• Peter MacKay

Scott Redding : One step back, two steps forward

By Peter MacKay

In 2013, Gloucestershire’s young star Scott Redding injected an adrenaline shot into his laborious climb up the ranks in the vicious grand prix paddock. Despite his compromising weight and height compared to his flyweight, diminutive rivals, he valiantly chased his elusive first world title. The British bulldog faced up to and defeated the cream of the crop in the Moto 2 grand prix intermediate class, winning 3 grand prix, and in doing so, threw his hat in the ring for a seat at the Moto GP top table in 2014. At the time, the swarm of mostly Mediterranean, hot headed young riders who made up the Moto 2 grid were known as “The axe murderers”. Moto 2 was introduced in 2010 to produce a more cost effective and relevant solution to the now outdated and irrelevant, 250cc 2 stroke class. Prototype chassis of the team’s choice from engineering firms like Kalex and Suter would be fitted with a control spec Honda 600cc 4 stroke super sport engine. In the early years, the class was a big hit. Racing was ferocious and riders who graduated to the top Moto GP class would often develop a reputation for highly aggressive conduct in wheel to wheel battle, swapping paint was par for the course. Moto 2 became a Navy Seal boot camp that went a little too far in toughening up riders. Still, the spectacle of the latest Moto 2 graduate ruffling the feathers of the Moto GP establishment made for some heart racing entertainment! However, success in the Moto 2 class is no guarantee of longevity in grand prix racing. Moto 2’s inaugural champion, Toni Elias, can now be found in the production bike Moto America paddock. 2011 title winner, Stefan Bradl, finds himself on the side line as a test rider for HRC. Conversely, French breakthrough star Fabio Quartararo, failed to deliver consistent performances in Moto 2 and yet is currently stunning the Moto GP paddock with the finest rookie season since Marc Marquez burst into the top class in 2013.

Redding was the youngest ever rider to win a motorcycle grand prix when he triumphed as a 15 year old in 125cc GP at Donnington Park in 2008, he held this record until 2018. However, by the end of the 2009 season Redding appeared to have been thrown on the grand prix scrap heap of talent with no options for the 2010 season. Thankfully for Scott, he had a friend in a prominent British journalist in the GP paddock. MCN reporter, now Moto GP world feed commentator, Matt Birt, was approached by the new Marc VDS team looking for a tip on a young rider to ride their new Moto 2 bike in 2010. Birt came to the rescue, recommended Redding and passed on his telephone number to Marc VDS management. It would be the start of a long partnership between Scott and the ambitious Belgian team, bankrolled by brewing magnate, Marc van der Stratten. By 2013, team manager Michael Bartholemy had assembled all the vital components for a Moto 2 championship assault. The late, great Nicky Hayden’s former world champion crew chief, Pete Benson, would be Redding’s right hand man in the garage. Marc VDS had also invested in the much preferred Kalex chassis, binning the fickle Suter chassis. All season long Redding battled with the Spanish ace Pol Espargaro on the Pons HP40 Kalex, the pair trading blows back and forth. Michael Bartholemy’s team moulded a secure and nurturing environment that was essential to unleashing the title challenging Scott Redding that we saw in 2013. As the season reached critical point with only a few rounds left, Redding led the championship from Espargaro. However, the contours of the legendary Phillip Island circuit had other plans for the fledgling family team. During qualifying for the Australian GP, Scott had a viciously fast “high side” crash and was vaulted straight over the handle bars of the #45 machine. Despite this only being his 3rd crash all season, one of the lowest crash counts in the field, it would be disastrous for his championship chances. The brave young Briton had broken his wrist. Redding courageously tried to ride the following weekend at Motegi in Japan in a desperate attempt to score points, but it was too late. The dream was over.

Despite the crushing disappointment of falling at the final hurdle to become the first British solo motorcycle world champion since Barry Sheene, Redding had done enough to make the final step to the big time, Moto GP. Scott’s personal manager, Michael Bartholemy, leveraged the outstanding performances of his man throughout the 2013 season to secure a seat in the new GO&FUN Gresini Honda team for the 2014 season. In 2014, Moto GP organisers Dorna, introduced an “open class” for less sophisticated machines in order to deliver a much needed boost to grid numbers. Private teams like Gresini or Aspar could buy these machines rather than the leasing format they were accustomed to. Open class rules dictated that these machines would have a standard spec electronic system but would have the advantage of a softer tire for qualifying. Of course, the riders competing on these machines would race at a disadvantage compared to the factory prototypes and were categorised in a sub “open” class. Redding was not one of the fortunate Moto GP rookies to make it onto a full prototype Moto GP bike like his Moto 2 adversary Pol Espargaro. However, this didn’t deter him from making an impression from the very first race. On his Moto GP debut under the floodlights of the Losail International Circuit in Qatar, Redding made his Moto GP mark and booked his spot in the post-race media scrum in parc ferme reserved for the “open class” winner alongside the overall top 3. After a battle all race long with 2006 world champion and Moto GP legend Nicky Hayden, Redding prevailed over the all-star American on an identical bike run by the experienced Aspar team. Scott beamed as he took his place alongside Moto GP’s elite. To a casual viewer, 7th might not have seemed so special, but the paddock sat up and took even greater notice of the Gloucestershire giant.

Solid results were delivered throughout the 2014 season and following the summer break, the rumour mill began to churn out stories of what machine Redding would compete on for the 2015 season. Birt, still reporting for MCN, took to twitter to campaign for the young brit, “Give him a factory bike FFS” following yet another open class win. Again, it was personal manager Bartholemy, who solicited every possible avenue for the Marc VDS team to graduate into the premier class of motorcycle racing. All in the aid of giving Scott Redding the best possible chance for Moto GP success. The Marc VDS family had done it again. Bartholemy had gathered the eye watering budget required for the top class. A lucrative title sponsor deal with Spanish brewer Estrella Galicia was struck, securing the colossal funding required. Clever marketeers at the Spanish brewing giant craftily circumvented strict rules that prohibit alcohol advertising via motorsport in most countries. Branding for an alcohol free Estrella Galicia 0,0 alternative would be proudly displayed on Marc VDS bikes in all three grand prix classes. As in Moto 2 with the class leading Kalex machine, only the best of kit was prepared for Redding. A deal was agreed with Honda for the supply of a full factory Honda RC213V with the very latest ohlins forks and brembo brakes, the ultimate specification for a Moto GP prototype machine. This was the bike that Redding’s old adversary, Marc Marquez had steamrolled his way to 2 Moto GP world titles in 2013/2014. Sadly, the recipe concocted by Marc VDS and their generous sponsors, with Redding on a factory Honda, was not to yield the desired results. 2015 was to be a dark year for the Honda RCV213V, it still remains the only year that Marquez has failed to win a title in his 6 seasons in the premier class on this bike. Redding and the Marc VDS crew explored every possible avenue to extract speed from the capricious and fickle 2015 machine but for little reward. A solitary podium at Misano in a chaotic flag to flag race in wet conditions was all they could show for what was a very tough season.

Sadly, the struggles of 2015 left a scar on both Redding and Marc VDS in Moto GP. The valiant Belgian effort decided to call time on their ruinously expensive foray into the top flight of grand prix racing. A very public conflict erupted between owner, Van der stratten, and manager, Bartholemy, resulting in the latter’s exit from the team. Marc VDS took the decision to channel their efforts into their dominant Moto 2 effort which remains the hottest berth for any young rider in this class. Redding fell back into the doldrums of the Moto GP midfield, hopping between two Italian nightmares at Pramac Ducati and then the under resourced factory Aprilia project in 2018. The Noale factory showed very little patience for Redding to adjust to a bike that has showed very little promise since its foray back into Moto GP in 2015. Unfortunately, the writing was on the wall for Redding and his time in the Grand Prix paddock would be over at the end of the 2018 season.

Enter Paul Bird. The Cumbrian poultry magnate has supported British Superbike racing for over two decades, ploughing millions of pounds of his own money into the team. Steve Hislop, John McGuinness, Shane Byrne, Josh Brookes and Ian Hutchinson to name a few have ridden for Paul Bird Motorsport. His team have won British Superbike Championships, Isle of Man TT races and a World Superbike race. For years, signing for Paul Bird in British Superbikes would give you the best possible chance to fight for a championship title. Redding tried his best in the later part of 2018 to stay at world championship level but no opportunities were to appear. Despite initial concerns over the safety of BSB circuits, Redding took the plunge and put pen to paper to sign with Paul Bird Motorsport for the 2019 season. He would be riding the brand new Ducati Panigale V4R alongside BSB stalwart, Josh Brookes. Compared to the glamour and stature of the grand prix paddock, the chilly tracks of his homeland would be a rude awakening from the world championship dream.

Although on the surface the move appeared to be a step back down the ladder, BSB provided Redding with a chance to race for wins for the first time in 6 years and financial reward too. However, the switch to domestic production bike racing carried huge risk. Regarded as the world’s top domestic superbike series, BSB has notoriously humiliated a number of grand prix riders and world superbike champions in recent years. Circuits like Knockhill, Oulton Park and Cadwell Park present a completely new challenge compared to the wide, smooth modern grand prix tracks where Redding cut his teeth as a teenager. Obscure BSB circuits have rarely been conquered by world championship exiles in recent years. Road based bikes with flexible Pirelli tyres and virtually no electronic assistance could not be further from the prototype exotica of Grand Prix. Stepping into the BSB shark tank left Scott with no hiding place.

We are always told that we need more characters in racing. Of course we do, it’s obvious. Every time I hear another dull monologue peppered with constant helpings of the favourite racing driver interview staple phrase, “for sure”, I despair. Nowadays, social media provides a platform which allows riders to open up their lives and endear fans but also hands them a lethal weapon to destroy their reputation amongst those paying their salary. Scott would be an excellent case study of do’s and don’ts of social media for bike racers. He has always, commendably, opened up his home life to his loyal following of fans, sharing videos of motocross training accompanied by his loyal pooch, Bernard. During his time in the world championship, Redding was living the dream, travelling all over Europe in a van with an army of mates. What a life to lead. So many fans warm to Redding via social media as he displays who he really is, an ordinary young man who can do extraordinary things racing motorcycles.

During his time at Marc VDS, Redding was guided and embraced by his adopted Belgian clan. It was clear that this environment allowed him the freedom to be himself and yet kept the necessary level of discipline to go out onto the track and challenge for the world title that he was so clearly capable of. During Redding’s breakout season in 2013, Marc Van der Stratten would be there in parc ferme with his wife, ready to embrace their rider like a son. Unquestionably, this affection had such a positive impact on Scott’s approach to racing. Once he flew the nest from the Marc VDS family, Scott was left to fend for himself and I think the lack of this care and counsel affected his results. Perhaps his commitment too but only he will know the truth about that.

Since his return to the UK for the 2019 BSB season, Scott has shown us all what he is truly capable of. Winning on the brand new Panigale V4R,on circuits that he is completely unfamiliar with, has proven what he is capable of. Provided he is placed in the right environment, of course. His triumph at the highly technical Knockhill circuit in Scotland, on a production based bike, with very limited electronics is a night and day shift in fortunes for the lanky 26 year old. Redding will head into the season showdown facing up against hard riding team mate, Josh Brookes. Defeating the former BSB champion would finally deliver the elusive championship title which he so desperately craves. Regardless of how the head to head with Brookes concludes, Redding will be promoted to the World Super Bike Championship on the factory Aruba.it Ducati V4R Panigale in 2020. After leaving the Moto GP paddock, battered, bruised and humiliated, Scott had to reluctantly trudge his way back to his homeland to start all over again. Less than a year later, BSB success has provided him with the springboard back to the world stage aboard an Italian thoroughbred winner. 2020 will be the year that Scott Redding will have the chance of redemption and glory, at the very highest level. A rollercoaster career has led him to this stage, a head to head with the greatest superbike rider of all time, Jonathan Rea.

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