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Binder’s bolt from the blue

Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM) has written himself into the history books with a staggering maiden MotoGP race win – the first for both KTM and South Africa in premier class history.

It was a whirlwind opening to the third round of the MotoGP Championship, with Italian Morbidelli an astonishing 1.1 seconds clear at the close of lap one and a further three tenths up another lap on. Binder had already made his intentions clear by then, riding around the outside of his team-mate at turn three on lap two before attacking Aleix Espargaro at the uphill turn eleven. And the best was still to come.

Franko Morbidelli, Czech MotoGP race 9 August 2020

Having stalked Quartararo in second for six laps, Binder showed his brilliance on the brakes by attacking the Frenchman at turn three. He then set off after the leader, 1.5 seconds ahead. The South African’s speed prompted Pol Espargaro into a pair of mistakes. After passing brother Aleix, who would eventually fade to tenth, and Zarco, he started getting desperate.

First, there was an unsuccessful lunge on Quartararo at turn 13. Moments later he was wide at the first corner and as he cut back onto the racing line he was shocked to find Zarco in his place. There was contact, just enough to jolt the Catalan and push the KTM down. Espargaro seethed at the injustice of it all. “I knew we had the win and someone took it from us,” he said, refusing to call his ex-team-mate by name. “He could have avoided contact but he didn’t want to.” Zarco’s retort was as classy as his riding: “We’re racing, not dancing.”

Johann Zarco, Czech MotoGP race 9 August 2020

The FIM Stewards leaned toward Espargaro, however, handing the Frenchman a long-lap penalty just after he passed Quartararo for third. It seemed harsh. But he took it dutifully, attacking the penalty lane on the outside of turn seven as he would his normal racing line. “Maybe it’s thanks to the Multistrada that I use every day at home in the city. We have many times a wide corner to do in the roundabout with low grip. This was helping me today.” He didn’t lose a place but any attempts at catching second were dashed.

The lap before Binder’s relentless ride to the front was complete. He decimated a 1.5 second deficit in four laps. Morbidelli was powerless to stop him at turn five. “Brad was coming to me really fast,” he reflected. “His grip level was really good. I didn’t bother him too much from there, so I tried to bring my machine to the end.” From there the rookie was on cruise control, making good on the potential shown in Jerez, and lapping eight tenths quicker per lap than his pursuer.

Brad Binder, Czech MotoGP 8 August 2020

“It was just the most crazy ten laps of my life,” said Binder, South Africa’s first ever premier class winner. “I did everything as soft and as calm as possible because the rear tyre was quite dead. As soon as I’d try to do anything aggressive I’d have some crazy pumping. It was unbelievable, the most incredible day of my life so far.” On the evidence of 2020 few could argue when he exclaimed, “This is the start of something special.”

Morbidelli nursed his Yamaha home in second to collect his first MotoGP podium. “I’m a little bit down as I thought I could catch the win today,” he shrugged. Like Binder, one feels this is the first of many. Then came Zarco, fading in the closing laps as a high speed group of Alex Rins (Ecstar Suzuki), Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha) and Miguel Oliveira (Tech 3 KTM) attacked in the race’s final third. “Now I’m with Ducati and feeling better,” said Zarco after a first podium since Sepang, 2018. “They are explaining many things to me and my confidence is coming back.”

Rins, who sat out warm-up to save his strength, was particularly inspired, coming within 0.139s of a podium 22 days after suffering a fracture-dislocation of his right shoulder. “At first it was hard to have the same rhythm as the leaders but I kept push – a good race for us.” Another strong ride for Rossi saw him climb from tenth to fifth, 1 second off third. “This was better than Jerez,” he said. “If we had qualified better I could’ve been on the podium.” Likewise Oliveira was left to rue his qualifying 13th. Sixth was still his best MotoGP finish to date.

Alex Rins, Czech MotoGP race 9 August 2020

Quartararo eventually slipped and slid to seventh, confused why his rear tyre performance was so inferior to his team-mate’s. But he remained upbeat. “Not the best result but I know in this situation last year I would’ve pushed more and maybe crashed.” His cause was aided by disastrous days for title contenders Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) in eleventh and Viñales in 14th, who never came close to threatening the top six.

Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda) was eighth and the leading Honda on a shocking weekend for HRC. Never was Marc Marquez’s absence felt as much as it was here. Jack Miller (Pramac Ducati) was baffled by Zarco’s performance when all the GP20s continued to struggle with Michelin’s 2020 rear tyre. His mood wasn’t helped when he was hit by Nakagami and Oliveira on lap one. A shake on lap two left him without brakes entering turn three, pushing him wide and dropping him to 17th – a weekend to forget.

The results meant Quartararo (59 points) carries an extended 17-point lead to Austria ahead of Viñales (42). It’s a Yamaha 1-2-3 as Morbidelli (31) jumps to third, tied on points with Dovizioso. Binder’s remarkable triumph lifts him to fifth, where he is tied with Zarco on 28 points.

Franko Morbidelli, Brad Binder, Johann Zarco, Czech MotoGP race 9 August 2020

Report Neil Morrison

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