Brad Binder might not of had the start that he wanted in Moto2, as he was plagued by injury in the first half of the year, but he did finish off the 2017 season with three podiums in the last three races, Reuben van Niekerk chats to him about crashing, slipstreaming and finding the limit.
You ended 2017 with great form, how do you maintain that momentum into the following season?
I am going to take two weeks off and from there on its back to training flat out again. I’ve been doing this for a few years now and as soon as you get back on the bike in the New Year everything feels right again. So I just want to be fit and strong and ready when the season starts.
Does coming back to summer in SA, during the break, give you an advantage over your European counterparts?
Yeah definitely, the weather is always great and the main thing is you can really enjoy yourself, you can have a good holiday but the weather is also perfect for training. Ill ride a bit in January on some of the great tracks we have in SA and that is something that the Europeans can’t do.
There was a lot of talk about how different the Moto2 bike is to the Moto3 bike due to the production versus prototype engineering. How did you have to adapt your riding style?
The main thing is that I just need to get used to it, which has been very difficult as the bike is much heavier and doesn’t have much bottom end power, but is very peaky on top, so you need to learn how to use the engine properly and how to get the best out of the bike. Fortunately I got a bit better every weekend and learnt something new, but I still feel we are not halfway to where we need to be, but every time I get on the bike I feel a little more comfortable. It just makes things easier because when you are comfortable, you don’t overthink things, you just go out and ride your best.
Will that make it tricky when you eventually make the move to MotoGP, which is again a prototype machine?
I definitely think Moto2 is the best thing you can do because I could not imagine going from 60hp to 260hp, there is a big enough jump from Moto3 to Moto2. There is definitely a difference, in MotoGP you will have a seamless gearbox again, carbon discs and all of that stuff, the main thing is, you need to get there and be ready to learn. There are not many guys that can arrive in MotoGP and go straight to the top.
Do you think you are able to get the most out of your Moto2 bike yet?
My bike is insane, it is awesome, and I literally think it is the best one in the paddock. But I am still learning how to ride the bike properly, it requires a very different riding style to what I am used to and I feel there is still room for improvement.
How much do you think you can still improve?
I feel like I am 0,3 to 0,5 seconds off where I need to be. But to find half a second on the track is not easy when you are going at your absolute limit and don’t know where to find half a tenth, let alone half a second.
Can you tell me about the team that you have assembled around yourself?
I have had the same team around me for a while. Basically Aki Ajo has his team spread across Moto3 and Moto2, and he mixes them up every year. So I have had some of these guys in my garage in the past. It is great, as we are like a big family and we all stick together.
Your team saw significant improvement in the second half of the year; can you put this down to any one specific thing?
I feel like the last few tracks of the year suited our bike very well and I felt that might have boosted our confidence a little bit. It is incredible what happens when you start to believe that you belong in the top of the field, it just naturally starts to happen. I felt things just started to click and once things worked out we just went from strength to strength.
How equal are the bikes in Moto2 and how much is down to the rider or the complete package?
Moto2 is insane. The engines are practically exactly the same. 90 percent of the field is on a Kalex and the rest are on Tech3, Speed-Up or KTM. The times are incredibly close, 25 riders can be covered by 1 second. So when you are having an off day it really looks terrible. If you get a slipstream in Moto2 you might gain 0,1 seconds compared to Moto3 where you can literally go half a second quicker without even doing anything. That is one thing that I like because it feels like the people upfront are the ones that actually deserve it. It is not about getting lucky at the right time, catching a slipstream and there you are in the front bunch.
The slipstreaming in Moto3 could be frustrating but at the same time it opens up a new perspective on the racing as you need to plan things out better to take advantage of slipstream at the right time. But I am glad that is over.
I really don’t have one, I like all of them.
Least favourite track?
Silverstone, the track is not nice and neither is the weather
Have you ridden around the new Kyalami and what do you think the chances are of us seeing a SA round of the MotoGP on the calendar?
I have not had the chance to ride around the track yet. Speaking to Dorna, they would love to bring MotoGP back to SA, so it is really just a case of finding the funding.
In Argentina you raced with a broken arm, tell me about that?
That was probably the hardest 45 minutes of my life, they gave me some incredible painkillers, which helped a lot, but you can’t explain it. When something is broken, you have no power. The problem wasn’t just the pushing and pulling needed for turning the bike, the problem was I couldn’t pull in my clutch anymore, so I had to try shift gears without the clutch which is quite difficult with the production style gearbox used in Moto2. It was not fun. Also because I couldn’t use my left arm, I got so much arm pump in my right arm trying to compensate, that with 10 laps to go I was literally a passenger, I had nothing left.
Marques won the MotoGP world championship but recorded the highest number of crashes; do you see this as a good way of finding the limit?
I think you will be surprised if you watch every single session how much the riders actually crash. This year I only crashed five or six times. Different riders work in different ways. I don’t push until I feel comfortable and only once I understand where the limit is do I start to really push. Many riders, will go flat out, crash and use that as their way of determining where the limits are. I prefer to do it the other way, which works in my favour sometimes, but not always.
Do you think the riders are less scared of crashing now with the improvements in rider gear and the widespread use of the airbag inside the leathers?
It is never going to be fun to crash at any speed. The airbag definitely helps but it doesn’t make it fun.
What are your thoughts around training on off-road bikes following a couple of big names getting injured this way in 2017?
We ride a bit of Motocross but mainly we do a lot of Supermotard. The thing is however, the moment you put a motorcycle on a track, something can go wrong. Even when training you need to be giving it 100 percent otherwise you are wasting your time. Unfortunately getting hurt is part of the sport, you just need to hope that it doesn’t happen too often.
You are proudly South African, and since your success South Africans have really started following the lower classes too, what is the support from back home like?
There is nothing nicer than going around the track and seeing South African flags. It is actually so nice to hear South African accents every now and then. It is awesome to see how much support I have from back home and when you do well and see a South African flag, you feel extremely proud, proud to be South African.
With a large number of Spanish and Italian rider on the grid. How are the South Africans treated?
They think us South Africans still live in the bush, it is a bit funny at times. South Africa is the best place in the world if you ask me. Every time I come home there is something special about it. Being South African makes it 10 times more difficult to get there, but once you get there and you are the only South African and they need us just as much as we need them.
What advice could you offer SA’s youngsters who want to follow in your footsteps?
The best thing you could do is try out for the Redbull Rookies Cup and if you can do that you already have your foot in the door. If not, maybe a Spanish championship is a good way to go.