Johannesburg - When Brad Binder was five, he sat with his father on their couch, cheering for Valentino Rossi. From there to sitting next to him at a press conference was weird and strangely exciting for South Africa’s 2016 Moto3 world champion.
The 21-year-old KTM rider - the first South African to win a motorcycle world championship since Jon Ekerold in 1981 - landed in Johannesburg early on Tuesday morning to be greeted by fans and media, trying to take pictures of him and talk to him. A group of biker fans even arrived wearing their suits and helmets.
Binder will move up to Moto2 in 2017, still with the Red Bull KTM team.
“Winning the Moto3 world championship made all the hard work worth it,” he said at his first media conference in South Africa after taking the title.
“Going into Moto2 next year, I definitely feel I will be a lot more confident, and knowing that I did well this year will definitely make the step up to Moto2 easier,” Binder
It all started with the race in Spain in April when Binder became the first racer since Moto GP champion Marc Marquez to win a race from at the back of the grid. He realised he was gaining speed when he reached lap 15, and by the penultimate lap he already had a two-second lead.
All he was thinking was “not to not mess it up, and finish the race successfully“. And he did.
From there, he went on to record five wins.
He needed to come in third in the Aragon Grand Prix in Spain to be crowned world champion - and he finished second, taking the championship in style.
“The biggest change I made this year was to stay relaxed and take it one day at a time,” Binder said. “I tried to limit my mistakes and tried to be clever: when we didn’t win, it was important to try to make the podium.”
Now that he had a solid contract in hand, he said he could afford to learn new things in the first year which would help him improve
During testing with the new Moto2 bike at Valencia, he felt like he was getting the feel of the new bike - until the bike high-sided at Turn 9, spat him off and fell on his left arm breaking his Radius bone and dislocating his wrist.
After surgery by Grand Prix specialist Dr Xavier Mir in Barcelona - which included a plate and seven screws - he’s expected to make a full recovery in four to five weeks.
Binder said he wasn’t complaining because if the accident had happened during the season, it would have been a disaster. He was confident he would get back on track before the next season begins.
His mother, Sharon Binder, who was also at the press conference, said she had become used to seeing her sons race, but she’d never go to the circuit to watch them. It was too scary, she said.
“When he falls, you just hope for the best as a parent,” she said. “I am terribly proud of him, it has taken a while for him to get here, but I am glad he is here at last.”
‘It’s going to be tough’
He said his team was very realistic with him, telling him that it would take at least half a year in 2017 for him to break into the top 10.
“They keep telling me that its going to be tough, it’s not going to happen overnight, but I hope I get there faster than half a year,” Binder said.
With his racing schedule all set for the next three to four years - he has an almost concrete deal with MotoGP after two to three years of Moto2 - Binder is hoping to relax and enjoy his time at home this summer. He said all he wanted to do was rest his arm, see friends and family and enjoy South African braai.
“There is nothing like a good South African steak - European ones are not the same,” he said laughing.
When asked about his brother Darryn, who is also a Moto3 racer, Brad was full of praise. He said when he won the Moto3 race in Phillip Island, his brother finished fourth and it was amazing to watch him race. He was positive South Africa has another Moto3 champion coming up soon.
Motorsport in general had also seen a lot of growth in the past three years, Binder said. More people were talking about it and wanted to be involved, he added.
Talking about his personal experience with the people of South Africa, he said It was incredible to see the support he enjoyed, and the excitement people showed when he won.
“To come back to see the support, it makes me excited and it makes me want to go better. I am trying to take it in and use it in a positive way,” he said.
His immediate goal: to win the Moto2 world title. His long-term goal: to win the premier MotoGP championship, ideally before Rossi retires. That, he said, would be for the five-year-old kid who rooted for Rossi from his couch at home.