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Lewis Duncan

Why British MotoGP fans should get behind its newest grand prix winner

Jake Dixon had a comfortable career in front of him in 2017. Having stepped up to the British Superbike Championship in 2016 for a part-campaign that was interrupted by a broken hip following a brake failure at Oulton Park, he bounced back with his first race wins in 2017. The youngest ever rider to make BSB’s old showdown championship-deciding format, in 2018 he was runner-up in the standings.

Money was coming in, trophies were piling up. Dixon likely would be a multiple BSB champion by now, perhaps trying his luck in World Superbikes. But in 2019, he chucked that all in to chase his MotoGP dream and joined the Aspar squad in Moto2.

It was a disaster. Dixon scored just seven points on the uncompetitive KTM chassis before jumping ship to Petronas SRT on a Kalex chassis – a move that proved to be “the biggest shower of shit”, as Dixon candidly tells Autosport at Silverstone.

“I started at 14 years old and most kids start at four years old,” begins Dixon when speaking about how difficult his time in grand prix racing has been. “So, I’m 10 years behind immediately. They all start on grand prix bikes and I start on road bikes in BSB. So, it’s a completely different route. By the time I get to GP, I’m 23 and that’s already late.

“To come with the team I’m in now [Aspar], we were with KTM and it obviously wasn’t the ideal bike at the time. And we saw the factory team was struggling and then they pulled the budget. It was not easy.

“Then we went to Petronas and it was just the biggest shower of shit I’ve ever ridden on. The bosses there were so bad. Just the way they treated the riders, not just me but every rider. I actually started going good in 2020. I led some races, I finished in top fours, top fives but then I broke my wrist. So, that put me back in 2021, and then the team imploded.”

It wasn't a happy time for Dixon at Petronas SRT before his return to Aspar for 2022 (Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images)

Dixon cracked the top 10 twice in the COVID-affected 2020 season before he broke his wrist, but couldn’t scale the same heady heights of the fourth-place high in 2021, with seventh in the opening Qatar GP the best on offer. In 2021 he rode two races, Britain and Aragon, in MotoGP for Petronas SRT as a replacement rider – finishing 19th at Silverstone.

That was an achievement in itself, having wanted to throw in the towel after 2019. The difficulties on the bike were paired with the fact in 2017 his wife Sara was battling cancer. She thankfully recovered and Dixon’s grand prix life started to change in 2021 with a return to Aspar.

Dixon went from finishing 16th on the Petronas SRT bike in Valencia 2021 to topping the post-season test for Aspar on a Kalex frame it had never used before. He carried this momentum on into the 2022 campaign, scoring six third-place finishes. But that was coupled with five DNFs, Dixon admitting he made too many mistakes.

"After 2019 I wanted to quit, because I had the worst year of my life. But these moments make you stronger and you’ve got to back yourself" Jake Dixon

“We started to have great success last year,” he added. “I made too many mistakes last year. Having the package, I was trying to understand the limits and going over it a lot of the time. I crashed out of too many races that I was leading in. So, I needed to piece it altogether this year and the team has provided me with a fantastic bike, as they have done last year too.

“The team is fantastic, it’s like family. I love riding here, it's such an enjoyment, there’s such a good atmosphere and they’ve been so supportive as well.”

Everything came together in the recent Mugello/Sachsenring/Assen triple-header prior to the summer break. Finishing third in the first two of those contests, Dixon took his maiden grand prix victory at the Dutch GP. The outpouring of emotion was the release of years of frustration and personal sacrifice that ultimately proved worthwhile.

The production racing to grand prix path rarely bears fruit in the modern era, with Danilo Petrucci the last rider from a purely road bike-based route (having competed in Superstock racing prior to his MotoGP step in 2012) to have won a grand prix in any class prior to Dixon in 2019. Before that, it was Cal Crutchlow in 2016 in MotoGP and Sam Lowes in 2015 in Moto2.

Few riders have made a success of the switch from production bikes to prototypes, but Dixon appears an exception (Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images)

Numerous riders have tried the step from production racing to GPs since then, most notably five-time MotoAmerica Superbike champion Cameron Beaubier. All, including Beaubier, have tried and failed. Dixon says riders need time to adjust, but money dries up quickly when results aren’t forthcoming – and the personal sacrifice riders in this situation have to make to come to the GP paddock is so great that it’s no wonder few ever take the risk.

“It’s massive [the sacrifice],” Dixon says. “It would be too easy to take the World Superbike route because we’re on those bikes anyway [in BSB]. I’ve always dreamed of being in MotoGP and being here. When I got given the opportunity, this is how much I feel like I backed myself: I went from earning probably six figures to earning nothing, for one year coming here.

“That’s how much I backed myself that I could make it work. When it wasn’t working and after 2019 I wanted to quit, because I had the worst year of my life. But these moments make you stronger and you’ve got to back yourself. There are times when you think ‘fuck, maybe I should have stayed in BSB, taken the easy route’. But I’ve proven I can do it, I’m as good as all of them here. I’ve got less experience maybe than even Pedro [Acosta], he’s 19 and he’s been racing as long as I’ve been racing!”

That lack of grand prix bike experience has led Dixon to consider his years in Moto2 prior to 2023 as his “Moto3 years” where he has been able to make mistakes and learn.

One thing that has bolstered his belief in himself is his close friendship with 2021 MotoGP world champion Fabio Quartararo, which blossomed when the pair were SRT riders together in 2019 and 2020. When Dixon rode the M1 at the British GP in 2021, “he was able to see my data as well and he said he could see a lot of resemblance in my riding to what he does as well”.

Prior to the summer break, Dixon to MotoGP rumours gathered momentum. But the options for 2024 are limited and it’s unlikely Dixon – who is third in the Moto2 standings, 44 points off the lead – will line up on the MotoGP grid.

“At the end of the day, my dream is to go to MotoGP and be there,” he concludes. “But, it needs to be right and I need to be given the opportunity. If I get given one opportunity to go, I’ll show what I can do. But if I’m not to go there... I had interest in World Superbikes, but it’s not a thing [for me]. I’ve done all the hard work here, to switch championships makes no sense.

Dixon has a good relationship with 2021 world champion Quartararo from their time at SRT (Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images)

“So, if I’m to stay in Moto2 another year, so be it. It’s not that I don’t want to do that, but my dream is to be in MotoGP. If I stay in Moto2, I feel my loyalty is to this team. I owe it to them because they gave me the opportunity not once but twice. That’s massive. If the MotoGP thing doesn’t come off, then we need to aim to be not just one-time world champion but twice in Moto2.”

With Britain not being represented on the MotoGP grid full-time since Cal Crutchlow in 2020, it’s long overdue that this changes. Current UK Moto3 hopes Josh Whatley and Scott Ogden are yet to kick on, Sam Lowes is moving to WorldSBK in 2024 as his Moto2 form has slowed, while BSB frontrunner Rory Skinner still needs time to adapt.

Dixon, then, is the best-placed British rider with a chance of making it onto the MotoGP grid. And it’s clear that all of the hardships he has faced in his life and his career have prepared him for that challenge when it comes.

Dixon contested two MotoGP races in 2021 as a replacement rider and is keen to get back onto the grid full time, but only in the right conditions (Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images)
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