Moto3 Interview: Joel Kelso

We sat down and spoke to Joel Kelso who will make his Moto3 debut at Sachsenring.

Aussie rider Joel Kelso will make his Moto3 World Championship debut at Sachsenring before following up again at Assen, both times riding for the CIP team in place of Maximilian Kofler who is out injured. For many, Kelso’s name may not be a name you know which is why we have sat down and spoken with him so that you can learn more about the talented Australian rider.

Kelso came from Australia back in 2018 to race in the Italian pre-Moto3 championship, after some impressive results he was called up by team manager and Moto3 world championship podium finisher Alessandro Tonucci to race for his CIV Moto3 team as a replacement rider. His speed on the Moto3 machine would open a door to the Leopard Team and eventually the AGR team in the CEV Moto3 Junior World Championship where he currently rides.

How did you get into racing?

When I was 3 years old I used to watch my sister ride a motorbike, being the kid I was I also wanted to get out there and ride and thankfully got the opportunity when I was 4 years old and started racing. I raced flat track and motocross until I was 11 before moving into road racing at 11/12, I did a season in a junior championship when I first moved into road racing and then went into the Australian championship.

In 2018 I moved to Europe with my team owner when I was just 16, the issue was that he was flying backwards and forwards to Australia so I was pretty much living alone in Europe for a while. I did the CIV (Italian championship) on the pre-Moto3 which gave me a lot of experience of racing in Europe, I had raced Moto3 in Australia but over here in Europe it was completely different.  Over in Australia we used to hear that these European riders were really fast and I was expecting a challenge after winning the Australian championship, when I came over I did alright taking some podiums and lap records fighting at the front all the time.

Top 15’s would’ve been nice so I was happy taking podiums, I did a wildcard in the CIV Moto3 championship at the end of the year and finished in the top 5, I really wasn’t expecting these results it was amazing, a dream come true.

When I did the Moto3 wildcard I got the call to see if I wanted to ride on a Thursday night of a race weekend, we ride on Friday morning. There was no way I was going to turn this down but I couldn’t abandon my Australian team either so I asked the question if I could ride both my pre-Moto3 and Moto3 bikes, chucking myself in the deep end as us Aussies do, I gave it a crack going out in the pre-Moto3 sessions and the Moto3 sessions. The Moto3 sessions were all back-to-back so throughout the whole day I would park up after one session and sprint my way across the paddock to the other team whose garage was at the opposite end, it was an amazing experience, everyone was talking about it.

What was the most difficult thing about coming over from Australia to Europe?

Mainly the language but also not knowing people or having contacts, I didn’t know the country and it was difficult coming over here at 16 years old, I didn’t know what I was doing at that age so had to massively mature at that age which is part of the reason why I am still here, I needed to find a way to mature faster to keep my career on track and learn things from the people around me.

It was very hard growing up in another country by myself, I had to give up a lot including hanging out with my friends, going out as you would in your teens, it was a great experience to grow up in another country but it chucks you in the deep end.

The nickname ‘Naranjito’ comes from his orange hair colour.

What’s the most challenging thing about racing in the hugely competitive CEV?

When I first came to the CEV with the AGR team I didn’t know what to expect, we started off slowly after moving from the Honda to the KTM so I had to adapt my riding style. Me and my team turned it into a project as I didn’t want to push myself too hard and injure myself, it was about learning and taking steps forward, we didn’t show our true potential until the end of the year unfortunately but there were some sessions where I showed I had the pace and was fast enough to compete at the front.

At the third round in Jerez [2020] we showed a lot of pace but we didn’t have the facilities to fight at the front yet but we made a lot of progress and I had a good battle with my teammate fighting for top 10’s, by the end of the year I was in the top 10’s fighting with the front group. We decided to continue the project for 2021 and it’s been good but there has been some bad luck and mistakes on my part but we’ve been at the front in all sessions, free practice and qualifying, I felt I was going to get a podium in Valencia but unfortunately was taken out. This is the most difficult part, you’re riding with younger kids all learning trying to make it into the world championship, we are fighting as hard as possible to prove to the world championship teams that we have what it takes. There is a lot of risk going into the overtakes.

How did the opportunity arise to race in the World Championship?

The team reached out to my manager at 111 Management, there was no way I was going to turn down this offer to race in the world championship, obviously I am sad for Kofler and I hope he gets well soon, I am friends with him and it’s really unfortunate for him. I have never ridden in Sachsenring or Assen but I am there to learn, I have shown in the past that jumping in the deep end isn’t always a bad thing and I will give it a crack. We are making steps forwards and I will be looking to prove myself, not necessarily with a position but to show that I can make big steps forwards and that I have the potential to arrive at the top. It’ll definitely be hard to fight at the top so I don’t have a position goal in mind, I am there to gain experience and I am really looking forward to learn from the world championship riders.

I know some of the guys in the championship as I train with them in Mallorca, it will be interesting to see how they are on track after training with them. It’ll be a hectic weekend but I hope to gain a lot of experience.

Kelso in action for the AGR Team. 

Is there anything different you will do as you approach your WC debut?

To be honest, not really. I haven’t been thinking about it too much, I have been getting too many messages about it. I want to focus on the CEV with the AGR team [Catalan round 12/13th June], then once the weekend is finished I will turn my attention to the CIP team and my debut. All I know is that I am driving from Barcelona to Germany on Monday/Tuesday, I have a CIP crew chief and boss in the box with me this weekend to see how I work and get to know one another a bit.

There’s no plan or approach, my only objective is to learn and show potential. I am proud to have this opportunity.

What are your expectations from the WC and what are you expecting to come away with?

I would like to be as close as possible to the front but obviously I have been riding an older KTM, the CIP bike is a new 2021 bike with a new chassis, new engine new everything so I don’t know how it compares to my 2018 bike and won’t know until I ride it. It’ll be interesting to see what happens, the bike could be amazing and be really fast, if it is and I feel comfortable and can do well then my goals will change, I would prefer to chase a goal than accept less.

I will know much more after Free Practice 1 but I can tell you for certain that the boys in the World Championship are going to be pushing from free practice 1 all the way to the race, it’s going to be different because in the FIM CEV we get to practice on Thursday and Friday before the main qualifying and race sessions. It’s going to be interesting for sure, we will set a goal after Free Practice 1 but the main goal is to improve and see where we end up, if I can make a connection to the team it would be amazing.

We want to wish Joel the best of luck this weekend as he flies the Australian flag high in the world championship.

Featured images – FIM CEV Repsol

AGR Team

Manu Tormo