(Not) A SMAC in the Face #60: Braking Brad

Normally SMAC’s contribution to the world is a combination of being irreverent, zany, cynical and acerbic, and so the overarching title, A SMAC in the Face, is appropriate. 

But just to prove that SMAC can also be nice, normal and straightforward, this SMAC is a tribute to an up-and-coming SA sports star and all-round nice guy, Brad Binder.  He has been living on the edge in that insane sport of motorbike racing at the highest level where his uncompromising approach to cornering naturally led to the title – Braking Brad.  Hopefully it will also lead to a world title soon.

With SA’s pride overflowing after the Bok’s dramatic fourth World Rugy Cup under the colossus, Siya, we were hoping that the Proteas would deliver another Siya moment under the diminutive Bavuma. It was not to be. Instead, it was a see-yah moment both for Bavuma who didn’t trouble scoreboard and the team who didn’t trouble the boundary in their semi-final match.

Between the Olympics, when the swimmers do their best to prop up the medals table, there are few heroes for our sportsmad country. Bafana Bafana has been an embarrassment, routinely losing to teams from places that can barely be called countries and gone are the golden golfing legends of Gary Player and Ernie Els. I must admit to an abiding interest in motorsport from my days of owning street scramblers and modifying Beetles to try to get them to emulate real cars. But the pickings are slim. We had ‘Sideways’ Scheckter who managed to destroy eight other Formula 1 cars on the first lap of the 1973 Silverstone Grand Prix before going on to take the F1 crown with Ferrari in 1979.

In the modern era, Giniel de Villiers has been a fixture in the exceptionally tough Paris-Dakar rallies. He has competed in 16 of them, with one win and eight podiums. On two wheels, Kork Ballington won both the 250cc and 350cc World Championships in 1978 and 1979. Since them – nothing.

However, in the last few years, Brad Binder has been making an impact in MotoGP where you need serious cojones. Weighing little more than your average Springbok lock forward at 157kg, these uncompromising 1000cc brutes pump out about 175kW and reach speeds of over 360kph. Leaning in a corner at around 180kph with 60 degrees of bank, elbow and knee skid blocks grazing the tar, you might find another bike on your shoulder which, if he leant any further, would hit you.

In addition, over a racing season, between racing and practicing, if you do not crash at least 10 times, you are not trying hard enough. Brad started campaigning in Europe in 2012, aged 17. He eventually won the Moto3 Championship in 2016. Moving up to Moto2, he continued improving until he came second in the championship in 2019. His courageous and never-give-up approach won him a place in the Red Bull KTM factory team racing MotoGP bikes from 2020. He grabbed a win in his third race as a rookie and ended the season a credible 11th. Subsequently, he finished 6th, 6th, and 4th this year. Given the almost total dominance of the Ducattis and Aprillas, this has earmarked him as a prospect to watch.

The sight of a black, red and orange machine approaching a corner under heavy braking, squirming like a feral cat, before letting the rear wheel slide out a bit to scrub off the last bit of speed and squaring up the corner, has got to mean it’s No. 331, our boy, Braking Brad.

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