3 years ago
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It has been almost 35 years since South Africa last celebrated a title in Grand Prix racing. Could Brad Binder become the rider to end that barren spell? He reckons he could be, as he moves to Red Bull KTM Ajo for the 2015 Moto3™ campaign.
There will be not one, but two Binders in the field next year. Brad – twice a podium finisher in 2014 – is looking to make a huge impression with Aki Ajo’s proven squad. In the meantime, younger brother Darryn steps into the World Championship from the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup, neatly taking his brother’s former ride at WWR.
Sparing motogp.com ten minutes this week, Brad Binder shared his optimism.
Brad, are the Binder brothers looking to follow in the footsteps of the Marquez and Espargaro families?
[Laughs] It we could it would be amazing…they’ve set the bar pretty high! At the end of the day we have always enjoyed racing since we were small. It’s now been three or four years since we last raced together in GP 125s in South Africa. It feels like a century ago!
Having been there and done it myself, I know it won’t be easy for Darryn. Your first year in Grands Prix is always so difficult and, with the way Moto3 is at the moment, that will make it even harder. I hope my brother does really well and I will help as much as I possibly can. Even now we see a lot of each other. During the season I am living in Spain – I have a house near Benidorm, about halfway between Valencia and Alicante – and he would always stay with me between his Rookies Cup races.
You delivered some amazing performances in 2014 on what was a customer Mahindra bike. There was a second place in Germany and another podium in Japan. However, what do you feel was holding you back in the other races?
Engine problems and so many retirements; six times this season I had to come into the pit lane during races, which wasn’t much fun! But Mahindra worked so hard and the bike was excellent. I was pretty pleased with two podiums. In Germany I really gave it my all and was right behind Jack Miller for the victory. On one hand it was going to be my first podium, so I didn’t want to do anything stupid, but of course I wanted to win. However, that day Jack ultimately had the pace and he deserved to win.
What are your first impressions following two tests with Red Bull KTM Ajo?
They are so professional. It’s incredible, actually. I really, really enjoyed the first two tests. They were relaxed but professional at same time. And the bike…jeez! The bottom-end power is so, so good! The engine power is just so smooth, it is easy to ride and on corner entry the bike is a dream. It never gets sideways.
On the Mahindra I was going sideways more than going straight! With the KTM, it is so much easier to do a good lap time. You don’t have to go crazy or be on limit. In terms of comparing the KTM bikes of 2014 and 2015, I can’t really say what the improvements are because I have done only a single test on each of them.
Having seen Jack Miller almost win the title with an Ajo Motorsport KTM, is there now added pressure on your shoulders?
To be honest, there is no added pressure at all. For me, no matter what bike I am riding, I just want to win and try to do my best. I always knew I could definitely run up at the front and it is so frustrating when you’re not in a position to do it. To be honest, that podium in Germany was the best thing I could have done. It happened right before the mid-season break, so everybody was talking about it for a long time and that helped a lot with finding a good ride for 2015. Yes, I had already been talking to other teams before that, but finishing second there really cemented it.
For 2015 you have two team-mates: Karel Hanika and Miguel Oliveira. Do you believe Aki Ajo and the team will hand equal opportunities to each rider?
I have no doubt in my mind that all three riders will be on exactly the same equipment all year-long. That is not a worry at all.
Who do you reckon the biggest rivals will be?
That is a very difficult question. Who would you say [laughs]?! It is so hard to give an answer, bearing in mind that at some races in 2014 we had 15 riders challenging for victory. I guess you have to look at guys like Danny Kent on a Honda and I think Antonelli will be good, providing he crashes less. To be honest, I don’t really care who the closest challenger is - I’m just trying to win the race anyway!
South Africa’s last World Champion was Jon Ekerold, in the 350 class in 1980. Can you be the rider to end the 35-year draught for South Africa?
I would love to! I really would. I will give it 110% and try everything possible. This is a golden opportunity to show people what I can do: my first real chance at fighting for top results on a consistent basis. It’s been too long for South Africa because so many people are passionate about racing here. I would love our country to have a Grand Prix again. We definitely have the tracks; both Welkom and Kyalami would be fantastic Grand Prix circuits and both have hosted plenty of events in past years. For me personally, as well, it would be so much better to have a home race.
How are you keeping yourself busy during the off-season?
At the moment I am back at home in Johannesburg. For Christmas and New Year, I will be with family in Durban and I will return to Europe in February. Here in South Africa I am enjoying the sunshine (it’s 28 degrees at the moment!) and training.
When I am at home, I am out and about doing stuff. But I do like to watch back each race. It’s not unusual for me to watch back each Grand Prix about four or five times! I just sit in front of the computer and watch them on motogp.com! It’s very interesting to know what was going on all throughout the race and you can always learn something by seeing what different people are doing. On top of that, before each race I always watch that Grand Prix from the previous year to see what happened.
Finally, I would just like to say thank you very much to everybody for all of the support this year. I am very excited about 2015, but as always it’s a long season!
THE FACTS – SOUTH AFRICA’S GRAND PRIX RACING HISTORY
- South Africa has produced two World Champions: Kork Ballington (4 titles back-to-back, in the 350cc and 250cc classes of 1978 and 1978) and Jon Ekerold (350cc in 1980)
- Apart from Ballington and Ekerold, the only other South African rider to have won a Grand Prix is Alan North, who won the 350cc Nations Grand Prix at Imola in 1977
- Perhaps the earliest successful South African rider was Paddy Driver, who raced in Grands Prix from 1958 to 1965 and scored nine podium finishes. He also started two Formula 1 car races with Lotus. Driver remains the only South African rider other than Brad Binder to finish on the podium in the lightweight class of Grand Prix racing (third in the 125cc Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps in 1962, on an EMC)
- South Africa has celebrated 39 Grand Prix wins in total: 31 for Ballington (17 x 250cc, 14 x 350cc), 7 for Ekerold (1 x 250cc, 6 x 350cc) and 1 for North (1 x 350cc)
- The country first put on a Grand Prix event in 1983, at Kyalami, won by Freddie Spencer to kick-start a maiden title-winning campaign for both himself and HRC
- South Africa last hosted a Grand Prix when Welkom’s Phakisa Raceway staged the opening event of the 2004 season, historically won by Valentino Rossi on his Yamaha debut; also that weekend, Dani Pedrosa won his first race in the 250cc class while Andrea Dovizioso took the chequered flag in the 125cc race: his first ever GP victory
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