Toni Elias: A Spanish Conquistador At Home In America

MotoAmerica Superbike Champion Toni Elias thinks of himself as an American. He’s all in. Photo by Brian J. Nelson

If you think back to your grade-school history lessons, Juan Ponce de León may be a name you remember. The Spanish explorer and conquistador led the first-known expedition to America. And, according to legend, Ponce de León was also searching for the mythical Fountain of Youth.

As his countryman did in the early 1500s, Antonio Elías Justicia also undertook an expedition to America three years ago. Elias traveled to the Circuit of The Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas, to fill in for Yoshimura Suzuki Superbike rider Jake Lewis, who was injured while training in the off-season.

All smiles. And why not. Photo by Paul Carruthers

But unlike Ponce de León, Elias didn’t arrive in America as a stranger in a strange land. Among motorcycle road racing fans, he was already well-known as a former Moto2 World Champion and a MotoGP race winner. He’d been to America before, embraced it and was very excited to go back.

“I’ve always loved America,” Elias said. “When I was a little kid, I had the American flag on my wall. And I’ve always loved the anthem.”

From a young age, Elias has pledged allegiance to the Stars and Stripes, while humming the Star-Spangled Banner. So, when he was invited to come to America to race in his hero Wayne Rainey’s brand-new motorcycle road racing series, he was determined to make the most of the opportunity. That COTA test in 2015 led to a contract with Yoshimura Suzuki, which ultimately led to Elias winning the 2017 MotoAmerica Motul Superbike Championship.

Ask Elias himself, and he will tell you he is an American. “I live in California now because America is my home. This has been my dream since I was very young.”

Elias was born in Manresa, Catalonia, Spain. His father is from Catalonia, but his mother is from Granada in the south of Spain. Catalonia is an autonomous community of Spain located on the Iberian Peninsula, and it is designated as a nationality by its Statue of Autonomy. If that terminology is confusing to you, you are definitely not alone. Even the Spanish and Catalonians are confused.

“There is too much politics,” commented Elias. “I do not say that I am Catalonian or Spanish. I say I am American. It is good. I live here now… California. I want to stay here.”

As the defending MotoAmerica Superbike Champion, Elias now has the #1 boldly displayed on the front and sides of his Yoshimura Suzuki. He knows the #1 on his bike is a target at which his competitors are aiming. Elias the Conquistador has conquered American road racing, and now, his mission is to extend his rule.

Elias celebrated his 35th birthday while participating in the recently completed MotoAmerica Dunlop Official Preseason Test at Barber Motorsports Park. And, with Josh Hayes’ retirement at the end of 2017, Elias has—whether he likes it or not—assumed the mantle as one of the elder-statesmen of the series.

And now, he hopes he has found the very thing that his ancestor Ponce de León never did: the Fountain of Youth.