Danny Kent: How Moto3 Championship winner ended 38-year wait

By Tom RostanceBBC Sport
Danny Kent
Danny Kent started racing motorbikes at the age of six and is now world champion

When the late Barry Sheene won the 1977 world motorcycling championship he was made an MBE, bought a 700-year-old manor house to live in with his model girlfriend and starred in a series of TV aftershave advertisements with boxer Henry Cooper.

In the 38 years since, Britain has won 89 Olympic gold medals, embraced four British Formula 1 champions, six Prime Ministers, four James Bonds, six - soon to be seven - Star Wars films and a 12m rise in population.

But it had not produced another Grand Prix motorcycling world champion in any class - until now.

Danny Kent is unlikely to have the TV offers rolling in just yet - in fact he was offered a MotoGP ride this winter with a salary of zero - but the 21-year-old's Moto3 title win has ended the long wait for GP glory in the UK.

He almost had to quit the sport at 14, endured a bad season while his dad was given months to live as he underwent cancer treatment, and struggles to attract any backing from British companies. So how has he done it?

'I knew he'd make a racer'

Kent has already been racing for 15 years, starting out as a six-year-old at a local go-kart track in Swindon where his big sister now works.

A natural on two wheels, mum Tracey may have originally dismissed his interest as 'a five-minute wonder' but dad Martyn was more prophetic.

"I said the first time he sat on a bike that he'd make a racer," Martyn told BBC Sport.

Danny Kent
Danny Kent's boyhood racing heroes were British riders James Toseland and Neil Hodgson

And dad was right.

Soon Danny's parents bought him his first bike and he won his first race, showing the speed and lack of fear that saw him quickly move up the classes.

"It was just something Danny wanted to do and we followed it," said Tracey.

MotoGP - who rides what?
MotoGP: 1,000cc bike producing more than 250bhp. Top speed of 220 mph. 2015 champion: Jorge Lorenzo
Moto2: 600cc bike producing about 140bhp. Top speed of about 180mph. 2015 champion: Johann Zarco
Moto3: 250cc bike producing about 50bhp. Top speed of about 150mph. 2015 champion: Danny Kent

"We both never had anything like this when we were children so we were happy to support him for as long as we could. We said 'just follow your passion'."

In his early career Danny was heavily helped by invaluable backing from the Phil Burgan Race Academy (PBRA), but Kent's mother Tracey maintains that trying to get sponsorship in the UK is "like trying to get blood out of a stone".

Kent was left with a very adult decision while still a child as the cost of racing in Europe began to take its toll.

"We told him when he was 13 or 14 that he had one more year, that was make or break time," Tracey said.

"He would either get picked up by a team and go professional, or give it up and concentrate on school. Luckily it went the way we wanted."

In his make-or-break year, 14-year-old Danny was spotted by the MotoGP academy in Spain. Within three laps of a trial he had impressed enough to earn a place in the Red Bull Rookies - a long-standing gateway to MotoGP - and in 2010 he finished the season in second place.

That earned him a place in the smallest class of grand prix racing - a class he has now won.

'Dad was given 12 weeks to live'

It has not all been so straight forward for Kent though.

In the 2013 season he made the step up to the 600cc Moto2 class where he struggled to 16 points all season, with a best result of 12th.

The then 19-year-old was criticised, but was dealing with bad news at home as dad Martyn underwent treatment for cancer.

Tracey said: "Martyn was given 12 weeks to live because of a huge aneurysm on his brain.

"We caught it just in time and he had major brain surgery. He couldn't fly or travel at all for a long time. Things aren't 100% still but he is alive and here to enjoy this.

"There were plenty of people slating Danny when he was having a bad time of it in Moto2 but he was flying all over the world knowing that his dad wasn't well. How many teenagers have to deal with that?

"It's not the life of glory that some people think. The amount of travelling is huge and it's very tiring - and he absolutely hates flying! But it can be such a short career. You have to enjoy it while you can, live the life."

Danny Kent
Kent enjoys a rare moment of down time before last month's Australian GP

Why the 38-year wait?

In the 362 500cc/MotoGP races which have taken place since Kent's birth on 25 November 1993, a British rider stood on the podium just 13 times. With zero wins. To put that into perspective Valentino Rossi has 175 podium finishes in the top class all of his own.

"Why have we not had a British champion for so long? It's a question we've all asked for many years," says former BBC MotoGP commentator and Sheene's team-mate Steve Parrish.

Carl Fogarty
Before he was king of the jungle Carl Fogarty regularly attracted crowds of more than 100,000 to British rounds of the World Superbike Championship

"For many years there was a token British rider out there at best. This is a starting point - Danny Kent is the biggest step forwards in many years.

"His achievement is something we have to seriously recognise, and get behind him."

There have certainly been talented riders from the UK in the years between Sheene and Kent.

MotoGP v Superbikes
The bikes in MotoGP are prototype machines built specifically for Grand Prix racing at costs of millions of pounds a year, like Formula 1 cars. The bikes raced in superbike racing are based on machines available to buy from about £12,000.

They have flourished in the rival World Superbike championship - where riders race bikes based on models you or I can buy in dealerships - winning nine championships since 1994, with this year's Northern Irish winner Jonathan Rea dominating a season in which British riders won 25 of 26 races.

Should Kent go on to join the current MotoGP crop of Cal Crutchlow, Bradley Smith, Scott Redding and Eugene Laverty it would be the strongest British representation for many years.

So will we have a champion in the top class any time soon?

'You can easily spend £100k a year'

There is one obstacle that emerges again and again - a lack of sponsorship and backing for British riders.

Kent will move up for his second shot at Moto2 in 2016 with his current Leopard Racing teamexternal-link but he was offered three rides in MotoGP next year.

At least one offer would have seen him earn nothing in the first year of his contract, with Kent - and other riders on the grid - expected to fund their own expenses through sponsorship.

Barry Sheene
The days of Rolls Royces may be gone for British bikers but Barry Sheene had no trouble when it came to spending money

Former MotoGP rider James Toseland, who helped Kent sort out a training regime and handed down his '52' number, says: "There will have been plenty of young talented British riders who will have had to give up on the dream over the last 10 years and it will get worse.

"If you want to travel business class and stay in nice hotels like MotoGP riders do, you can easily spend £50k a year.

"Add in a motorhome, fuel, insurance and a driver. If you do it properly, not scrimping, you won't get much change out of £100k.

"So if you are offered no wages, you have to find personal sponsorship to cover all that before you start, and then hope that you do well enough to earn a better deal in year two.

"You can start racing at five or six years old, dedicate your life to it and get to the level of being a Moto3 world champion at 18, 19 years old and by 21 you could have nothing to show for it.

"Talent should be looked after much better. The level of investment for parents to get their son or daughter to the top level, you can easily put a hole in half a million quid.

Danny Kent
Danny Kent dominated the early part of the Moto3 season, winning six races

"And to earn half a million back from a career in motorcycling is certainly not easy these days. If you can't recoup that investment, even if you are a world champion, then it is an impossible task."

Kent's parents say they "haven't a clue" how much his fledgling career cost them personally, but advise any parents of a future star to head to the continent as soon as they can. Kent counts most of his sponsorship from Luxembourg and the Czech Republic.

Parrish doesn't see the story changing in the near future.

"We get poor media coverage in the UK, we don't have good weather and nobody wants their children riding motorbikes," he said.

"We need to find better support and backing. There are no big British companies supporting MotoGP and I'm afraid that I don't see that changing as now it is not on terrestrial television the big companies aren't seeing it.

"The only way the sport will get bigger is if we have someone capable of challenging for the MotoGP title, winning races week in, week out."

Will Danny Kent be that man? Time will tell. But if he can become the first British winner of a MotoGP race since Sheene's victory in Sweden in 1981, perhaps the Rolls Royces and lucrative TV adverts will follow.


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