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Liberty Media adds MotoGP to its global racing portfolio that already includes F1

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The company that caused Formula One racing to explode in the U.S. is betting they can repeat the trick with motorbikes. Liberty Media is trying to buy the parent company of the top bike racing championship, MotoGP. If cleared by regulators, the purchase is expected to cost more than $4 billion. We called John Hopkins to hear more about this. He raced in MotoGP for eight seasons and is now race director at the American Racing Team, which competes in Moto2, one of MotoGP's junior series. Welcome. Thank you for joining us.

JOHN HOPKINS: It's a pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me on.

MARTIN: So what do you think this takeover means for MotoGP?

HOPKINS: Well, I think it means good things. Some people find it difficult with change. Obviously motorsport fans are very unique, especially motorcyclist fans. And everyone said it when Formula One was taken over by Liberty Media that it was going to be extremely bad.

MARTIN: Yeah, what were they afraid of? What were people worried about?

HOPKINS: I think they believed it was going to turn into, as everyone likes to call it, corporate America. Everything was going to be staged. Everything was going to be fake. You know, it wasn't going to be any real racing involved. Obviously, it wasn't the case. I mean, what I think Liberty Media has done - Formula One right now has broken the American market. I mean, you know, even when I was racing in MotoGP, spectatorship, viewership, like, all of it was always outdoing Formula One within the USA. Now, like, America's one of, you know, Formula One's biggest markets.

MARTIN: A part of Liberty Media's plan for growing F1's popularity was through this Netflix series, "Drive to Survive." It followed the drivers' stories behind the scenes as well as on the track. So do you think they might have the same strategy for MotoGP?

HOPKINS: I 100% believe that is going to be a big part of the strategy. Obviously, now we have Trackhouse MotoGP, which is, you know, an American NASCAR-based team which has taken over a team in MotoGP in the premier class, which also have kind of an entertainment industry involved and, you know, a large financial backing, high celebrity, you know, people involved with it. I mean, unfortunately, there's no American riders in the premier class at current time. But, you know, the rider we have, Joe Roberts for the - with the American Racing Team that I personally work with is, you know, excelling right now. He's doing extremely well. He knows this is his year to hopefully make the jump up to the premier class. So, I mean, there's a good story there.

MARTIN: What about adding races in the U.S.? I mean, that was also part of the Liberty Media strategy when they bought Formula One in 2017. They added races in the U.S. Do you think that is something that they would do and can do?

HOPKINS: Yeah, 100%. I believe adding races in America are very much in the pipeline. I know there's already a track, I believe in Tennessee, to hopefully put on the schedule. They're going to prepare the track to meet the standards of MotoGP.

MARTIN: So before we let you go, tell me more about for people who aren't currently fans of the sport, what's awesome about it?

HOPKINS: Honestly, it's exciting. You know, there's obviously the danger element to it. The bikes go well over 200 mile an hour. You see them literally dragging their elbows and shoulders at over 140 mile an hour consistently. So there's a lot of excitement and you're getting to watch literally your country or support your countrymen, you know, go up against the rest of the world.

MARTIN: John Hopkins is a former MotoGP rider, and he is now race director at the American Racing Team, which competes in Moto2. John Hopkins, thanks so much for talking with us.

HOPKINS: Oh, thanks for having me, guys. Pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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