Brad Binder: KTM`s future champ?
I think it’s safe to say that 2020 is a year that will be remembered for a long time. No, I’m not just talking about the C-word, or the fact that Joan Mir managed to grab the title. It was the year that Brad Binder joined an exclusive list of elite sporting firsts, like Valentino Rossi, Usain Bolt, Tiger Woods and others before him. Brad Binder broke through a barrier that only six short years ago seemed a wild dream. He became the first man to win a MotoGP World Championship race on a KTM, riding for the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing Team. So, as a rookie in a factory team who have invested countless hours and even more euros into the project, how has it felt to play such a big part? We had a chat with MotoGP’s newest Cinderella Man to find out.
Now Brad has been on a KTM for most of his career, with close to 160 starts to his name. But how much pressure was it, stepping into the paddock as a MotoGP rider, and how was his first year in the top class? “There’s a bit of pressure involved because obviously you want to do extremely well for the guys. But at the same time, this is my job. This is what I do. And, yeah, you’ve just got to try and believe, and I always believed I could do a good job in MotoGP. It was great to get a win. But since then things have been a bit more difficult. It’s time, we’re overdue to get another strong result. All in all, I’m happy with the progress we’ve made this season. The bike’s feeling great. The team’s working really well and we’ve made some solid steps forward, so, I’m happy. I got a different bike also, of course, all the people in the box are different, but I always knew them from before as well, which was always cool because, you know, I’ve been with Red Bull KTM in Moto3 and Moto2 already. You tend to see all the guys like in the hospitality and all of that. So, I knew everybody before I came here, and I think that made life a lot easier for sure. It’s cool, I’ve been enjoying it so far. I hope there’s a lot more to come.”
So do we, and we wanted to hear a little bit more about that win. Just how sweet was it being able to pip Pol (Espargaró) to the top spot for the very first time? “It’s everyone’s goal to get a Grand Prix victory regardless of the circumstances. It’s one of those things that I’ve always dreamt about. So, to get the first win, not only for myself, but for KTM was amazing. And yeah, it’s a day that I’ll never forget; it’s the highlight of my career so far and I hope there’s many, many more to come.”
Mind you, it wasn’t just Binder’s win that was impressive, and looking back, there were clues early on in the season. Even from the very first Jerez race, even after an off-track excursion Binder had absolutely stonking pace; it would’ve been good enough for a podium. But did he feel like it was coming, and coming that early? “The first race was a disaster because I went off track by myself, which wasn’t clever. And from then on, I felt good. I just tried to get to the best pace I possibly could because it was really the first full race simulation I had done on the MotoGP bike. So it was quite impressive when I stopped and saw my lap times. For the next weekend, I almost expected exactly the same, or at least nothing less. That all ended in the first corner. Unfortunately, I got in a bit hot into turn one and ended up taking Miguel (Oliveira) out. So, yeah, that was definitely not a good day for me on my behalf or KTM. Not one of my proud moments, but unfortunately that’s racing. It happens. So, after that, I went into Brno super disappointed with the way the first two Grand Prix races went because I felt like I had a great potential and really good pace, but I wasn’t able to really show the potential of what we had. So, in Brno it gave me that opportunity and we took full advantage of it.”
Fair play, but then again, it got us wondering; Brad Binder had ridden KTMs in Moto3, Moto2 and MotoGP. Is it naïve of us to think that there might be some kind of feeling, a shared KTM DNA across all three classes? “The one thing that I can think where all three bikes have always been really strong was the braking performance. And so that’s one thing that I think is maybe the strong point of KTM’s whole strategy and how they build their bikes. That’s one thing I definitely feel that has carried through with me into each class. Other than that, it’s the same group of people, it’s the same company. It’s awesome to have been with them from the beginning in Moto3. It’s incredible what they’ve done, what they’ve achieved so far… and I reckon that this is only the beginning. There’s a whole lot more to come. I think the success that they’ve shown so far this year, is just all down to their hard work and determination and I believe that there are still good steps coming.”
But the thing is, that all comes through development. But how much of that aspect, in terms of testing, is enjoyable, and how hard is it? “I try to look at it and keep it as simple as possible. I go out on track, I come in and I give the guys my feedback and it’s up to them what they do with it and what they bring from then on. I try not to get too involved in exactly what’s going on and rather just try to focus on exactly what I have in my control – and that’s just to give back the best feedback possible and the most accurate comments. So, I think by doing that, the guys all have their specific job and they know exactly what to do much better than me.”
Which sounds like the best way of doing it, in our opinion. It got us wondering, when was the first time he actually got the chance to ride the MotoGP machine, and how different was riding it for the very first time, to riding now? “I actually had a deal with Pit Beirer (KTM motorsports director), that as soon as I won a Moto2 race, they’d give me a ride on the MotoGP bike. It was maybe around August. I did a few days. Well, a few laps at one official Brno test and I ended up doing about 20 laps around there on the MotoGP bike and that was really cool. It was just more to just get a taste of the MotoGP bike because obviously in a person’s career it’s something you always want to try, but you never know if you’ll get there. It's hard to compare between then and now because I only really did a handful of laps in a couple of days on that bike where I was still extremely slow. When you’re riding a bike to its potential and when you’re riding a bike, just doing laps, it’s a very big difference. So yeah, it’s really difficult to say, but for sure I think it’s clear to see from results and how close we are in all the sessions that we have made a clear step forward.”
And a clear step forward was exactly what was needed, even with all the drama of 2020. But how much of a role did Covid play in everything? “It’s been a long year for everybody, you know, with us only really getting started in, what was it, July? We would have already had half a season under our belts. I went in blind; you know. So, in some ways I think it was good to have that break and really just forget about the whole Moto2 riding style and start fresh with MotoGP. I think that might have worked to my benefit. And also, it gave me more time to prepare. There’s not so much to do when you’re locked in your house for a couple of months. I can watch a lot of videos and yeah, I understand what I was getting myself into.”
Now that sounds a lot like us, not doing much! But were there any crazy lockdown purchases? “The one thing that I can think of was I bought slack line and put it over the swimming pool, so it gave me something to do. So cool. Yeah, that was one of the main things. But other than that, I’m not much of a shopper, so I don’t buy too much bullshit.”
Pft, fair enough. So back to the racing, as I wanted Brad’s take on the insanely close season, and the undeniable fact that Marc’s absence has clearly left something of a power vacuum. Just how does a rider tackle it? “It’s sad to not have Marc here for sure, but I’m sure he’ll be back soon. And yeah, this year’s been great, and I know I’ve had a lot of ups and a lot of downs. It’s actually really frustrating almost to see how close things are because I know how many mistakes I’ve made and how many good points-taking opportunities I’ve completely thrown away. If you add up all those where it’s been silly mistakes, gosh, you know, the outcome would have looked very different right now. But the past is the past and we can only change the future from here on out. So, I just try to learn from all those tough times and mistakes, and we go from there.”
Which makes a lot of sense, and it already looks like a really strong and young grid next year. With Brad and Miguel (Oliveira), KTM have two genuine front men. So what are his aspirations for 2021 and beyond?
“I’m looking forward to it. I think I believe we can do a good job, and it’s cool to see like a lot of the teams nowadays are full of guys I’ve raced against from the beginning, which is awesome. To see next year is Maverick and Fabio and Rins and Mir, Miguel. There’s a few teams that have been filled up by guys that I raced against since I started. It seems that this is the new era more or less.
“And everything’s busy changing at the moment. So, I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be super cool.” It already is super cool, Brad. It already is. We cannot wait.