by James Richardson from https://www.thesouthafrican.com/
Later this month Brad Binder will become the fifth South African rider in the history Grand Prix motorcycle racing’s elite class, here we look at those that went before.
Formerly classified as the 500cc class before it was transformed to MotoGP, Grand Prix motorcycle racing has not been an environment inhabited by South Africans very often.
Before 2020, just four South African riders had made it into the elite class with all three competing during the 500cc era.
SA riders in Grand Prix motorcycle racing’s elite class
Here we will only look at riders who have reached either the 500cc class or MotoGP.
1 Paddy Driver
The first South African to reach the premier class, Driver competed on the Grand Prix motorcycle racing circuit from 1959 to 1965. His best result came in his final year on the circuit when he rode a Matchless to a third-place finish in the 500cc world championship behind Mike Hailwood and Giacomo Agostini.
Having lined up in two Formula One Grand Prix Driver is part of a very small club of men who have raced in both the Grand Prix motorcycle World Championship and Formula One. That group also includes legends John Surtees, Mike Hailwood and Johnny Cecotto.
2 Alan North
North made his Grand Prix motorcycle racing in the elite class when in the 1975 season riding for Yamaha.
The Durban-born racer spent three seasons in the 500cc class scoring nine world championship points in that time. He won his only Grand Prix race in 1977 when he claimed the 350 cc 1977 Nations Grand Prix at Imola
3 Jon Ekerold
Prior to Brad Binder’s 2016 Moto3 championship, Ekerold was the last South African to win a world title in Grand Prix motrocycle racing claiming the 1980 350cc championship as a privateer. Without the benefit of a motorcycle manufacturer’s support Ekerold defeated Kawasaki factory racing team rider Anton Mang to win world championship.
Ekerold appeared on the 500cc circuit in three seasons, racing in eight Grand Prix in the elite class.
His best race finish in the 500cc class came in his debut on the elite division’s grid in the 1976 Isle of Man TT where he placed sixth.
4 Kork Ballington
A contemporary of Ekerold, Hugh Neville “Kork” Ballington was born in what would become Harare in Zimbabwe but raced under the South African flag winning four Grand Prix motorcycle World Championships.
Ballington raced in the elite class in three seasons including the 1982 season when both he and Ekerold raced in the elite class. That would be the last time until 2020 that a South African rider took up a place on the grid in the elite class.
He finished on the podium twice in the 1981 season claiming third place at both the Dutch TT and the Finish Grand Prix.
In 1978 and 1979 Ballington won both the 250cc and 350cc championships, making him the most successful South African rider in terms of championships on the circuit.
5 Brad Binder
The 2016 Moto3 champion makes the step up to MotoGP as South Africa’s first representative at the pinnacle of Grand Prix motorcycle racing since the 1980s.
Binder’s younger brother Darryn is also a racer and joined Red Bull KTM’s Moto3 team in 2018.
The MotoGP season gets underway in Jerez later this month and will see Binder compete for Red Bull KTM alongside the best riders in the world. He will be the first South African rider to compete in the championship since it became the MotoGP.