Scott Redding: Can the Beckham of the bikes make GB roar again?

It is nearly 40 years since Britain had an iconic motorcycling world champion in Barry Sheene. Now a gifted 21-year-old tells Kevin Garside he is after title holder and old rival Marc Marquez

Scott Redding is tall for a motorcycle racer, good looking, too, in an easy, uncomplicated, low-maintenance kind of way. He accepts comparisons with James Hunt and David Beckham, not a bad set of tools with which to tackle life, and useful for a sport keen to acquire a bigger chunk of the audience share.

Britain has not had a leathered-up superhero since Carl Fogarty in the 1990s, and he was more a trade champion, a prince among petrol-heads but not much beyond. We have to go back four decades to identify a two-wheeled icon from racing’s premier class  whose face might flog a razor blade or torso a pair of pants.

Barry Sheene was the last in the line of great British world champions, a tradition that began in 1949 with the winner of the inaugural world championship, Les Graham, and passed through a dynasty that included Geoff Duke and John Surtees in the Fifties, and the incomparable Mike “The Bike” Hailwood in the Sixties.

Today hegemony is with the Spanish. Marc Marquez, groomed from kindergarten to convert talent into prizes, won the 2013 MotoGP title in his rookie year, and has already tagged the opening two grands prix  of 2014. Redding, the same age as Marquez, 21, followed his rival into MotoGP this year, if not on a works Honda, finishing seventh in the season opener in Qatar. Last season in Moto2 only four of the 17 race wins were taken by non-Spaniards, three of those going to Redding.

Four days after Qatar, Redding was hiking guests around Silverstone on behalf of sponsors Bennetts, the kind of publicity drive he is happy to endorse to help promote his sport and a personal tale that deserves our attention. Redding is Marquez without the backing, Lewis Hamilton without the formative support of McLaren, a freakishly gifted racer smashing down doors so that he might be heard.

“I didn’t have the advantages Marquez had. He had a lot of money pumped into him from Repsol. His brother [Alex] is doing the same now. Marquez was in the factory KTM team, then Red Bull. In Moto2 he had a team built around him. I never had that. He can ride a bike like not many can. We are the same age, same mentality, similar riding style but he had a lot of money and always on good material, factory stuff.

“When he came into MotoGP and people asked ‘what do you think?’ I said he would make a podium in his first race. I have raced the kid, I know what he is like. I really think we are similar. I beat him here. It was a close battle.”

The battle to which he refers was six years ago in the 125cc class at Donington, when a 15-year-old Redding became the youngest racer to win a grand prix. On that day at least, the works challenge presented by Marquez found an equal in the West Country kid.

Scott Redding on the track Scott Redding on the track (Getty Images)
“I was born on a bike. It is all I ever wanted to do. I had an electric bike driving through the living room. I fell and burnt my arm in the open fire. I started motocross at four, then mini bikes. At eight I was racing in Spain. A big turning point was the 80cc challenge. It was all Spanish riders, a few French and this little English guy from Gloucester. I got every pole position, every lap record and won every race. I was in Spanish magazines at 12 years of age. That is when it all turned around.”

At 17 Redding stepped up to Moto2 after a disappointing final season in the junior category. Mechanical issues and his growing physique made the decision for him. The move was, however, marked by tragedy, the kind of episode that all racers silently dread but accept is an inevitable part of the game. A tattoo on his left forearm pays permanent tribute to Shoya Tomizawa, who died after a fall at the 2010 San Marino GP. Redding’s was one of two bikes to slam fatally into the prone rider.

The tattoo is of a stopwatch with two hands at 48 and 45, their respective racing numbers. “It means he is always with me. The kid was fast. We weren’t close but we [all racers] are close in a sense. We do the same thing. We know what it’s like to put your life on the line at 200 mph. I migrated to Spain for three weeks after the accident. No phone, no contact. I didn’t want to speak.”

You might think that a tragic event of this magnitude would have a detrimental effect on a 17-year-old boy. But that is not how Redding and his ilk are wired. “These things happen. I don’t even feel fear. I feel invincible. The problem we have is we don’t ever feel anything is going to happen to us. Unfortunately one day it could. I just have this need to scare myself. I can’t help it. It’s in me. I do extreme things, to be on the edge, to find the limits, and not just on bikes on anything. I need the buzz.”

The inked arm is part of an evolving picture. In time it will become the full Beckham sleeve. The art begins at the shoulder where his deltoid features a rose and sprocket. Another tattoo on his chest represents grandparents to  whom he was very close. “They passed away within a month of each other but I’ve got them close to my heart. The rose and sprocket represent the human and engineering sides. People think riders don’t have feelings but we do. My tattooist is pretty cool. Met him on Twitter. We spend hours discussing detail.”

The third round of the new season resumes this weekend in Argentina. Redding kept former world champion Nicky Hayden, also on an Open class Honda, behind him in Qatar. At the Grand Prix of the Americas a fortnight ago a failing front tyre forced a premature end two laps from home. He accepts that he cannot compete with Marquez and the other works bikes. The target is to keep the likes of Hayden behind him.

“I’m happy with my career. Last year the Marc VDS team [Moto2] was really my family, they really helped put things in place, just little things that make your life easier and I got some victories. Now I’m in the premier class I have the fight and fire to get some more, the only problem is I can’t win. There is a chance in a 100.

“I don’t go racing to make up the numbers, to put my life on the line to finish way down. My goal is to be world champion, and that is not just words. One good year on a production bike I should get a factory bike, maybe not a factory ride but a factory spec bike. All I can do now is be the top Honda, then there is no reason I can’t have a top bike and then the journey really begins.”

Scott Redding is an ambassador for Bennetts – bike insurance specialists – www.bennetts.co.uk

Redding factfile

Born Jan 1993, Gloucester.

Grand Prix races 103

Total wins 4

Total podiums 16

What they said

Nicky Hayden, 2014: “We know Scott’s qualities and he’s been going faster and faster. I don’t like it, but he’s got a lot of quality.”

Marc Marquez, 2013: “Everybody knew from last year that Scott was already very fast but he didn’t have that consistency. But this year he has found that.”

Michael Bartholemy, Marc VDS team manager, 2013: “It is a little bit early [to talk about MotoGP] but I think the future is people like him.”

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