The Pain In Spain Was 33 Places To Gain
If you have been living under a rock or perhaps lost at sea for the past few days, there is a slim chance that you may have missed a couple of remarkable achievements which came out of the first European round of MotoGP in Jerez on the weekend. The first was the incredible win by Valentino Rossi, who stole pole position in the last lap of qualifying and led every second of the race to claim the podium and put his stamp on the 2016 season, which could deliver him his career 10th title.The other event happened to a kid from South Africa and in many respects his achievement dwarfed that of Rossi’s and sent shivers down the spines of all who witnessed it, making grown men shriek like school girls when Chis Hemsworth crashes their birthday party.For me this story played out about 35 minutes before the start of the Moto3 race as I walked briskly through the paddock with Bob Moore, former MXGP World Champion and Vice President of Wasserman, the manager of elite athletes including several in the MotoGP paddock. Bob never looks rattled, his calm demeanor no doubt well honed from his own racing experience and decades of providing counsel to others.
On this occasion, however he looked frustrated and concerned as he revealed that his rider Brad Binder had fallen afoul of FIM officials for the use of a non homologated ECU software program during the previous day's outing. Bob lamented that the race officials were considering sanctioning the KTM Red Bull rider who had claimed the second place on the grid, with a last place penalty, shuffling him down 33 places to dead last.A “win” said Bob, would be that Binder have the penalty levied at Le Mans where the chances of rain may help to mitigate the damage. I commented that it would be a bonus, as the track in Jerez was fast and the conditions perfect for racing. As Binder led the series going into the 4th round, a big points loss would jettison him from the top of the tables, a though I kept to myself lest I contribute further to Bob’s angst.
As we weaved through the paddock I wished him well and I made a bee line for the top of turn one, planting myself on the track guard rail. For anyone who has witnessed a Moto3 race start you will know that the combatants attack the apex of turn 1 with the commitment and frenzy of Kamikaze pilots. Being away from the monitors of the media center I was in the dark about the eventual outcome of the official sanctions, the first I knew of Brads fate was the passing procession of riders on their spotting lap, and Brad was down the back of the pack. Brad’s pain in Spain would be 34 places to gain. Binder got off to a flying start and by the completion of the first lap had clawed back 14 places, moving up to 21 st , but not without drama, as he was nearly cleaned up by a Mahindra on the first lap. After the 2 nd lap he was in 17 th and lapping in the 1.47s, faster than the lead group of Navarro, Bagnaia and Bulega. With 19 laps to go he cracked 1.46 and was up to 13 th place,carving through the pack like a hot knife through butter.
While the commentary team were kept busy with an epic battle between the front three riders, Binder surgically removed every other rider from his path, making up 30 places in 8 laps and finally breathing down the neck of the lead three with 10 laps left in the race.It took no time for Binder to reel in Bulega and Bagnaia, moving into 2 nd and ratcheting up the pressure on Navarro for first. The crowd was going wild and the commentary team were reaching for superlatives to describe his demolition of the pack. If the race officials had done anything that day, they had given Binder a gift. A gift of anger and revenge which he channeled like Chuck Norris against a thousand ninja’s, and we all know how that ended up.
At turn 6 on the 19 th lap Navarro let Binder get to him running wide ever so slightly. It was the open door Binder was looking for, wasting no time diving under him, the pair touching in the corner. An unsettled Navarro gave Binder a clear view of the track ahead and he never looked back, not even for a second.
Binder was not finished with this staggering performance, not by a long way. He continued to shave tenths of Navarro, opening up a clear lead and leaving Navarro, Bulega and Bagnaia broken and content to fight for the remaining two podium positions. And fight they did diving under one and other as they jockeyed for position. While Navarro had led for much of the race he was completely overwhelmed by Bulega on the Sky VR46 bike, who took a page from his mentors book and made a last moment charge for the final turn, out braking the other two and taking second from Bagnaia third and robbing Navarro of a podium, a bitter result considering his performance throughout the race. Binder would cross the line a full 2 seconds faster than Bulega and in doing so not only claim him first victory in Moto3, but do so in such a staggering, devastatingly quick and brave fashion.
Long time commentators were simply left speechless and professing that in 2 decades of coverage they had never witnessed anything like the performance of the South African who handed his nation their first Grand Prix victory. It is easy to focus on the achievements of the likes of Valentino Rossi as he captivates the imagination like no other. Yet on this day and under adversity, a young South African champion was born and showed that no obstacle can hold a man down who has a dream and the talent and conviction to back it up. A familiar tale in his country. I left Jerez with the highest of hopes that long after the Doctor has retired and moved to another ward of the paddock, the bench of talent in the junior classes which runs long and deep, will provide spectators like myself with decades of seat of the pants racing action. After all, too much MotoGP is barely enough.