Interview: Danny Kent
The latest interview in our series about the challenges faced by young riders trying to make it to Grand Prix racing from outside Spain and Italy, Danny Kent shared his thoughts with me at Mugello. With the seventh round to be settled tomorrow at Catalunya, Danny has a 46-point lead over second place rider Enea Bastianini and is certainly the rider to beat in the 2015 Moto3 title chase.
Danny learned to go fast on small displacement bikes, similar to those we heard about from Young Lee. He used his results on the small bikes to begin a path that has led to his current position, that of leading the chase for a Moto3 world championship.
Previous interviews in this series include: Young Lee, founder of M1GP, Daniel Costilla, American CEV rider, Gabriel Hernandez III, American Red Bull Rookie, Nicky Hayden, Wayne Gardner, and Remy Gardner.
Scott Jones: Please tell us how you got started riding and racing motorbikes.
Danny Kent: In 2000 I went to a local go kart track to hire a go kart for £10 but instead I saw one of the minimotos in the corner – they looked like a lot more fun than a go kart. So I rode that, and the first time on it I was actually faster than the person who was there to teach people how to ride their minimotos.
SJ: How old were you?
DK: I was six or seven. So I got off the bike with a massive grin on my face and a few weeks later I got home from school to find that my dad had got me a minimoto. At this same track, every Friday from 6 through 10 in the evening, if you had your own bike you could come and ride for four hours.
So we started doing that every Friday evening and I started getting quite fast and some people there who’d come from outdoor races said, “You should put Danny in some races outdoors.” So I went to the southeast outdoor championship and I won my first race outside. I started doing more races and more championships around the UK, still on minimotos, and I was British champion.
But obviously you can only do so much on the small bikes. So we moved up to the MetraKit 50cc, which was my first year on the gearbox bike. So I was on the same circuits but with gearbox bikes. I was 70cc British Champion on that.
The next step was to get on the larger tracks like Cadwell Park, Silverstone, where we did the Aprilia Superteens. That was basically an Aprilia 125cc road bike with some race fairings. It’s not like a 125cc GP bike, it’s a street bike and you put the race fairing on it. It’s basically like the Red Bull Rookies Cup, everyone has the same bike.
Then in 2007 at Snetterton one of the Red Bull MotoGP Academy guys came over to England to scout a rider to do a test for the them. Luckily I got picked out of the riders from the English Championships to go do the test. I think they went to each country and when I did the test there were riders from France, Spain, Italy, there was an American, as well. J.D. Beach did a few races, too. Anyway I got picked so 2008 was my first year in the Spanish Championship.
The guys who ran the Red Bull Academy team in the Spanish Championship, then in 2009 took over the Red Bull Rookies Cup. And because they knew me, they thought that would be a good route for me, so instead of making me do the Rookies test they put me straight into the Rookies Cup. I did two years in that series, I had some good results, and was picked up by the Red Bull Ajo Motorsport team, then kicked off the World Championship in 2011.
SJ: For each series you moved through, did you find a large jump in the level of competition?
DK: Yes, but I’d say the biggest jump was coming from the Aprilia Superteens, which is a club series in the UK, not even the highest level in the UK. Then going straight into the Spanish Championship, where I was racing against Axel Pons and others, who had been in the Spanish Championship for years. That jump was really big. And also I’d never ridden a Grand Prix bike in my life before, so that was difficult but I was able to finish 9th in the championship my first year, and that experience was why they put me into the Rookies Cup.
The Rookies Cup was good, I really enjoyed it, and I definitely think that’s the route to take if a rider wants to get to the World Championship, I would push and push to get accepted for the Rookies Cup. You’re all on the same bike. You’re in front of the Grand Prix teams. You race at some of the same tracks. It’s definitely the right place to be.
SJ: You think this is better than racing in the CEV?
DK: Yes, unless you’re with a top team that also has a Moto3 team. For example, Leopard (Kent’s current team in Moto3) has a CEV team, and if as a Leopard rider you won the championship or had good results, that might lead to Moto3. That kind of team would look at their younger riders and if they think they have the potential for the World Championship they would help them make that step up. The Spanish Championship is good, but you have to ask if that’s the right path with a given team. If not, I definitely think the Rookies Cup is the way to go.
SJ: Plus it’s cheaper than the CEV, right? In the Rookies Cup you only pay for your travel and accommodation, not for the rider or the bike and so on.
DK: Yes, and that helps even more if you’re coming from the U.S., as you were saying earlier. It’s so expensive to travel from the U.S., and that’s another thing that’s important. If your plan is to end up in the World Championship, you need to come over to Europe, with your whole family if possible, you need to make that sacrifice. I’m sure that 80% of the riders here, their families have sacrificed for them to be here. You need to make the step over to Europe as early as possible.
SJ: What is your sense of how young British riders feel about getting into the World Championship? Do many of them seem keen?
DK: Yes, I think for all of them, their passion is to end up in MotoGP. When you race a motorcycle, MotoGP is the top of the game, so I think everyone wants to get there. It’s not easy, of course. A few riders have had their chance and unfortunately they’ve not been picked up, but I think we have one rider now in the Red Bull Rookies Cup, Rory Skinner. At the moment he seems to be the British rider who has the potential to make the step up the World Championship. Other than him, it looks like people are choosing the route of staying in Britain with Superbikes or World Supersport.
SJ: What do you think of British Superbike as preparation for coming to GP racing? How big is the jump in the competition level?
DK: Hmm, I don’t think that has been done, where a rider has come straight from BSB straight into Moto3. But as a reference you can look at Jordan Weaving (13th in the 2013 RBRC). He had potential, he had a few good results in the Red Bull Rookies though was never on the podium, but in 2014 was the BSB Motostar Champion. So that sort of shows the level, that the BSB level isn’t as high as the Red Bull Rookies. But then when you look at World Supersport, one of the BSB 600 frontrunners did a wildcard in World Supersport and finished third (Kyle Ryde at Donington Park, WSS Round 6), so that shows that the BSB level in the 600cc class is quite close to the world championship level in WSS.
SJ: Having followed a path that worked for you, such that you’re now leading the Moto3 world championship, what are your plans for the future?
DK: The plan for next year is obviously to make the step up, to Moto2 or, you never know, Jack Miller’s gone straight to MotoGP, so we have to keep all options open. But I want to concentrate on this year, there’re still thirteen races left and we’ve put ourselves in a position where we can fight for the World Championship. I just need to concentrate on this year and next year will fall into place naturally.
Thanks very much to Danny for sharing his story and thoughts with us.
Photograph: ©2015 by Scott Jones / PHOTO.GP – All Rights Reserved