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It was a tough start to last year for Red Bull KTM Ajo’s Brad Binder, with the then reigning Moto3™ World Champion crashing in testing ahead of his rookie Moto2™ campaign and breaking his arm. But after a longer recovery process than expected and some missed races over the first part of the year, the South African then began to gain some serious traction, culminating in his first podiums in the intermediate class: three-in-a-row in Australia, Malaysia and Valencia. So before his sophomore Moto2™ season begins, Binder spoke to motogp.com to take stock and look forward.
First on the agenda? 2017; a year that started out a little tougher than imagined.
“At the beginning it was absolutely terrible, but with each race I got more comfortable and more confident on the bike,” explains the South African. “I’d expected to do alright, and then in the first race I came 20th and I started to worry a bit. But each weekend it got a bit better, we would find small things on the bike and I was learning how to ride it. Then all of a sudden we made a step. I don’t know what clicked or what happened, but it just got so much better.”
It certainly did, going from 20th to the crescendo of that podium run to end the season. But it wasn’t without some behind the scenes drama, with his arm needing three surgeries to get back how it was before the crash.
“That was a massive pain in the arse because it was never getting better! I ended up having to get it fixed three times, so that wasn’t great, and then as soon as it was fixed…I’d been in a cast for so long and not using it that it took forever to get the strength back,” he explains of that first phase of the season. “Now it’s pretty much back to the way it was, and I’m just happy to say I don’t need to worry about it anymore.” (The South African even managed to take an incredible top ten result in Argentina before the problem was fully corrected, but plays that down: “Well…it feels a lot better now than it did then, I’ll tell you that much!”)
So that behind him, it’s time to reset for his sophomore season in Moto2™ - with preparations well underway and Binder ‘counting down the days’ until testing starts in early February. Then, he and teammate Miguel Oliveira will be reunited with their machines at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo in Valencia, where on last visit they took a double podium finish with the Portuguese rider on the top step. When asked about his teammate, Binder is overwhelmingly positive about their first season side-by-side – saying the Portuguese rider has been both a benchmark and a help.
“I’ve been very lucky because I learned a lot every single weekend,” says Binder. “Miguel was always on the pace from the very beginning and it gave me something to work towards. It would be the same difference every weekend and I just had to try and work towards him. Eventually I got closer and closer, and from there started to feel stronger every weekend and catch up a little bit.”
The three rostrum finishes taken as part of a run of double podiums for the Red Bull KTM Ajo team are testament to that. So maiden Moto2™ cava showers out the way, what’s the target for 2018?
“I like to take things one day at a time,” he says, “but I want to start off the way I ended last season, and try and build from there. If I could always stay out front, that would be great. That’s always the goal. When you do that every weekend, that’s when you start to really believe that’s where you belong and for me, that’s when things start to go much, much better.” Asked if there's any chance of a repeat of his Moto3™ domination, the South African smiles: “I think it’d be a whole lot harder in Moto2 but if I could choose that right now I definitely would!”
Binder's record isn't the only thing to write home about on the duo's CV, either. The KTM itself is another big talking point for 2018, with the Austrian factory entering Moto2™ last year and on the podium in only the second race of the season - an explosive debut. For Binder, that confirms KTM's modus operandi: “When KTM do something, they do it properly.” And his praise doesn’t stop there: “I feel like my bike’s incredible. Miguel got a podium on the bike the second race out. It’s great, and I’m very lucky to be on such a great bike with such a great team behind me. I think we started in a great place and we’re only going to go up."
In terms of development, they have already made big progress and, somewhat ominously, Binder says he's happy with where they are even before a wheel is turned in testing. “Last year we had a few different things to try," he explains," and therefore there was already a bit of a new bike. It was good; it felt really good. There are certain things that are great and some things to work on a bit, but I think we already had such a great package by the end of last year that if we keep what we had that’s a great way to start. And I know KTM and my team will definitely find us even more.”
Finally, on the subject of more, Binder and Oliveira also have company next year as more Austrian machines will be fielded in Moto2™. But that, says the South African, is solely a positive: “The more KTMs, the better! Let’s see, but I think it’ll be good. For me, it’s the best bike in the field already.”
Moto2™ testing begins at Valencia on the 6th February, and racing begins in Qatar mid-March.
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