Author: Oli Rushby in Valencia Posted: 09 Nov 2015
Danny Kent was crowned Moto3 World Champion in Valencia this weekend, becoming the first Briton to win a motorcycle Grand Prix world title in 38 years.
The 21-year-old stormed the first half of the 2015 Moto3 season with a fearsome dominance never seen before in the lightweight, 250cc four-stroke class.
Kent won six out of the first nine races and only finished off the podium once in that run. He was a country mile ahead of the competition and took victory in three races by around ten seconds, something unheard of in a class known for it’s competitiveness.
The former Red Bull Rookies runner-up had built a lead of almost 70 points after winning his home Grand Prix at Silverstone in the dominant fashion we were becoming used to, but little did we know that would be Kent’s final victory and podium of the season.
From Silverstone onwards he struggled to maintain the form seen earlier in the year. This was exacerbated by upgrades introduced for the KTM riders in Misano which saw them take the edge away from the Honda.
These upgrades saw a spectacular improvement in form from Miguel Oliveira, who sat third in the title chase after Silverstone, some 110 points behind Kent. The Portugese rider finished no lower than second in the final six races of the season and with Kent’s misfortune, including DNFs at both Aragon and Phillip Island, the title remained open until the final round.
If Oliveira won the race, Kent needed to finish no lower than 14th to take the title, something he admitted he thought would be much easier than it was after securing the crown with a ninth-placed finish.
“The whole race I was just thinking ‘stay on the bike’,” Kent told journalists after the race. “I made it clear that unless we could win the race easily, we’d be trying to stay out of the mix and do what we needed to do to win the championship.
“For the first few laps I was in 14th, looking at my pit board and thinking ‘I don’t feel safe here’, if I lost one place the championship would be over. I tried to get into a rhythm, warm the tyres up and step by step I started to move forwards one place at a time. We got to one point in the race where I looked behind and there was a two and a half second gap behind us so I thought I should just stay there, out of trouble and in a safe position to take the title.
“It’s been a difficult few races. Luckily we were able to get that big points lead in the beginning of the year. A lot of people seem to be forgetting what we did earlier in the year, we have 18 races and after those races we had the most points. I’m happy for me, my family, the team and everybody.”
Despite having seen a strong lead dissipate over the final round rounds, Kent initially denied claims the pressure was getting to him, but admits he wasn’t being entirely honest.
“A lot of people have been asking about the pressure and I’ve had to say ‘no, no pressure’ as Livio [Suppo – HRC boss] is reading all of these interviews! It’s normal to have pressure and I put a lot of pressure on myself as I want to go out there do my best. Because we had such a great start to the year, doing what we did, we had a big target on our backs and in Moto3 it’s not easy to pull 10 second leads!
“We worked hard in the winter testing on our race pace rather than just lap times and in the first half of the year it paid off. Big thanks to my crew chief as it was his idea to work on base settings and race feeling rather than lap times.”
Kent has enjoyed a colourful career in Grand Prix racing so far with both high and low points. Having finished fourth in the Moto3 class in 2012, he moved up to Moto2 for 2013 with Tech 3 but when things didn’t go back to plan, he found himself stepping back to the lightweight class for the 2014 and 2015 seasons, which the Brit says was the best decision for him as a rider.
For 2016, he will move back to Moto2 with his championship-winning Leopard team.
“For confidence this year in a whole has changed me,” explained Kent. “I believe in myself a lot more than what I did in the past. I’ve always sort of doubted myself but in the first part of this year when we were winning races by 10 seconds I realised I could do this. I believe we can be strong in Moto2 next year, Rins has shown what he can do in a rookie year and that’s just down to hard work and a great team behind him.
“After such a great year this year, motivation going into the winter is going to be high. We have a two-day test next week and it’ll be good to have those two days as I can start my preparations on my body ready for next year to see where we’re struggling.”
Touching on his best and worse races of the year, Kent said: “All six victories were special but of course the best for me has to be Silverstone. It was very difficult conditions and going around seeing all the English flags out there gave me goosebumps.
“These last few races have been difficult but Phillip Island would be the worst. I felt really good all weekend and thought I had a really good chance of becoming world champion there. Some look at it as my fault, others look at it as Antonelli’s fault but we can’t dwell in the past we just have to move on!”
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Kent’s title sees him become the first British Grand Prix World Champion since the late, great Barry Sheene in 1977.
“It gives me goosebumps to be called World Champion. It’s a dream come true for any rider and being British, it’s been 38 years, so it means even more than it might for the Spanish riders as there’s a Spanish champion every year! You don’t get that in England so it’s a great feeling."
Kent will get his first taste of the Kalex Moto2 bike he’ll campaign next year in a test at Jerez next week.
“Our aim at the test is to try and do as many laps as possible to get a feeling with the bike. I told the team it was very important for us to do a test before the winter break as I didn’t want to go through those months thinking ‘How does a Moto2 feel again?’. At least we get two days on the bike and I can start seeing where I need to improve.”