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Binder dilutes the P-factor

03.02.2017

Last year was a great one for South African motorsport in general and Brad Binder in particular. In 2016, the youngster from Potchefstroom won his first world championship Grand Prix in Spain on his way to ending the season as Moto3 World Champion with seven wins, five seconds and two thirds from 18 starts.

He's also broken a long standing record - he's the only South African winner of a world championship Grand Prix to have been raised outside of KZN.  The three previous GP winners - Kork Ballington (31 wins) Jon Ekerold (7 wins) and Alan North (1 win) were blessed with the P-Factor. All of them lived in Pinetown or Pietermaritzburg and all cut their teeth racing at the old Roy Hesketh Circuit in the early '70s.

Alan North was the unlucky one in that he had to travel on a South African passport which barred him from entering countries in the Eastern Bloc; despite his extraordinary talent, no factory team could afford to invest in a racer, no matter how good, who had to miss two or three of the ten or so events that made up the world championships in those days.

Nineteen-seventy-seven was a grand year for our three KZN racers. Ballington won three races, and the others took one apiece, all as privateers on Yamahas. At the French Grand Prix, Ekerold won with North second, with the latter also picking the fastest lap at the season-ending British Grand Prix at Silverstone

Ballington scored a magic double by winning the 250 and 350cc races, starting from pole and recording the fastest lap in the bigger class. He finished the season sixth in the 250 class with North seventh and Ekerold ninth, while Ekerold took third in the 350 class followed by Ballington in fifth and the passport-disadvantaged North in tenth.     

Ballington went back as a factory Kawasaki rider in '78, winning both the 250 and 350cc titles that year and the next.  Ekerold soldiered on as a privateer, usually being placed in the top five before clinching the 350 title in 1980 and finishing runner-up in '81 on a Bimota-Yamaha.

And poor old Alan North? He came home at the end of '77 on a high, but had his dream shattered along with his leg when he collided with a taxi while trail riding in the Valley of 1000 Hills on 31 December. Problems with infections in his tibia kept him out of racing for the whole of '78. 

He returned to race sporadically in GP's from '79, but his big chance had gone and he retired in 1983 when the worsening South African political situation dictated that he'd have to miss half of the world championship GPs each year. In just 32 starts as a privateer, he picked up a win, two seconds and a third, with six pole positions and a fastest lap. 

Top level motorcycle racing has evolved tremendously over the years, but one thing remains constant. When a racer from any country succeeds on the world stage, his fellow-racers at home become stronger mentally and lift their game.

 Britain, Italy, the USA, Australia and Spain have all had turns at the top internationally and we did pretty well between 1977 and 1983. Now that the Binder brothers are at the top, maybe it's time to get some more of our youngsters across to Europe.

Article written by Gavin Foster
03.02.2017
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