez III back in April, I was keen to see him and the other Rookies in action alongside MotoGP’s Round 8 at Assen. The RBRC (Red Bull Rookies Cup) is a very special opportunity for young riders who have their sights set on Grand Prix racing. A fair number of the RBRC alumni have made it to Grands Prix, including Niklas Ajo, Niccolo Antonelli, Enea Bastianini, Brad and Darryn Binder, Karel Hanika, Danny Kent, Jorge Martin, Miguel Oliveira, Luis Salom and Johann Zarco to name some but not all.
One of the best things about the Cup is that the KTM machines are identical, so the riders don’t have the complication of some being on factory bikes and others not. At first it may seem like a problem that some of the rookies are actually quite experienced, while others are just getting started racing at this level. But in fact that is one of the program’s strengths. The experienced riders battle for wins while the true rookies learn from them and gain experience.
Fourteen-year-old Gabriel Hernandez III is the only American rider in the RBRC this season. While he has an impressive resumé of racing small displacement bikes in the US, this is his first time competing with riders who come from the Spanish and Italian championships. He’s riding the European tracks for the first time, having two half hour sessions to learn his way around before the Qualifying session. He then races against older, more experienced riders who have visited these tracks before. It’s a daunting situation for a teenager, but Gabe has a great attitude about this opportunity to learn and improve.
In typical paddock fashion, the RBRC trucks expand like Transformers into the garage area. The program also teaches good motorcycle hygiene. Just look how tidy the garage is. A crew of mechanics services all the bikes to keep them up to scratch. Alpinestars provides leathers for all riders as part of its program sponsorship. Red Bull and KTM, both Austrian companies, are the main powers behind the series.
In addition to the shared mechanics, each young rider has an assistant, often but not always a father, uncle, or other relative or family friend. Some riders hire more experienced fellows to play this role, one part of which is to move a rider’s service box out to pit lane from the garage.
After the mechanics and assistants leave for pit lane, the riders themselves make their way toward the track. Each rider moves his bike, which is not running, in the double file line through the paddock. This is Australian rider Olly Simpson.
The riders are staged as a group to make sure the pit lane is ready for them, then each rider moves to his position where his assistant is waiting.
On Page 2, tension on the grid: