Sport / 24 December 2019, 12:00pm / Ockert de Villiers
Brad Binder scoffs at the suggestion his rise was related to anything other than good old fashioned hard work and a helluva lot of sacrifices from a loving family.
Binder’s name would not be on everyone’s lips had it not been for the support from his father and mother.
“I got really lucky, I was lucky that my parents supported me from day one,” Binder said at the Red Bull offices in Johannesburg.
“They gave up a lot to allow me to go overseas, my mom lived with me to Spain, my dad was back at home with my little brother.
“I was fortunate that my dad basically would do absolutely everything for me, so without them, I wouldn’t even have a shot to do anything.”
Just over a decade since a 12-year-old Binder started racing in Europe to make a name for himself, he has graduated to the MotoGP.
“We don’t get exposure here, no-one even knows we exist, and doesn’t matter how fast you are here, you aren’t even considered, and no-one even knows you,” Binder said.
“The only way to get your name out there is to race in Europe or race in one of the feeder classes to Grand Prix. My dad and I went to England, where I raced for a bit then I started the Red Bull rookie’s cup which I did for three years.”
The 24-year-old may have taken the long route making his Grand Prix debut in 2011 before becoming the Moto3 World Champion in 2016 with Red Bull KTM Ajo but he launched himself into the record books by becoming only the third motorcycle Grand Prix world champion from South Africa. He is the country’s first world champion in 36 years since Jon Ekerold won the 350cc title in 1980. Kork Ballington won the 350cc and 250cc titles in 1978 and 1979.
He stepped up to the Moto2 World Championship in 2017 where he continued to race in 2018 and 2019 for Factory KTM.
For as long as Binder can remember, he wanted to race motorbikes and do so at the highest level, which is the MotoGP.
“It’s been my passion from day one, that is all I’ve ever wanted to do, race motorbikes,” Binder said.
“There was never really a plan B, and it made it work or come home and do something else.”
Considering the high barriers to enter into motorcycle racing it is no surprise it has to take nearly four decades for South Africa to produce an international star.
Binder admits it is a near-impossible feat for a South African to make it into the top echelons of the sport based purely on the country’s location on the world map.
“It is not accessible to your average person. Unfortunately, it is one thing to race and enjoy it, and it is another thing to race and try to make a career out of it,” he said.
“There are so many things you have to go through, and of course there is a lot of time, effort and a helluva lot of money involved.”
While Binder will get to realise his life-long dream of lining up in the MotoGP in 2020, it is only the first steps in loftier goals.
Racing in the premier class is already a history-making feat with Binder becoming the first South African to take the grid in the four-stroke era.
“It is cool to know you are MotoGP, but the goal is not to be a competitor but try and win races and hopefully fight for a championship at one point,” Binder said.
“It is great to have the opportunity to be there, and it is something we’ve worked for since I was young.
“But it is now like going to University, MotoGP3 is like primary school, MotoGP2 is high school, and now it is like starting over again.”
One of the bonuses of racing MotoGP is that Binder will get to line up against childhood hero Italian legend Valentino Rossi.
“It is something I look forward to, once he was my hero and now he is a competitor,” Binder said.
“So it is going to be a bit difficult to wrap my head around it at the beginning, but I am sure it is going to be a cool feeling.”
While Binder is in pursuit of etching his name into the history books, he is already thinking about the legacy he wants to leave behind in South African racing.
This goes beyond expanding his Wikipedia profile but making a tangible difference by passing on the lessons he has learned over the last few years.
Binder has paid his school fees on the global circuit battling to find a team to race for and for someone to notice his talents for a shot at the big leagues.
“My career is just getting started, but I am already looking at finding youngsters that are good, and I want to help them as much as I can and help lead them down a good path,” he said.
“I know how the system works now, where we can get support, and I want to help the kids. I hope to bring through a few fast South Africans.”
But in the meantime, Binder is gearing up for another steep learning curve as he gets to grips with racing at a higher level on a bike with more oomph.
“I want to learn how the whole MotoGP class works, and try and build myself into it,” Binder said.
“I don’t want to rush it and make big mistakes, and I want to understand what I am doing. The sooner I understand what I am doing, the sooner I will go quick.”