American Ricky Carmichael isn’t the most popular guy in the MotoGP paddock.
Rising quickly from the ranks of this top motorcycle racing circuit that combines bikes and motorcycles into a single sports car, the 21-year-old American racer has something of a pugnacious personality.
He made some very bold and fast moves while at the end of Honda’s rookie season, and he has continued to drive his luck — and Honda — into this season.
He’s trying to make Honda’s pre-season dream of winning for a fifth consecutive season — or better — become reality and compete for the championships’ crown.
“I never expected to be fighting for the title,” Carmichael said in an interview before Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix in Queensland. “I thought Honda was going to win it, but to be in the drivers’ championship, that’s a real possibility right now.”
Carmichael has been considered one of two American MotoGP riders ever since Casey Stoner retired after the 2013 season. When Jack Miller was suspended and eventually dropped, Carmichael, a winner in the Moto2 race at last year’s Australian GP, took his chance and finished third to qualify for the premier class in his rookie season.
Since then, Carmichael has been keeping pace with the Honda duo of world champion Marc Marquez and Marlboro Racing’s Dani Pedrosa.
They have already won the season opener in Qatar — about two hours away from the Australian GP — and finish this race as a trio for the first time since 2012. And so far this season, they have won every MotoGP race except the European GP in Qatar, where they took a penalty for switching rubber.
Carmichael is fourth in the drivers’ standings, 23 points behind Spain’s Pedrosa, who has raced the most laps — he has gotten to 267 so far — of all the riders. Marquez has won the last two races and has 175 laps to top the list of all-time podiums.
Marquez won the Australian GP last year on Phillip Island for Honda but now has the chance to end the year on top in front of the home crowd.
Pedrosa rode his Honda to the biggest victory in MotoGP history last week in Brazil, when he outdistanced Carmichael and Stoner to win the season-ending race at the Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace for his fourth successive title.
Having stood in front of the paddock for so long to watch Marquez, Pedrosa was also aware of Carmichael’s rising status and looked forward to racing him this year.
“Ricky is a cool guy,” Pedrosa said. “He is very intelligent and he made some quick moves, which all of the riders did.”
MotoGP is tightly bunched with four remaining races to go and Carmichael admits that not even he knows who will end up on top — but his is “the ultimate goal.”
He finished eighth in Qatar, leaving him just three laps behind Marquez and Stoner in the race for second place.
Carmichael won his first grand prix at the Donington Park GP in England in 2015.
It seems this has been the most frustrating of his MotoGP season.
He finished fourth in Moto2 at the 2015 Malaysian GP, won the Moto3 race in Spain in the same year and had his second career grand prix victory at the Moto2 grand prix in Qatar, and then placed second in MotoGP last year.
Carmichael’s two best finishes this year are third in Qatar and fifth in America’s Indy 500. His two best points finishes are fourth in Spain and fifth in Portugal.
There were plenty of ups and downs along the way, and while he had a lot of bad luck early in the season when some laps were called back from rain and other laps were stopped when there was water on the track, there were other times he simply had to keep powering on despite wet conditions.
“Unfortunately, for me there were times when I could have maybe managed the slippery conditions and managed to get more points,” Carmichael said. “I’ve been able to do that consistently and as a result I have good points totals.”
But his fate could rest on the Australian grand prix on Phillip Island. Carmichael was eighth in his home Grand Prix last year, and it may be a long time before he can live up to that performance again.
“It could be a position I need to be in,” he said. “There are good points to be won here, a lot of difficult challenges to overcome and a lot of new challenges.”
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