“It’s A Big Year For Me…”
By Michael Gougis
Sean Dylan Kelly knows he has to step it up. His career is on the line. “It’s a big year for me. It’s my second year in Moto2, and as of right now I only have a contract until the end of this season. What the future holds for me depends on how I do this year,” Kelly, 20, said in an interview with Roadracing World in Portugal at the 2023 Grand Prix season opener.
Kelly got his first taste of the Moto2 World Championship in 2019, running as a wildcard with the new American Racing Team at the season-ending race in Valencia. He went back to the United States, won the MotoAmerica Superstock Championship, then returned to Europe to race full-time in one of the most competitive classes in the world.
So far the results have not been what Kelly wanted–his best finish so far was 11th place at a rain-lashed Thailand Grand Prix last year. He knew that in 2022, the learning curve would be steep. And there were unexpected challenges, difficulties he never had faced in his career. This year, he says, he knows he has to put it all together and get the finishes he wants.
“Last year was a very, very tough season,” Kelly says. “On the technical side, a Moto2 bike is a different story. It does not compare to what I was riding. I definitely had some troubles getting to understand this bike. It’s a GP chassis–it’s so stiff, so rigid. And at the beginning of the season I had some crashes that really knocked my confidence. I felt like I was in a bit of a hole that I struggled to get out of. I struggled to get the most out of myself.
“I had other riders hit me off the track. I got injured. It was the first time I’d had to ride with a broken bone. I broke my foot and I raced just 10 days after. And last year was my first year away from home without my family. When you’re born and raised with family, this goes a long way. Being here was the first time I was living on my own. Just a bunch of situations, but they added up. I feel like getting through all of that made me stronger. I digested all of that during the off-season, and I feel like I’ve had the best off-season I’ve ever had.”
Kelly has made some changes for 2023. He’s living in Spain full-time with his girlfriend, American racer Max Toth, and former racer-turned-cinematographer Gray Pham. He has a new crew chief and a new mechanic. And after struggling with arm pump at the 2022 Malaysian Grand Prix, Kelly underwent surgery to relieve the condition a week after the season-ender in Valencia.
“(Malaysia) was really bad for me–I almost didn’t finish that race. After that, I was like, ‘I don’t want to continue this way.’ I had the surgery a week after Valencia. It was nice–I was able to get through the off-season just going through my recovery in the right way, and I was able to train hard,” Kelly says.
Kelly went into the opening round of the 2023 season fully fit and feeling better on the Kalex/Triumph Moto2 machine than he ever had.
“We had five days of testing, and I feel like we did a really solid job building a good, structured way of working. I feel a lot better on the bike. I have more understanding of it, and I have more confidence. I feel like every time out–the gap is close. I think it puts me in a good spot. I’m riding more naturally. The more natural I feel on the bike, the more I can show what I can do with the bike,” he says.
“I’m strongest on the brakes. They are actually telling me to take a chill pill on the brakes and focus more on the gas. I think the biggest thing with this bike is getting an understanding of the front tire. I think that’s why we see so many crashes in Moto2–it’s definitely difficult. You can carry so much grip and so much momentum, but sometimes it just does not talk to you. You know it’s there until it isn’t. And I think to get past that is tough. A Supersport bike, talks to you a lot more. This is completely different. To get that trust is extremely important, but you almost never have that full trust.”
Being out of contract at the end of the season focuses a rider’s attention, but for Kelly, it goes beyond wanting to secure his next ride. “Last year there were a lot of new things on the plate. Going into this season, there’s so much more that I know, that I feel I’ll be able to put together,” Kelly says. “I really do feel that there’s so much that I learned on so many levels. I learned a lot on the personal level. I learned a lot on the technical level. I learned things on the business side, working with the team.
“I want to be at the front. I want to be fighting at the front. I don’t know how soon I’ll be able to fight for a podium, but I want to be up front. I didn’t come here for anything less than that. I feel like I still have more to show.”