When Stefan Bradl makes his MotoGP World Championship debut in 2012, not only will be become the first German to compete at the highest level of motorcycle racing in five years, he will also be going one step further than his former racer father.
Stefan’s decision to go motorcycle racing was inevitable having grown up watching his father Helmut race to great success during the late 1980s and early 1990s. However, though his father was a runner-up in the 1991 250cc World Championship, and winner of five races, he never quite made it to 500cc/MotoGP level.
As such, it has been up to Bradl Jnr to uphold the family name, an honour Stefan will finally bestow upon the on his siblings when he makes his MotoGP debut with LCR Honda in 2012.
Indeed, though Bradl’s rise through the ranks has been relatively fraught, his title-winning turn in the Moto2 World Championship has now established him as a one of the categories most exciting debutants.
Beginning his career on the domestic German scene, Bradl tasted immediate success in the national 125cc series, winning 3 races for Red Bull ADAC KTM Juniors on the way to the 2005 title. He also took in three wild-card rounds on the international stage, scoring once at Brno.
Earning him a full-time graduation to the world championship in 2006, Bradl continued with the same team but having scored his first points of the year at Brno once more, a serious accident during the following Malaysian Grand Prix left him with a season-ending injury.
Offered the chance to ride the Repsol Honda in the 250cc class for 2007, Bradl pulled out of the deal before the start of the season, but took up a race seat in the 125cc Spanish Championship for Blusens Aprilia. It would prove a fairly shrewd move for Bradl as he battled to the domestic title, just ahead of team-mate Scott Redding.
The deal also enabled him to make 9 race outings on the world stage, Bradl showing his progress with a run to seventh at Misano and sixth at Estoril.
Despite the offer to remain with Blusens for 2008, Bradl instead opted to join the German-based Grizzly Gaz Kiefer team, which had taken delivery of a factory-supported Aprilia. Gelling well with his local team, Bradl broke his podium duck in the opening race at Losail and continued to score well over the first-half of the season.
Lowering his personal best with a run to second on home soil at the Sachsenring, Bradl broke through with victory in the very next event at Brno. Scene of his first grand prix outing in 2005 and the venue where his father scored a 250GP win in 1991, it was a fitting maiden success for Bradl.
Another win followed at Motegi, hauling Bradl up to an eventual fourth in the final standings behind only Mike Di Meglio, Simone Corsi and Gabor Talmacsi.
With Di Meglio and Talmacsi moving on, Bradl came into the 2009 season – once more with Kiefer Racing – as a favourite for the title. However, it was a tough season for the youngster and he struggled to get on terms with his rivals, peaking with a best finish of just at Motegi and Estoril, leaving him tenth in the overall classification.
Nonetheless, with the arrival of Moto2 to replace the 250cc class for 2010, Bradl and Kiefer Racing graduated to the intermediate class, opting for the well-regarded Suter chassis.
Like many, Bradl struggled to adapt to the 600cc machine during the opening half of the season, scraping into the top ten with a trio of ninth place finishes at Le Mans, Sachsenring and Brno. However, Bradl’s results picked up thereafter, scoring consistently and claiming top five finishes at Misano and Phillip Island, before claiming an unexpected victory at Estoril. The results helped Bradl catapult up the standings to a respectable ninth at the season’s conclusion, as one of the best-placed Suter riders.
However, with Suter becoming the chassis of choice for the 2011 season, Kiefer instead entered into a partnership with German chassis manufacturer Kalex, forming an exclusive bond in an effort to get the edge on the competition.
It was a wise move for Kiefer as the Kalex emerged from pre-season testing as a competitive force against expected front runners Marc Marquez and Andrea Iannone, both riding Suters.
And so it proved, Bradl sprinting out of the blocks to win four of the opening five races at Losail, Estoril, Catalunya and Silverstone. Though a fall at Assen set him back, Bradl was back on form in the following races with a trio of podiums at Mugello, Sachsenring and Brno.
However, despite his impressive start to the year, Bradl was coming under increasing threat from Marquez, whose dismal beginning to the season (three non-scores in three races) gave way to exceptional mid-season form.
A run of seven wins in ten races had Marquez on Bradl’s tail at the end of the season loomed, the pair split by just three points with two races remaining. Indeed, Bradl had already commented on conceding the title to the in-form Marquez, only for the young Spaniard to suffer a nasty fall during practice for the Malaysian Grand Prix and sustain an eye injury.
Crucially ruling him out for that event, Marquez would later withdraw from the season finale too, confirming Bradl as the new Moto2 title winner and the first German world champion since Dirk Raudies won the 1993 125cc series.
Looking ahead to 2012, Bradl was initially expected to stay in Moto2 to defend his title with Kiefer Racing, but an opportunity to sample the LCR Honda during the post-season tests led to some encouraging lap times. Prompting LCR to supply a deal, Bradl went into the season as the only rookie to be competing on full MotoGP machinery.
With a gulf of experience separating him from his rivals and uncertainty about whether Moto2 was a convincing breeding ground for MotoGP stars, Bradl came into the year with many questions to answer.
However, he would prove immediately competitive on the RC213V, turning in a top five finish at Le Mans in only his fourth MotoGP outing, a feat he would go on to repeat on three further occasions in 2012.
Though he would fall just short of a maiden podium – having crashed out of a comfortable second place at the season-ending Valencia round -, Bradl’s run to eighth in the overall standings was enough to impress the bosses at Honda, who swiftly tied him into a contract to race with LCR for two further seasons.
Having won plaudits for his competitive debut MotoGP campaign, Bradl displayed further progress to spend 2013 tussling for top satellite rider honours with Cal Crutchlow and Alvaro Bautista.
A maiden pole position and podium were both achieved at Laguna Seca, but two races sidelined by injury towards the end of the season left the German seventh in the final standings.
Many feel there is still much more to come from the young German heading into 2014, when he will remain with LCR...