South African Brad Binder stormed to his first world championship at Aragon, finishing 2nd, which meant that no matter what the results of the remaining races are, he is guaranteed to stay at the top of the championship standings. In this tribute, I take you through the journey through the ranks that Brad has endured, but also what this means for his country. Enjoy!
“Bradical” Binder began his journey to world champion as a Red Bull Rookie in 2009, making steady progress before 2012 and his first full time entry onto the world stage with RW Racing GP. He took 24 points in a solid rookie season – using that as a foundation for the year after as he moved to Ambrogio Racing and ended the year 13th in the title, ready for the next step: get on the podium.
2014 was the year Binder first enjoyed the taste of cava on the world championship stage with two rostrum finishes, setting the scene for a move to Red Bull KTM Ajo, with the South African ready to join a team so often a title-challenger in the lower class.
Beginning 2016 with three podiums in a row and a pole position in Argentina, the fuse on his championship challenge was really lit at the Spanish Grand Prix in Jerez, in which he took his maiden win. Starting from the back of the grid after a technical infringement, the South African fought his way back through with almost unbelievable aggression and speed, soon heading the second group and on the way to catching the front freight train in the Moto3™ battle. Arriving with laps to spare, the 2016 Moto3™world champion then passed his rivals and tucked back in – taking the victory with a comfortable margin and announcing his intentions for the year. With his first win under his belt, Binder’s success simply continued to roll, winning the two subsequent races and suffering only one DNF in wet conditions in Brno; crashing out the lead in the Czech GP proving the only blot on his 2016 record.
Four more wins and a stunning 106 point margin upon arrival to the Gran Premio Movistar de Aragon in September saw Binder with his first mathematical shot at the title – and the odds were not long.
Qualifying in P7 and then keeping his cool despite the crown waiting for him at the finish line, Binder raced the only way he knows how – to win. With Bastianini and Navarro initially breaking away at the front, the South African kept himself in the battle and laid it on the line into the final corner – not quite enough for the victory, but more than enough for the championship as he crossed the line only 0.030 off winner Navarro. He may not have won the battle, but he has convincingly won the war.
Binder is the first man ever to be crowned at MotorLand Aragon, becoming the third South African champion in history after one of the most incredible title campaigns in recent seasons.
But just how much does this mean? Binder is the first South African champion since Jon Ekerold in 1980 in the 350cc class to win a title. Back in them days, many circuits were laced with trees and some, in particularly Imatra in Finland, featured things that would instantly halt a Grand Prix from taking place today, such as railway lines. The gaps in the modern era are almost invisible. One week you can be leading, the next you can be battling for points. And this is what makes Binder’s title special. He finished on the podium seven times from the first nine races, crashed out just once (at Brno), but since, hasn’t finished lower than 2nd! To keep this kind of form in the current era of motorcycle racing doesn’t just make you a great rider, it makes you one of the best in the world. He won in big battles, he’s won from the back of the grid, he finished in the top three in tricky conditions and he has set some incredibly fast lap times to grab pole position on Saturday afternoons too.
However, this world title goes further than our sport. He is one of just two full time riders from the continent of Africa – the other is his own brother! There is no longer a South African Grand Prix and if we are honest, South Africa sadly doesn’t get many positive headlines in the news. This means that, for one day at least, South Africa can raise a glass of their finest wine and throw one of their famous barbeques and celebrate in true, South African style as they worship their hero.
A continent that is almost totally switched off from any sort of interaction with the Western World; a continent that is one of the most politically unstable in the world, can finally breathe a sigh of relief as they realise that there is something worth shouting about. Africa is often painted as a continent where only disease exists and where the only kind of law enforcement is child militia groups. Africa is also a continent tainted with chronic environmental issues and many countries suffer from incredibly volatile governments. People either see Africa as a tourist hot-spot, where only countries like Morocco and Egypt exist, or as one huge piece of land that is nothing of any importance.
However, I, as I hope do you readers, see it as something completely different. I see it as one of the most resilient continents, as well as one which houses natural beauty and hospitable excellence. And it is that Africa, that I want people to think about. It is that Africa, that I want people to think “Brad Binder comes from there”, because he has done not just his country proud, but his whole continent proud too.
Kiko Giles @MotoGPKiko