Team boss Aki Ajo believes reigning Moto3 world champion Brad Binder will be fully prepared for a championship challenge in 2018, after a bruising introduction to the intermediate class, which has been offset by a serious arm injury.

The first eleven months in Moto2 have been far from straightforward for the South African, who swept all before him in the junior category a year ago. A crash when testing last November broke his left arm, an injury that failed to heal correctly after initial surgery.

Two further operations were required, the second of which came soon after Binder broke his arm during free practice in Argentina. Remarkably, the 22-year old not only raced, but came home in ninth place that Sunday, testament to a steely resolve that is not always apparent when in his company.

Binder’s strife didn’t end there. After missing three grand prix (Austin, Jerez, Le Mans), he returned at Mugello to find his left arm so weak, his right was picking up the slack. Excessive arm pump was the result, leading him to go under the knife (on his right arm) for a fourth time in a little more than half a year over the summer break.

Those repeated trips to the hospital took their toll. “It’s been a shit year,” Binder concluded in Aragon. “To be quite honest, it’s been horrible. The good thing is you learn something new. Every single day and every single session you learn something. I’m sure we can make a good step soon enough.”

Take a look through the blood, sweat and tears however, and there has been real promise in Binder’s rookie Moto2 campaign. In Ajo’s squad, aboard KTM’s tubular, steel chassis - new to the class for ’17 -, Binder has amassed seven top ten finishes in eleven races - three less than his competitors - to sit tenth overall.

Yet it was performances in Austria and Aragon that really hinted at a rider finding his feet. Team-mate Miguel Oliveira has, deservedly, taken much of the acclaim after his own impressive campaign, but Binder has continued working, with his showing at Aragon his best in Moto2 to date.

And team boss Ajo, with whom he began working in 2015, believes that even the closest of observers don’t understand just how seriously Binder’s preseason injuries were affecting performance.

“In racing you need to accept this happens sometimes,” said Ajo. “The correct attitude is important after injuries and everything. He lose something this year. OK, he maybe delay something for the career but maybe somehow I feel that this makes him stronger. He always needs difficulties to learn and this just makes us stronger when you have the correct attitude. I feel this is something which builds Brad into an even stronger rider in the future.

“But of course maybe people outside don’t even understand how much this was disturbing him. When he had the injury [in November ‘16] he was still in ‘Moto3 shape’ – a very small guy with not so many muscles. He was very small in Moto3. It was his intention to start during winter to make a lot of training, especially for the upped body to be ready for Moto2; a bigger bike. He lost everything.

“So after winter and especially after the third operation at the end of May-beginning of June, he was in even smaller condition than in Moto3. So this means now the recovery started when he recovered from the third operation to be on the bike. He wants so much, so quick. Of course, it’s a good point but also the team and rider have to control and make sure the expectation is not too high. Or at least not too quick.”

Like Oliveira, Binder will stay with Ajo’s KTM squad for ’18, and the Finnish team boss fully believes South Africa’s first world champion since 1980 will be even stronger come Qatar next April, knowing the demands required of him.

“It still takes months, months, months and I think next year he will be ready to be the big ‘Moto2 guy’,” Ajo said. “That’s why he has to give time to himself and for sure we give time to him. We know that mentally he is growing up all the time. Physically he is growing up all the time and I think next year he will be really tough and a strong rider in Moto2.”

Looking through Binder’s results this year and his weakness quickly becomes apparent: qualifying. From eleven outings, he has only broached the top 15 once on a Saturday afternoon, and has qualified 20th or lower on six occasions.

Speaking after his latest race at Aragon, he noted as much, “For me, it takes me too long to figure out what to do. I feel like I do all my learning at night time when I sleep. So Friday is always a disaster. Saturday is more or less a disaster but a little bit better. And by Sunday I normally put the picture together and start to feel quite strong.

“The most important thing is I just need to work hard throughout the weekend, no matter what the position is. I have to learn to push alone. This weekend I worried way too much about where I was on the time sheets. What matters is in the race. I’m sure if I work better throughout the weekend I can make a step.”

Still, picking off 14 riders to climb from 20th to fifth left Binder elated. “I’m stoked to finish fifth,” he said. “Last week [at Misano] was a fifth but it felt like I came 15th because everyone had crashed. It was a really tough start to the weekend. In the first session I was two and a half seconds off. Now in the race I was 4.1s over the 21 laps. We definitely do something right on Sunday. I just wish I could figure it out on Saturday.

“The first time I really got a look at how the top guys ride was in Austria, where I managed to get up with them in the first few laps. Then I followed [Takaaki] Nakagami for the whole race. Now, today, when I was able to see the guys, I learnt a lot. It was easy for me to see where I was strong and where I need to improve. I’m sure once we improve these small points we can make a small step.

“I want to work on my riding more than anything. The bike’s incredible. I felt like I had the best bike out there today to be honest. Thank you to the team. Thank you to KTM. They’ve done an amazing job to have such an incredible bike. I need to work harder through the weekend and I think I can give them the results that they deserve.”

There is a reason Ajo speaks so highly of his Moto2 line-up. “I cannot dream of anything better at the moment rider-wise,” he said. With Franco Morbidelli and Thomas Luthi climbing to the premier class, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch pointing toward Oliveira and Binder pushing for the ultimate honours in 2018.



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