It was Brad Binder who smashed through the 100 Grand Prix wins for graduates from the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup with his superb victory in the Malaysian Grand Prix; he was in the midst of a fabulous Moto2 hat-trick that left him just three points off the top of the championship table at the end of the year.
The ex Moto3 World Champion has a total of 35 Grand Prix victories to his name and has no doubt about the biggest early step he took on his path to stardom. "Joining the Red Bull Rookies Cup was so crucial. Without it I would never have had the opportunity to get where I am now."
"For us, especially coming from South Africa, getting started in International racing was not so easy. A lot of travelling, a lot of difficult decisions we had to make on how we were going to do things," explains the 24-year-old Springbok.
"For a few years before I went to try out we had quite a few South Africans who went to the Selection Event, Mathew Scholtz got picked so that was the goal, I was just waiting until I was old enough to try and do the same."
"I think I was still 12 years old when I went to the try outs in 2008. I was very glad that I got in the first time."
"One thing that really sticks out in my mind when I think back was when we went to the first preseason test in Jerez 2009, we saw the set-up and the paddock the MotoGP guys were testing at the same time. That was kind of crazy for me, I remember sitting on the grandstand every chance I got, watching Rossi and all the big boys go round. That was when I realised just how big it is and what an amazing class it is."
First race weekend of his debut season 2009, Brad in front of Lorenzo Baldassarri. The Italian went on to be Cup champion in 2011 and has since won 5 GPs in Moto 2.
"I remember being very very very disappointed finishing up in 10th place and 13th when we went back to Jerez for the first races of the season. Obviously everyone is there because you want to win. I think I went in there expecting way too much, straight away I was a bit shocked with just how high the level was in Red Bull Rookies Cup. The guys were all super fast and I realised that I had a lot of work to do."
"My whole first season was all about learning. Getting into the second season things started to get a little bit easier. Then I managed to run in that crazy front group that you always get in Rookies Cup."
"There was a huge amount of interest from South Africa in what we were doing, people following Mathew and I. Just to have a South African racing abroad was massive and to be racing on the same weekend as all the MotoGP guys was insane. So I think that even then I started to see a lot of people really interested in what I was doing overseas and from then on it just grew."
"My dad was always my mechanic, it was great, for me it was no different to when we were here in South Africa before going into Rookies Cup, my dad prepared all my bikes and got everything prepped, he did all the engines, he did everything."
While Arthur Sissis looks on from the left Brad's dad Trevor in the glasses gets the help of the Cup engineer. Portugal 2011 for the preseason test.
"For me it was very cool to have him in my corner. For both my dad and I it was a big learning curve, we had a lot of things to adapt to."
"I remember during that first race weekend in Jerez and after we came home, we realised that we had to do more, get quicker, do things a little bit different. I started to ride motocross almost every week, maybe two or three days a week riding flat track. I started to do my training much better, everything got more intense. I felt that basically everything got taken to the next level."
The first Rookies Cup win did not come easily - On the podium in Estoril 2011 with Arthur on his right and Lorenzo Baldassarri to his right. All three would become Grand Prix stars.
"It took me a while to adapt to the class of riders I was in with the Rookies Cup but then I was doing all that different training that I obviously carried through the off season at the end of year one so that I was much better prepared going into the second Cup season in 2010. Also of course in the second year, going back to many of the same circuits definitely helped. When you arrive there you know what to expect, you can immediately start off at a much better level already from Free Practice 1."
"In season two again I definitely learnt a lot and going into season three I really thought I could win the championship. But I think what it came down to in my third season was that I think we had a wet race almost every single weekend of the championship. I think we had maybe three or four dry races in the year."
"In those days if it rained I barely finished in the points. That made things a lot more difficult for me in the third year. It all came back to the fact that I'd never ridden in the rain. My first rain race was the Rookies Cup race at the Sachsenring."
"I remember lining up on the grid and not knowing what to expect. We rode off from the start, the guys rode away from me a bit and then I just remember thinking, 'jees, the grip's amazing!' I did a few laps passing a whole lot of riders... then slung it.... It was crazy, you know, a whole new game to get used to."
Sitting on the pit counter in Mugello chatting with good mate Arthur Sissis.
For Binder his enjoyment of the Rookies Cup wasn't just about the time on the bike. "When I think back to Rookies Cup of course we had great races but really the fondest memories are the camaraderie with the other Rookies, memories of hanging out with Arthur (Sissis), we had a great time hanging around the paddock and the Red Bull Energy Station. A great life with a great bunch of guys all doing what we wanted to be doing. Just chilling out waiting for our session, it was so cool."
"If I had to pick out a particular race, it would have to be the only one I actually won in Rookies Cup it was in Portugal, Estoril. It was my first race win overseas it was a big one for me."
Estoril in Portugal 2011 where he won.
And what about the worst moment? He chuckles... "There are quite a few. In those days I used to fall off quite a lot. It's difficult to pick one but if I think back to my second season I remember the last race of the year. It was in Misano and I think I had to finish around fifth to take third in the championship. With four or five laps to go someone crashed in front of me and I rode over their bike... I fell right there and ended up fifth in the championship."
"Thinking back now, if I could have learnt to ride in the rain a lot earlier, then my last season in Rookies Cup would have been a lot better."
Another wet weekend in 2011, relaxing on the pit wall in Mugello with fellow Rookie Javier Orellana.
After three years in Rookies Cup it was time to move on to the Moto3 Grand Prix class.
"It was definitely a big step. The way you ride the bike and everything is quite similar but one thing I found quite difficult to adapt to was that you have so much more strategy, with like tyres, you have telemetry to follow. Everything is more complex, you have to give so much more feedback to get your bike set up perfectly for yourself whereas in Rookies Cup we pretty much have a setting that works everywhere you go once you've found that."
Discussing technicalities on the way to the 2016 Moto3 World Championship.
"In the GP classes you have to work harder at that and it is a lot more changeable. You have to personalise the bike more for yourself and the individual tracks. I remember my first few races in Moto3 were really difficult but was great to be there and one of the big advantages of having done Rookies Cup is that you know so many of the European circuits. That is a huge advantage when you are doing the GPs."
Moving on to the World Championship classes did not mean that he lost interest in the Rookies Cup. "I think it is the same for everyone, it's the thing to do in the paddock, sit down at the end of the day and watch the Rookies Cup race. It's always cool to see the guys wandering around. We become mates with some of the young guys and the Cup race is always the highlight of the day, never a dull moment."
He clinched the 2016 Moto3 World Championship in Aragón - it's a team thing with KTM and Ajo Motorsport.
Binder won 7 Grand Prix and stood on the podium 20 times and took the Moto3 World Championship in 2016. He is now just as fast in the wet as he is in the dry and has scored 8 victories and 15 podiums in Moto2. Unlucky not to take the title in 2019, he has now stepped up to the premier class. He does not pretend that the latest step was easy.
On the way to victory on the Moto2 KTM in Philip Island in 2019 - the first of a hat-trick that saw the Rookie alumni total go to 101 GP wins.
"It started off very difficult, it was actually really tough to adapt to the MotoGP bike when we did the Valencia test at the end of last year. But each day I improved a little bit and got a little faster and then after the off season we went to Malaysia for the preseason test and things were much much better I was a lot quicker, more comfortable on the bike and I could really make sense of what it was doing."
Rolling out on the MotoGP KTM in Malaysia, February 2020.
"When we finished in Malaysia I was just 0.7 off the best, about 17th position. Then we went to the Qatar test and each day I was a little quicker and then on the final day I think I finished up in 9th position 0.4 off so I was quite happy with that. It was nice to see that I started to make steps forward and was getting towards the front and also you know we made a lot of changes on the bike, I felt a lot more comfortable. The team and everyone's working great."
"I'm just starting to get used to that next level, the electronics, the speed you have, the amazing power you have out of the corners and all of that. It really is another big step. It was unbelievable at the beginning but is starting to feel a bit more normal and I'm happy to say that we are getting there slowly."
Getting well into the MotoGP groove, Qatar test late February 2020 - before the season paused.
It is easy to feel Brad's wonderful enthusiasm for the KTM MotoGP bike and so understandable to share his current frustration at the delay to the start of his first MotoGP race. "It's pretty difficult. You know, after the season ends in Valencia I normally take a week or two of and then it is basically a build up. You are trying to peak in your fitness and have everything perfect by the time you get to Qatar for the first race. We were in Qatar, all ready to go then everything got cancelled."
"I came home and now I am training every single day trying to do all I can to keep my fitness as high as possible. At this moment though when there is still no calendar and no one really knows what's going on it is tough, it is difficult to focus in quite the same way, we don't have that carrot in front of us. We are just waiting pretty much."
"I am just focused on trying to maintain my fitness if not improve it a little bit and try to stay relaxed, to exercise my patience right now and hopefully once we hear that the season is going to start I can make my way over to Europe and get back into it."
Working out at Red Bull's Athlete Performance Center in Austria.
"About the only other thing I am doing is a project in the garage. We have been working on some of the cars and bikes. I have been building up an old bike and had it all planned to be finished when the lockdown finished here in a couple of days but now that's been extended by a couple of weeks so hopefully things wont get too boring."
"The mindset is that all you want to do is race. That is all I've ever really known but at the end of the day the biggest battle right now is to try and get rid of this virus. What has been going on in the world is unbelievable to say the least."
No problem in the wet now, on track or off.
"Right now everyone has to take the lockdown totally seriously and the sooner this goes away, the better. I haven't left the house in more than three weeks. I am certainly trying my best. The sooner this is over, the sooner we can return to real life."
In closing Brad turns back to the Rookies and some words of wisdom:
"The advice I would give is that you must work hard every single day and every single lap. At the beginning of your career when things don't go well it is easy to lose your focus and start to sit up in track, look for a tow and not really work on your own. If I could go back in my career then that is one thing I would change, I would just focus on myself and work on being able to push every single lap on your own and not worry about where anybody is around you that is a great advantage. It is a great thing to learn and if you can get that dialled in before you step up into say, Moto3 then you definitely have a big advantage on your side."