A two-wheel interlude: Gardner finding his own way

Note: this story originally appeared here

Sometimes, the scorecard doesn’t measure the stats that matter, and the points don’t accurately reflect potential. Remy Gardner’s first full season in Moto3 is yet to get off the mark after nine races, but the 17-year-old son of Australia’s 1987 500cc world champion Wayne has made significant strides over the past 12 months, and already has his eyes set on bigger things in 2016.

It was little over a year ago that Gardner made his world championship debut on a Kalex KTM, deputising for injured German Luca Grunwald at Misano in Italy. He later raced as a wildcard for Team Laglisse Calvo in Australia as a wildcard, and as an injury replacement for Eric Granado on a KTM for Calvo Team in Malaysia, where he finished 15th and scored his maiden world championship point.

Those three showings, allied to his solid form in the Spanish CEV Moto3 championship, led to a full-time world championship ride on a Mahindra with French team CIP (Centre International De Pilotage) this season, but it’s been tough going for the Sydney-born teenager. At the halfway stage of his rookie campaign, Gardner is yet to score a point to add to his Sepang breakthrough last October, only twice qualifying inside the top 20 on a machine that’s no match for the KTM entries and the dominant Honda bikes down the straights.

That lack of top-end grunt, combined with Gardner’s inexperience in the hyper-competitive category featuring 35 of the world’s best up-and-coming riders, has made progress hard to measure. But ask Remy himself, and he’s adamant that he’s a better rider than when he made his bow on the world stage nearly 12 months ago.

“I think I’ve improved a lot in my riding style since then,” he tells motogp.com.au in the paddock at Indianapolis.

“Back then I had a better bike and was more competitive in the Spanish championship, and that showed in the results. But this year I’ve improved a lot on this bike which I can tell from the telemetry, especially under braking and with my corner speed. It’s not showing in the results yet, but it’s definitely there.”

Tough school
Mahindra emerged as a genuine contender in Moto3 last season, with top-10 finishes the norm, and Miguel Olivera (Portugal) and Brad Binder (South Africa) finishing on the podium. But Honda has stepped up its game this season, runaway championship leader Danny Kent winning five of the first nine races, while KTM has been there to pick up the crumbs on the rare days the Japanese giant stumbles. Save for some promising early-season showings by experienced Italian Francesco Bagnaia, all nine Mahindras in the field have struggled to make an impact. But rather than define the year as an opportunity lost, Wayne Gardner says his eldest son will benefit from making the best of what he has.

“It’s been tougher than both Remy and I thought it would be,” Wayne admits.

“It has been a little disappointing, but in some ways it’s helping Remy as it’s teaching the riders to get the very best out of the bike. The Mahindra people are seeing what he’s capable of and they’re impressed by it, but what he’s lacking is experience, and that’s showing in his results.

“As the year has progressed, KTM and Honda have both improved a lot, so we’re in the Mahindra race within a race, if you like. We’ve found the Mahindra is losing about a second a lap to the Hondas and KTMs in top-line speed, so when I look at that I think he’s riding really well, and better than he ever has.”

Making his own name
Dealing with the ups and downs that inevitably come with being a world championship motorcycle racer are all part of growing up, as is standing on your own two feet. Wayne’s on-track achievements have undoubtedly opened doors for Remy, but that comes with the trade-off of extra expectation, and Wayne’s career casts a large shadow. It’s for that reason that Wayne and Remy have done their best this year to have a normal father-son relationship. Wayne isn’t trackside at every one of Remy’s races any more, and Remy says that was a natural evolution that needed to happen.

“I said to Dad this year that it was important that I tried to do things on my own now, and he stayed away for a couple of races which I needed him to do,” Remy says.

“Being around the sport he was a world champion in – I was always aware of how difficult it was, but it’s an eye-opener to realise how much he had to be focused and really put his nuts on the line. But the name and how people see me doesn’t put me under any more pressure than I do myself anyway. I’m trying to create my own path; he did his thing, and I want to do my thing.”

Wayne completely understands his son’s point of view.

“I can only help him so much, because he needs to experience these things and work them out for himself,” he says.

“My instruction to him this year was to go out there and look and learn, try your best, work on your corners and build up your corner speed, and gain experience. You’ve got to learn when to zig and when to zag, and no matter what I tell him, he’s got to learn that himself. It’s better to let him get on with the job.”

High hopes for home
That job, for now, is continuing to make progress ahead of the Pramac Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix in October. A promising first world championship weekend at home for Remy in 2014 went to waste when a problem on the grid saw him consigned to a pit-lane start, and he eventually finished 26th on a day that promised plenty more. While the result stung initially, Remy says it was a positive experience.

“It was pretty cool, and I was happy because I was going well until the Sunday,” he laughs.

“It was my first time there on a Moto3 bike and I didn’t know my way around there that well, but it seemed to come to me naturally and I felt strong there. But it’s such a good track, so flowing, and pretty awesome on a Moto3. It’s definitely one I can’t wait to do again.”

At a circuit where his father produced performances that sparked scenes that remain entrenched in Island folklore, it would be fitting if the second-generation Gardner conjured a season-best result on home soil in October – and one that’s a stepping-stone to something bigger next season.

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