On his flight back from Spain to Johannesburg on Thursday, Brad Binder spent a lot of time thinking about an extraordinary season in an extraordinary year. It was a year that rocked and rolled, one in which he, along with his younger brother, announced themselves as contenders .
It was a year in which he learnt much about racing and himself as he grew with the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing KTM team. On that flight, he wondered what might have been had he, at times, shown a little more awareness and calm, and a smidgeon less eagerness. He was a MotoGP race winner, the Rookie of the Year, but, man, could there have been more, he asked himself on that flight home.
“The main thing that I have learned this season is that you need to take advantage while you can. When things are a bit stacked against you and aren’t going perfectly, you should try to settle for points or just finish strongly,” said Binder on Monday.
“At the same time I learnt a lot about myself. I learnt that I will do anything to win, which I have always known. Unfortunately, I know I can do it and I can feel I have the opportunity, and I feel that I try a little bit too hard to get the job done sometimes. To be a little more patient would have helped for sure. I probably would have had a few more points in the championship. That’s a definite.
“But, yeah, honestly, at the end of the day, I’ve learnt that MotoGP is still racing a motorbike. It’s a lot more complicated and the guys are a lot faster, but it’s the same as you were riding here (in South Africa) as a kid. You want to go as fast as possible and you want to win whatever you can. I see some positives and negatives there, and I just need to find the balance.”
He will find some balance and calm this week as he heads off with his brother, Darryn, and some friends to ride the three-day KAP Sani2C mountain bike race from Underberg to Scottburgh. With travel restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, he has not been home to Johannesburg since the beginning of the season. He would usually travel back during the bigger gaps between races to escape the pressure cooker of racing. This year he has not had that release since he lined up for the first race of the delayed start of the season in Jerez in July.
He had started from 12th on the grid on that first day and remembers how at peace he was sitting on his bike waiting for the start.
“It was a little weird. I thought I would be super nervous when I was sitting on the grid,” said Binder. “I was actually very calm, relaxed and quite excited. It was one of those days I have been waiting for my whole life, basically.
“I knew I was quite fast. I wasn’t bad at all. So I could have done a great job that day. I was sitting in seventh place, feeling like I could go forward. I told myself, it’s time to make some moves and ended up going off the track like a clown,” laughed Binder. “I got the fastest lap of the race in my first grand prix, which was cool. Yeah, I wasn’t bad that day and that set the tone for the year and pretty much set my expectations a lot higher than what I had planned.”
“I think one thing we can take out of the season is that I have the speed. I’ve been superfast in many races and practices. I just haven’t put it together yet. I haven’t found the way to control races, manage the tyre life and understand how this whole MotoGP game works. I have thrown away huge opportunities this year to ride towards podiums and top fives – easy top fives.
“But, it is what it is. That’s life. You have to take the good with the bad. I believe it is going to make me a lot stronger. Flying back here (to South Africa) I have never been so disappointed in my whole life. I felt like I have so much more potential than I was able to show. I’m just going to have to wait until next year.”
The win, in Brno, has been nominated for the Moment of the Year Award at the prestigious Autosport magazine 2020 Awards. The win was a first for KTM as well as Binder. He is up against Lewis Hamilton and his feat in bettering Michael Schumacher’s record of Formula One wins, Pierre Gasly’s win in Monza for the AlphaTauri team in Monza, the first time any car outside of the three “big teams” had won a GP since 2013 and Antonio Felix de Costa taking the Forumla E title.
“I actually had no idea that I had been nominated for that, so that’s pretty cool,” laughed Binder. The moment, the win, was one he will not forget. It needs some reminding. Here’s how I described it for New Frame in August.
“Seventh on the grid. Fifth after the first lap. Third by the second. In second place with 13 laps to run with a move on Fabio Quartararo, the Frenchman leading the world championship standings, which saw him close the gap on the long first right-hand corner, stick close on the quick snap to the second corner, a left-hander, then attack hard on the brakes to turn number three. Quartararo stuck his leg out in that awkward balancing act move that has become such a part of bike racing, but Binder, who doesn’t put his leg out, braked harder, made it stick on the left hander and had the line into the right-handed fourth turn.
“Then he was 1.547 seconds behind leader Franco Morbidelli of Italy. He romped away from Quartararo, his KTM working as well as it never had before. Binder had been worried about how his tyres would hold up, having gone with a hard rear and medium right. He was going into the unknown. How badly would they begin to go off near the end of the race? Morbidelli had a hard rear and soft front. Four laps later and he was past the Italian. He romped away, drifting, sliding, powering and believing.”
He lead for the last nine laps on fading tyres, but he never let up. There were worries he would lose it and put it in the dirt. At the end, he had thought Morbidelli was 0.5 seconds behind him. He was wrong. It was five seconds.
“I did check to see the gap opening, but for some reason I didn’t really comprehend that I had a huge gap. I thought, just keep going, keep pushing. The problem is the tyres were dead and they are destroyed it is so easy to make a mistake. Believe it or not, when you aren’t riding on the limit, when you aren’t loading the tyres in the same way or using the same amount of stroke on the suspension, the bike doesn’t work the same and it is easy to make small mistakes.
“I just kept pushing as hard as I could until the end. Getting it out to a five-second gap in nine laps was awesome. A day I will never forget. All I want to do is win a lot more.”
So, too, will Darryn want to win more. The Moto3 rider has shown talent and speed, but in the first half of the season went a little too hard and would put the bike down when there was the chance of more. In Catalonia, he started in 20th place and took an incredible win.
“I’m so proud of Daz,” said Binder. “When he got his first grand prix win it was incredible to see. It was something I thought was going to happen 10 times before. He’s always been there, always had the pace and he has got the ability to fight like no one else. I think he’s special. There is something in him. He’s learnt this season how to control everything, how o finish races. He’s got a win and podiums. He’s now got the work ethic going, training hard, working hard. Hard work pays off. I am sure he will be up there next year.”
There is a feeling that both of them will be up there in 2021. Lessons have been learnt, minds tweaked. They have the speed and need. Now they have the mindset to make it all work in harmony.