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Just how good is KTM’s shock rookie winner Binder?

by Simon Patterson
6 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Given the ultra-competitive nature of modern MotoGP racing, it takes something special to deliver a knockout performance in dry conditions.

To do it as a rookie on a completely unproven bike takes truly exceptional talent – but it comes as no surprise that Brad Binder was able to show that skill in yesterday’s Czech Grand Prix.

The victory marks the culmination of a key long-term goal for Red Bull and KTM in grand prix racing: taking a rider from feeder series Red Bull Rookies (pictured below in 2011) through their Moto3 and Moto2 teams into MotoGP and onto the top step of the podium.

Brad Binder Red Bull Rookies Cup 2011

The 2016 Moto3 world champion came into the premier class for 2020 as one of the most hotly-tipped rookies in years, with numerous MotoGP riders quick to sing the praises of the South African’s testing performances before the season had even got underway.

And that was reflected in Sunday’s race at Brno, where the 24-year-old was able to put on display the sort of combination of raw talent and supreme racecraft that only MotoGP greats can show.

“I was nervous about ruining someone else’s race, and I had to come here and start fresh” :: Brad Binder

Though the first rookie to win in his debut season since Marc Marquez in 2013, and joining a short list there that includes names like Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa, the young Binder still obviously has much to learn, something that he himself was quick to acknowledge after the race.

Not just only his third race in MotoGP, it was also his first clean race after incidents in both races at Jerez – something he admitted was weighing heavily on his mind coming into the weekend at Brno.

“It’s unbelievable to think where we are today, because in Jerez 1 I made a big mistake and took myself out and in Jerez 2 I made an even bigger one and took someone out with me,” said Binder.

Brad Binder Miguel Oliveira crash Jerez MotoGP 2020

“It was a tough week coming into this because I was nervous about ruining someone else’s race, and I had to come here and start fresh.

“Before I came to Brno I had told myself that I needed to take a step back in the race because I had messed up the first two by being over-anxious at the start.

“I did that, I didn’t do anything crazy at the start, and as I saw my opportunities I made my moves without any contact or trips to the gravel!”

However, it seems that once Sunday’s race got underway any apprehensions or nervousness soon went out of the window for Binder.

Able to ride a completely flawless race while many of his more experienced rivals floundered with tyre issues, he conceded afterwards that his lack of preconceptions might have actually helped him.

Brad Binder

“At the beginning of the race I was following Fabio [Quartararo] and I could see that his tyre wasn’t great but mine still felt quite good so I decided to push on and see what I could do.

“From then it was just the craziest ten laps of my life. It felt like I did everything as softly and as smoothly as possible, because as soon as I tried to do anything aggressive I got crazy bumping.

“I knew we were going to have a drop, and I held back a lot at the beginning. I could have smashed it on a bit but I told myself to be smooth with the throttle and on corner entry.”

“When I first rode the bike at the end of last year I thought ‘oh my goodness, I’ve got some work to do’ because it was so hard to ride” :: Brad Binder

Despite Sunday’s amazing success, it hasn’t been an easy time in MotoGP so far for Binder. Well used to hard work as he’s moved up from domestic level championships in South Africa and the UK to Red Bull’s European feeder series, his first foray into MotoGP was rocky.

He struggled in pre-season testing at the end of 2020, and it took the combination of more time on the bike, some hard work and a revolutionary new KTM RC16 to deliver Brno’s stunning rookie result.

Brad Binder KTM Valencia MotoGP testing 2019

“When I did the first tests at the end of last year I was last in both, and I think it gave me some extra fire to go into the off season and figure out this MotoGP thing,” he recalls.

“When we came back to Malaysia, I made a good step forward and when everything got cut in Qatar I used the months off to my advantage.

“When I first rode the bike at the end of last year I thought ‘oh my goodness, I’ve got some work to do’ because it was so hard to ride. Then I climbed on the new bike in Malaysia and it was another world. It felt so much more natural and easier to ride than the old one.”

“The bike is insane” :: Brad Binder

That hard work was needed throughout the Brno weekend too, though. Binder found the going tough again on the opening day on Friday, and it took all the skills of his veteran team to find how to make him comfortable on the bike.

However, with a hugely experienced team around him, some of whom played a pivotal role in taking Nicky Hayden to the 2006 MotoGP world championship at Honda, they were able to comfortably steer Binder through it.

“On Friday we were in a completely different boat and I could barely touch the throttle without feeling like I was going to get thrown into the air, but on Friday night the guys did their homework,” he said.

Brad Binder

“When we left the track I spoke with my crew chief and Mike [Leitner] and they said ‘don’t worry, we’ll sort it out’ and they were right.

“Already from FP3 the bike felt so much more stable and just really good. It comes a lot from the amazing package that the guys put together – the bike is insane. I’ve told them since the start, ‘this isn’t bad eh?’

“I can definitely see places where we have a big advantage over the others and it paid off in the race.

“We understood really well going into the race what we had to do to get to the end, and I have an amazing team behind me who came up with an insane strategy and I couldn’t believe when I managed to get into first place.

Brad Binder

“I thought ‘gosh, I’m leading a MotoGP race,’ and I was even more surprised when I saw a gap start to appear!”

So, with win number one under his belt what’s next for Binder? With the 2020 KTM package looking so sorted it’s hard to believe that Sunday was a flash in the pan result, and it’ll come as no surprise now if he can go on to take more victories before the season is out.

And, with the KTM now looking every bit the match of its veteran rivals and with a superstar young talent onboard, it may well be that Marc Marquez is watching out for more than just Fabio Quartararo in 2021.

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