What I Did At Summer Camp: Cory Ventura & Jackson Blackmon

MotoAmerica Liqui Moly Junior Cup racers Jackson Blackmon (left) and Cory Ventura (second from right) pose with Valentino Rossi (third from right) and the other Yamaha VR46 Master Campers.

When school lets out, summer camp is very much in session for many kids, and it’s an activity that many adults either fondly – or not so fondly – remember from their own childhoods.

But, for MotoAmerica riders Cory Ventura and Jackson Blackmon, their summer camp meant school was actually in session. They skipped the campfire songs, s’mores, and three-legged races in favor of learning some new riding skills, augmenting their training and fitness programs, and spending five days at the Yamaha VR46 Master Camp where they got to train and also bang bars with a few MotoGP, Moto2, and Moto3 stars, and they even rode with VR46 himself, Valentino Rossi.

Cory Ventura (right) got on the podium in the MiniGP race at the camp.

Ventura and Blackmon were selected to participate in the fifth edition of the Yamaha VR46 Master Camp, and they were two of the youngest riders chosen to participate. In fact, while Ventura is only 16 and Blackmon is 17, the other riders chosen for this year’s camp were all 18 or 19.

Despite their age difference, by all accounts Ventura and Blackmon represented MotoAmerica and the U.S. well, with both riders reaching the podium in several of the Camp’s race events.

Day 1: Flat Track

The VR46 Master Camp began with an intense training session with fitness trainer Carlo Casabianca, assisted by MotoGP rider Franco Morbidelli and Moto2 rider Luca Marini. Ventura, Blackmon, and the other Master Campers were taught how to stretch their muscles in a proper manner to enhance flexibility and help prevent further harm, followed by Pilates exercises and some action on the race simulator, putting in hot laps around the Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli.

In the afternoon, multi-time English and European Flat Track Champion Marco Belli took over proceedings at the VR46 Motor Ranch. The Master Campers put in four hours of non-stop training aboard their Yamaha YZ250F flat trackers and made great progress in their riding.

Day 2: MiniGP

On Day 2, Ventura, Blackmon, and the other Master Campers returned to the Fisio Gym in the morning to work out with Moto2 rider Francesco Bagnaia and Moto3 rider Andrea Migno. In the afternoon, they visited the Misanino KCE World Circuit Marco Simoncelli where Moto3 rider Nicolò Bulega took over the coaching role as the young talents hit the kart circuit next to the Misano World Circuit.

MiniGP racing is serious business at the Master Camp, and Bulega explained all the right lines and correct gear changes around the track before the students lined up on the grid to race brand-new Yamaha YZ85s, which were converted to MiniGP road racers. Ventura finished second in Master Camp MiniGP race one, and he ultimately took third place on the podium in the combined results from both races.

Day 3: Flat Track & Karting

Jackson Blackmon receives his diploma from VR46 Riders Academy Director Alessio “Uccio” Salucci (right) and Yamaha Motor Racing Managing Director Lin Jarvis (left).

The Yamaha VR46 Master Campers got an early start on Day 3, as they had two riding sessions on the schedule: flat track with expert Marco Belli and Moto3 riders Marco Bezzecchi and Andrea Migno in the morning followed by an afternoon of go-kart racing at the Misanino KCE World Circuit Marco Simoncelli with Moto2 rider Francesco Bagnaia. They also visited the Campionato Italiano Velocità (CIV) where Ventura and Blackmon met up with Damian Jigalov, who is racing in the CIV as well as in MotoAmerica’s Liqui Moly Junior Cup class.

Ventura and Blackmon couldn’t stay with Jigalov long because they had to suit up for their karting session with Bagnaia at the Misanino track. After just a few practice sessions, the Master Campers were up to speed and ready to race. Though Bagnaia remained unbeaten, Blackmon finished second among the Master Campers.

Day 4: Soft Cross & Road Racing

Back at the VR46 Motor Ranch, soft cross was on the schedule for Day 4 with instructor and Moto 3 rider Stefano Manzi at the sand track that runs through parts of the facility. After Manzi explained all the ins and outs of soft cross, the students were given the opportunity to get a feel for the track themselves, mainly focusing on maintaining their riding position and balance around the challenging circuit.

In the afternoon, Ventura, Blackmon and the other Master Campers had their bike setup questions answered by the Andreani Group, before they put the tips to the test for themselves on the Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli while riding Yamaha YZF-R3s with Valentino Rossi himself. Though it was difficult for the Master Campers to control their excitement, they were clearly in their element on the Grand Prix race circuit. After a short briefing by Moto2 rider Lorenzo Baldassarri, the students headed out on track for a timed session with Rossi. The final 20-minute free practice was a “mini shootout,” and Ventura set the second-fastest lap time in the session.

Day 5: The Finale

Ventura, Blackmon, and the other Master Campers were still pinching themselves about riding with Valentino Rossi at the Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli as they headed back to the place where it all began, the VR46 Motor Ranch, to get some final-day tips from flat track instructor Marco Belli and Moto2 rider Luca Marini.

Ventura and Blackmon were clearly feeling inspired after riding with Rossi the day prior as they upped their level and had three hard-fought battles aboard their YZ250F flat trackers. In the final Yamaha VR46 Master Camp challenge, Ventura finished second and Blackmon finished third.

Cory Ventura gets his sendoff from Jarvis and Uccio.

The Master Campers then visited Valentino Rossi‘s office for the traditional graduation ceremony, led by VR46 Riders Academy Director Alessio “Uccio” Salucci and Yamaha Motor Racing Managing Director Lin Jarvis. Ventura, Blackmon, and the other Master Campers were presented with an official Yamaha VR46 Master Camp certificate of attendance, along with some other special gifts from Rossi and his VR46 team.

Commenting on his experience at the Yamaha VR46 Master Camp, Ventura said, “The whole compound of VR46 was amazing. I couldn’t believe how it all goes together. My mind was completely blown, but it was amazing to see how it all worked. I think the Yamaha VR46 Master Camp has helped me a lot. I struggled with quite a few things and through this program we got a better grasp of what I’m exactly struggling with. I also learned a lot from the other riders. I want to thank Yamaha and VR46 for making this experience possible. I‘m very excited to take what I learned and move forward.”

Blackmon said: “I definitely progressed a lot, and getting to go to the VR46 headquarters was so cool, to see all the behind-the-scenes stuff. I got to try a lot of different experiences this week and was put in various situations that wouldn‘t have happened had I not been there. Getting all those experiences is a lot to take in, and there’s a lot of learning in every aspect of what we did here that will help me train better for my races. A big thank you to Yamaha and the VR46 staff for their help and support.”