At Aragon, Brad Binder became the first South African rider to win a grand prix world title since Jon Ekerold bagged the 350cc title in 1980 and has the Moto3 crown firmly in his back pocket with four races left to run this season.
Seated next to Dani Pedrosa, Valentino Rossi, Marc Marquez and Jorge Lorenzo on the eve of the Aragon Grand Prix, Binder tried to reduce the pressure. Humble and shy, he kept his feet on the ground despite the numbers – five wins and a total of ten podium finishes – were speaking in his favour. The dream was at hand.
The 21 year-old had in fact the real chance to become the new Moto3 World champion at Aragon even if he finished third and his closest rival Enea Bastianini didn’t win the race. He did even better. He finished second ahead of the Italian.
“After Misano, my friends in South Africa wanted to come and support me in Aragon, but I preferred they remained at home. Honestly I was not too stressed. Of course I wanted the job done but I was not nervous on the eve of the race. I knew I had four more races to try. Another story is when you arrive to Valencia and you have to play everything,” he said.
On the eve of the race, Binder didn’t reveal any tension. All the load of the emotional and financial sacrifices, his personal one and those made by his father Trevor and mother Sharon, erupted after the race.
From Potchefstroom, in the North West Province of South Africa, to the top of the world, is a long way. And Binder has earned each kilometre of this long journey with hard work and dedication. He grew up in Coltenburg, a mining village where his father Trevor was working. He started with the kart when he was eight, but at ten he switched to bikes and it was love at first sight.
“To start racing in South Africa has been relatively easy, another story is to try and make a professional career,” commented the new world champion who with four races in hand equals Mick Doohan in 1997 and Valentino Rossi in 2002 and 2005, who both won their titles in advance.
Like Casey Stoner who left Australia for Europe, also Binder had to leave his country. “I left home when I was 12 to go and race in England, it was tough.”
But the turning point in his career was when he was accepted into the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup for 2009. Once he joined the Moto3 in 2012, he moved to Spain with his mum, while his father remained in South Africa with Darryn, his younger brother. From the Red Bull Rookies Cup to the Aki Ajo Team and the Moto3 world title, the circle is complete:
It was a tough race. Did you expect it?
“We lost the battle, but we won the war. The race was very tough because I was struggling because every time I opened he throttle, I went wide. I tried my best to win the race, but Bastianini and Navarro were stronger. I tried to be a bit aggressive. In the last corner I went on the inside and tried to close the door, but I went a bit wide and Navarro passed me.”
From South Africa to the top of the world. It’s a long way…
“I still haven’t realised that I won the world title. l need to thank my parents for all their sacrifices. We left South Africa when I was 12 to race in Europe and only today I can say that it paid off. I also need to thank my team, Aki Ajo and KTM to support me and give me an incredible bike.”
Is the Red Bull Rookies Cup the only way a South African rider can arrive in GPs?
“In South Africa we don’t have a super-competitive championship so I reckon that the Red Bull Rookies Cup is a privileged way to arrive in the GPs. Consider that since I’m 12, I’m competing against the same guys.”
Now you can finally enjoy the last four races
“Yes, I have always tried to be conservative and now my mind is free to just go on track and try to win races.”
How does this achievement represent in for your country?
“If I consider that my phone rings every two seconds, I think the media impact in South Africa is and will be massive.”
Which has been the key of this season?
“The key is to have the best-ever team behind me. I never faced a race where I didn’t feel the full support of my team, my manager and KTM. I had no stress because I could trust their job 100 per cent. Secondly, it was incredible to win my first race in Jerez. It was a great satisfaction to recover from the 35th to the first position. Once you win the first race, something clicks in your head. Because every time I am struggling, I remind myself: If I have won once, I can do it again. This gave me motivation and confidence.”
Next year you will move up to the brand new KTM Moto2 Team. How do you see this new challenge?
“What I learned is in these years is that you need to keep focused and calm. On a bad day, you just cannot look at the results and feel down. If you made it before, you can make it again. This is my philosophy. I just want to go up there and try, I know that if I keep on working hard I will get there. If it is not the first year it will be the second one or the third.”