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Spanish MotoGP Veteran Elias Finds Friendly Home in U.S., MotoAmerica

It has been 14 years since the signature moment in Toni Elias’ motorcycle career, and the video of the season’s penultimate race lives for all to see on YouTube.

On the last lap of MotoGP’s Portuguese Grand Prix at Estoril, Elias trailed five-time-reigning Valentino Rossi and 2000 champion Kenny Roberts Jr. A first career podium was in hand, but Elias wanted more.

The 98-some seconds that followed were some of the finest in MotoGP history. Roberts led at the start of the lap before Rossi edged past. Elias zipped by both approaching Turn 1, and from there it was anyone’s race. Unofficially, the lead changed hands eight times on the lap, with Rossi mostly fighting with Elias for what would have been Rossi’s sixth victory of the season.

Rossi still appeared to have the race in hand as the lead pack approached the finish line, but Elias used the power of the Fortuna Honda to scream past, taking the victory by a scant .002 of a second. Roberts was .176 of a second back in third.

“Oh, my golly,” the announcer exclaimed.

That was Elias’ maiden MotoGP victory, and it ensured another season with the team. But it would be his only win in the series in 105 career starts over six-plus seasons.

Elias has bounced around over the past decade, with a Moto2 championship in a 2010 season sandwiched by his stints in MotoGP. But as motorcycle racing returns to Indianapolis Motor Speedway this weekend for Superbikes at the Brickyard, the Spaniard is solidly at home in MotoAmerica Superbikes.

Coincidentally, it was during a one-off ride in MotoGP’s last event at IMS in 2015 that Elias set his path. Mentioning to series president Wayne Rainey that he would enjoy racing in the top U.S.-based series, Elias landed a full-time ride for 2016 with Yoshimura Suzuki, a factory team. Elias won the season championship in ‘17, and he has been the series runner-up the past two seasons, losing by only five points last year.

A change in teams for 2020 has altered his results, but at 37 years old there aren’t many riders more enthusiastic to go racing than Elias. He and MotoAmerica return to IMS for practice Friday, with races Saturday and Sunday.

“Yes, I’m 37, but my motivation to win is really high,” Elias said. “I’m very hungry, and I feel I still can win races and championships. It depends on the condition, of course, not only myself as a rider but the level of the bike, the level of the team. But it doesn’t stop my goals.”

Elias occupies the fifth position in the Superbike standings after beginning the season with two non-scoring races. He admits that Suzuki’s switch to Team Hammer has been “a struggle,” but a podium finish and a pair of fourth-place finishes in the past four races gives him optimism they’re building momentum for 2021.

“We have a lot of experience this year to be in contention next year,” he said. “I want to be fully honest, when you see the braking areas and entries, I’m still capable.”

Elias also is motivated by watching Cameron Beaubier win 13 of the 14 races this season, including the past 10. Beaubier has edged Elias for the championship the past two seasons.

“He’s a really good rider and done a really good job this year, but (13 wins) is unacceptable (to competitors),” Elias said. “That’s why I’m really hungry.”

Elias seems pleased with his life off the track. He recently welcomed a second child to the family, a girl, and living in Southern California seems to suit him. His son, he notes, is “crazy” for all things with two wheels, which likely has him on the path of his father.

“Another rider in the family,” he said. “But she won’t be a rider, thankfully.”

As for how long Elias rides professionally, he can’t say. But he feels strong, fit and, as he mentioned, still capable after all these years.

“If one day I don’t see it, I will quit,” he said.

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