Not the next Sheene
British hopes in Motorcycle Grand Prix racing have been labouring under a curse for the past three decades.
This August it will be exactly 30 years since a Briton last won a race in bike racing’s premier class. Since Barry Sheene won the 1981 500cc Swedish GP at Anderstorp there have been a few dozen British riders who looked like they might make it, and most of them at some time or another were christened ‘the next Barry Sheene’. I believe that has been their curse.
I wouldn’t even dream of using that label on a very young, very talented Briton called Scoff Redding, but he does remind me of the teenage Sheene that mischievous grin, those squinty eyes, that confident swagger. Like his Cockney predecessor, there is something of the Artful Dodger about Redding. He’s a young lad from a tough part of town who knows how to survive the rough and tumble, which comes in handy in bike racing.
Redding has a prodigious natural talent for riding a motorcycle which he has honed ever since his father bought him an electric bike to race around the living room when he was three. On one occasion he crashed and ended up in the fire. Like I said, rough and tumble.
Redding made his World Championship debut in 2008 at the age of 15 years and two months. He qualified on the front row at his first round on 125s and scored his first victory four months later, a success which made him the youngest winner in six decades of GP racing. Last year Redding graduated to the new Moto2 category and once he had got used to the bikes and to the harum-scarum action he produced some remarkable rides, including a front-row start and a podium finish.
The youngster from Quedgeley in Gloucestershire is great to watch on a motorcycle, with a fiery, all-affack style that has his elbows skimming the asphalt at full lean. When Sheene was making it in the 1970s, people were gaffing excited about riders dragging their knees, thanks to the extra grip provided by the recently introduced slick tyre.
Redding never even sat his GCSEs (too busy racing) but he is a bright kid and a fast learner who has the ability to adapt his technique to get the best out of a motorcycle when things don’t quite go according to plan.
“Scoff understands that it’s not all about the bike,” says his crew chief Pete Benson. “He knows that if there’s something that can’t be fixed via set-up tweaks, then he’s got to learn how to ride around the problem, which is hugely important.”
Last season, his first on four-strokes, Redding quickly learned the technique of feathering the clutch to damp out chaffer essentially using his left hand as a manual back-torque limiter. Valentino Rossi is an arch-exponent of this technique; not many others get the hang of it.
During his two seasons in 125sdespite that win and one other podium Redding rode ancient machinery for teams who were more concerned with their number one riders. He is now looked after by Benson at Marc VDS, the Belgian outt which also contests the GT1 car series. Benson has been around a bit; before Redding he worked for Mick Doohan, Rossi and Nicky Hayden, so he is the perfect mentor for the 18-year-old.
“Last year Scott became more and more determined,” adds Benson. “I think that comes from the fact that he’s now got people who really believe in him and encourage him, so he realises he can do it. Before us, he’d always been a number two rider and lacked encouragement. He’s a good kid to work with, he’s got a rebellious streak and a wild side, which is good in bike racing.”
If Redding can keep the momentum going from last year he will surely land a MotoGP ride in 2012 or ’13. Then it’s fingers crossed, because I’m not even going to think about prophesying success in the class of kings. That would surely be asking for trouble.