First of many: Exclusive Danny Kent interview

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Danny Kent speaks exclusively to MCN about taking his first world title and why he doesn’t intend it to be his last.

hen Danny Kent crossed the line in Valencia, British race fans let out a huge sigh of relief. It had been 38 years since Barry Sheene’s last title but after an agonising wait, Britain finally had a Grand Prix world champion.

When Kent came to the GP paddock in 2010, he was being touted by insiders as the real deal and the next big thing. An abundance of natural talent, first demonstrated in the UK before heading to the Spanish championship, meant he was already highly regarded and it seemed only a matter of time until he would win races and possibly titles.

‘It’s a dream for me to become world champion. In terms of my own self-belief it’s helped me a lot already’ 

But it was never going to be that straightforward and Kent’s career has peaked and troughed, just like his Moto3 title-winning season, with plenty of difficulties and uncertainties along the way. With the season over, Kent has had the chance to take stock of his achievements and sat down with MCN for an exclusive interview.

Massive confidence boost

“It’s a dream for me to become world champion. In terms of my own self-belief for the future it’s helped me a lot already and winning gives you that self confidence. I lacked that in the past but now I can have so much more belief in myself – and I also believe in the team that I’m with.

“The reaction from home has been crazy, and when you see what some ex-riders are saying it’s hard to believe. I can remember years ago when I was a kid and I was lying on the sofa watching Scott Redding in the 125s and I was thinking, one day I’d love to be there, I wished to be there. Now I’ve been there, won a championship and hopefully it’s one of many.”

His championship season was one of contrasts. Kent had some of the most dominant performances imaginable in the lightweight class, four of his victories saw a winning margin of over seven seconds which is almost unprecedented in Moto3. But the final third of the season brought with it so much pressure and scrutiny that a 110-point lead over KTM-mounted Miguel Oliveira was whittled away to 24 points and a tense final round showdown.

Having raced for Husqvarna in 2014, Kent’s first test on the Leopard Racing Honda was positive, and from that moment he felt he could win the title.

“I learned an awful lot this year but I think a lot of it is just self-belief,” he said. “The most important six inches on track are the six inches between your ears because you have to be clever in racing. I knew after the first test on the Honda that I could win the championship. I trained hard all winter just to make sure that I had everything prepared for the season ahead .

Danny’s flying start

“In the first half of the year we didn’t have any bad results, and we were one step in front of everyone. That success painted a big target on our bike and everybody wanted to chase me. I think if you ask any rider they’ll say it’s easier to chase than lead.”

Moving into Moto2 will provide a new challenge for Kent but it’s one that he feels more suited to compared to Moto3. With his almost six foot frame hindering him on the smallest bike in the paddock, the move to the intermediate class should be an advantage. And having raced for Tech3 in the class in 2013 he knows what to expect from Moto2. His experience this year will stand him in good stead should he challenge for the crown in 2016.

“Moto2 is the next step from Moto3 and I’m looking forward to it. In Moto2 you’re on the limit for every lap and that’s why you don’t see as much fighting in it compared to Moto3. In Moto2, it’s every lap within a couple of tenths of a second – from the start to the finish. I’m looking forward to racing in it next year. It’s a competitive championship with Alex Rins and Johann Zarco sure to be very strong. Sam Lowes has been good on the Speed Up and now he’s gone to the Kalex which is the best bike. So he is very motivated as well.

“In terms of fighting for a championship again I now know what to expect and how to deal with the pressure. This year I’d never been in that situation before, so we were going to every race listening to all the media, having a lot of interviews. They were saying; ‘now you can become world champion’. It’s difficult to deal with that and I think it’s pressure from myself.”

Nothing is guaranteed

Just because you’re Moto3 champion, it doesn’t gift you success in Moto2. The last two Moto3 winners have had very different levels of success after making the switch to Moto2. The 2013 winner Maverick Vinales was able to adapt to the class and fight for wins from the start of his season. The Spaniard was rookie of the year and was immediately signed up by Suzuki to be part of their new MotoGP project. In contrast 2014 winner Alex Marquez had an uninspired season that saw him record only two top-six finishes.

If Kent is to cement his place as a rising star in the Grand Prix paddock he knows what he has to do.

“After the year we’ve had in Moto3 I want to be world champion in Moto2 and win races. But we’ve got a lot to learn and it’s not an easy class. It’s a very fast class so if we’re struggling at the beginning of the year this just gives extra motivation to work hard on myself, to work hard on the team, to close that gap to the leading group.

“This year Alex Rins got used to the bike a lot faster than Alex Marquez. I’ve already gone around Jerez faster than Marquez has on the Moto2 bike and he has a year’s experience. It’s just hard work. I have a great team behind me, I had a great bike, great support from Kalex as well. We’re on a high, so we just need to work hard and continue this form into 2016.”

Life in the spotlight

Before the start of the season comes a whirlwind tour of engagements for Kent. With the Race of Champions, BBC Sports Personality of the Year and even a trip to Blue Peter on the cards it’s clear that Kent will be a man in demand.

“I’ve had an amazing reaction from the crowd and the fans back home. I’ve had a lot of people getting in contact with me to do some stuff.

“I’m not looking to be a big celebrity or anything like that and I’m just going to take every year as it comes. Of course with the success there’s other things which are going to come along. Racing won’t last forever.

“I want it to last as long as possible obviously but you need to look to the future, too. Look at what Foggy has done, he’s probably more famous now than he was when he was world champion in superbikes!”

Kent’s family matters

Like any young rider, Danny Kent’s success has been fuelled by the unconditional support of his parents. Faced with the pressure of knowing that any race could be his last due to financial constraints, it was this that drove him to get the most out of himself and eventually earn a GP contract.

“Racing costs a lot of money and my parents have had to make massive sacrifices,” reflected Kent. “I had to leave school early at 14 because, obviously, if you want to end up in world championships you’re not going to do that by racing in England. You need to race in Europe.

“In 2007 they said this could be the last year. If you don’t get picked up that’s as far as we could go. It just cost too much money and they could only spend so much. And then luckily in 2008 we got picked up for the Red Bull Academy. It’s very difficult to keep racing when you know how much other people are sacrificing. It’s only when you start spending your own money that you see how big a sacrifice your parents have made, I now realise how hard life is sometimes.”

Weight gain

Knowing that he had to do everything in his powers in a bid to win the Moto3 crown, Kent took his training to an all-time high – showing a commitment that impressed many in the paddock. Being ready to race and at the peak of your fitness when it matters, while avoiding injury, takes serious work.

“It was quite hard when I was younger because you can take everything for granted when you’re 14 or 15. Now, though, I’ve grown up and I look back and think about the sacrifices that were made for me and it’s only now you understand it. There’s a lot in the background where a normal teenager wants to go out there, party all the time, and hang out with their friends. Of course you want to do that but you have to focus on your job.

“I work very hard and in training I do a bit of everything for fitness. I’ve had a training regime but I’ll have to change it for next year because for
Moto3 you need to be as light as possible. You have to stay away from the weights and not do any strength work.

“Now we’re in Moto 2 it’s going to be different, because we’ve got a higher combined weight and I think we’re maybe 2-3 kilos under the minimum weight. So now I’m able to put a few kilos on by building strength. This is also good because it’s something new. Instead of going into every winter knowing you have to lose weight I can go and put some weight on again.” 

Words: Stephen English Photos: Gareth Harford/Gold and Goose