Only one rider will line up for the opening round of the 2021 MotoAmerica Superbike Championship at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta with the knowledge that he won HONOS Superbikes races in 2020. That rider is Bobby Fong.
Only two others tasted victory last year: Cameron Beaubier and Lorenzo Zanetti. Beaubier, who dominated the season with 16 wins en route to taking the title, will be racing for the Moto2 World Championship this year. Zanetti, who won a single HONOS Superbike race in 2020, doesn’t have a ride in the MotoAmerica Series for 2021. Thus, Fong it is, and with his three victories in 2020, he storms into the 2021 season as a championship favorite.
He also heads into the series with a new contract in hand that will see him on the M4 ECSTAR Suzuki team for a third straight year. In 2019, Fong won the MotoAmerica Supersport title for the team and was rewarded with a Superbike ride in 2020. With those three wins and third in the championship, Fong has more than earned a shot at the title with the same team in 2021.
“I think it’s an advantage for me being on the same team two years in a row just because we have all the data now,” Fong said in an interview with MotoAmerica. “We couldn’t really use what Yoshimura did in 2020, going into each round, just because everything was so different with the bike setup and stuff. We tried some of their stuff at some of the preseason tests we had, but it just never worked. It was so far in left field from what I’m used to or what my motorcycle would feel like. Each round we just kind of winged it with my crew chief and my data guy. It doesn’t sound pretty, but we made it work and we got some race wins out of it. Sometimes we did wing it and it was like ‘What do we have to lose at this point? We’re qualifying third row, what do we have to lose?’ It paid off and we learned a lot from that.”
Even though he won three races and finished the season third in the championship behind Attack Performance Yamaha riders Beaubier and Jake Gagne, Fong is far from happy. And that makes him hungry.
“I thought it was a good year,” Fong said of 2020. “I learned a lot; the crew learned a lot. Am I happy? No. People who know me know that it’s really hard to make me happy. I will win a race and I will be happy for 30 minutes and then I’m thinking about the next day or what am I going to do to improve the bike the following day or the next race weekend. It’s cool to win some races, but we didn’t win the championship. We didn’t win four races, we won three. That’s kind of my personality, though. People who know me personally know that I’m always trying to dig for more.”
Happiness in 2021 really only comes down to one thing for Fong – winning the MotoAmerica Superbike Championship.
“Obviously, everybody is there to win the championship,” Fong said. “That’s why Chris and John (Ulrich) hired me is to try and win the championship. I think I’m one of the top five favorites to win the championship if not hopefully top three… so winning the championship, obviously, and improving each round. That would be nice. So just improving and limiting the mistakes – that would be really good.”
Fong gets a new teammate for 2021 in the form of 2020 MotoAmerica Stock 1000 Champion Cameron Petersen. He says Petersen’s physical size and riding style should make for a better combination than his teammate of last year, Toni Elias. Elias is small and his riding style is really like no other in the MotoAmerica paddock.
“Honestly, it’s really up to the crew,” Fong said. “It’s not up to me. I know they like to work together and share data, but it’s up to them to get their minds together and come up with the best set up for the both of us. Knowing Cam (Petersen), he has more of a similar, normal riding style, more my weight. Toni (Elias) was maybe 120 pounds and I’m running 155. Just the weight difference in general and how different we rode; it was hard to get either bike set up. At least Cameron is more of a normal… well, normal is not really the word, but his body type is more like mine. Hopefully, that will help on set up, but at the end of the day, the crew needs to get together, his crew, my crew, and go over the data and see what’s really going on if we had any issues during the session.”
Fong knows his riding has a few shortcomings. And it’s a work in progress and something he thinks about constantly.
“I have a tendency to have a hand like this (motions with twisty throttle hand) so sometimes I’m upsetting the bike more than not,” the Stockton, California, resident said. “At the end of the races, you have to be smoother because the tires are crap by the end of the race. The Dunlops hold up throughout the race, but you’re sliding around at the end, and you have to be really smooth with the throttle. My lap times are always faster at the end of races and I’m always like “Why can’t I go faster on new tires?’ If I went faster on new tires, maybe I’d be battling with Cameron (Beaubier) or a lot closer to Cameron. It’s just all in my hand in the beginning of the race. My hand motion in the beginning of the race is always grabby and it puts me offline or I get kicked (out of the seat) or something like that and I try to adapt. I still tell myself, even when I’m training with motocross, to be a bit smoother when picking up the throttle.”
The newest rider to join the MotoAmerica Series is Loris Baz. Fong, who knows Baz and considers him a friend, is happy the Frenchman is coming to America.
“I think the game plan is we just team up and get those Yamaha boys (laughs).” Fong joked. “Let’s just team up and go sandbag those Yamaha guys. Get some new friends out there to help me. I think it’s good to have him (Baz) in the series. Everybody is like, ‘If the Americans were in Europe, they wouldn’t be doing anything.’ I feel like our talent level is always doubted by people. I think the talent here is just as good so someone like Loris coming to the U.S. and battling with us… it makes Americans look better. If we are battling with him or whatever the case maybe, but it definitely makes us look better.”