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Remy Gardner's long road to the Moto2 summit
Remy Gardner's rise to the top of the world was an overnight success seven years in the making – and a journey that's powered him into the MotoGP world championship.
If you think that being the son of Australian motorcycle racing royalty means the path to your own two-wheel success is a red-carpet ride of smooth sailing, trophies hoisted at every turn and an inexorable ascension to the top of the world, Remy Gardner would like a word.
Because the best part of Gardner becoming this year's Moto2 world champion was not just the achievement in isolation; it was how it happened, purely because it made the days of physical pain, mental anguish and the times when it all seemed too hard worth it.
The 23-year-old, son of 1987 500cc world champion Wayne Gardner, became a champion in his own right in Valencia in November by edging Red Bull KTM Ajo teammate Raul Fernandez in a thrilling climax to the season. It was an overnight success seven years in the making.
Imagining Gardner as a champion as recently as two years ago would have been optimistic at best, but the seeds of his title tilt were planted in the final race of 2020 in Portugal, when the Australian took his maiden world championship victory in his 96th start. Gardner arrived at the team run by Finnish talent-spotter extraordinaire Aki Ajo for 2021 with the knowledge that he could win rather than with the hope that he might, and took off.
From round three in – coincidentally – Portugal when he took the lead of the Moto2 title chase for the first time, Gardner's 2021 just got better and better. By June, he'd won three races in succession and secured a deal to step up to the premier class of elite two-wheel motorsport, MotoGP, for 2022 – but typical of Gardner's rollercoaster career, his march to the Moto2 title took a dramatic turn.
I really changed my chip last year and things started to go a bit better. I managed to get my mind under control and everything was falling into place.
Seemingly cruising to the crown with a 34-point lead, Gardner crashed in Texas as teammate Fernandez took his third win in a row, and by the time the riders reconvened in – you guessed it – Portugal for the penultimate round, the Spanish rookie had the momentum to steal Gardner's title from beneath his nose, and Gardner was nursing cracked ribs from a scary crash in practice.
Gardner's response? Brave, calculating and emphatic, using a harder tyre in the 23-lap race to combat Fernandez's soft-tyre tactic of trying to scamper away at the front. Gardner bided his time, waited for Fernandez to cook his Dunlop rubber and then pounced, romping away to a victory that meant he only needed to finish 13th or better in the final race in Valencia.
A conservative ride to 10th saw Gardner become Australia's first world champion since Casey Stoner won the 2011 MotoGP title, and uncorked a maelstrom of emotions.
"The entire post-race lap of honour, it was more tears and emotions than thoughts," he reflects.
"I was so stiff on the bike, the broken ribs probably weren't helping. But it was about finishing the race ... it was hard to keep your nerve and not over-ride."
It was the approach of a seasoned championship contender, not a rider who – until 2021 – had managed just five podium finishes in nearly 100 starts. Press him for which race in a campaign that yielded five wins and 12 rostrum visits in 18 starts meant the most, and one stands out.
"Portimao … that was probably my best race ever," he says.
"Keeping my head, sticking to my guns with that hard tyre and really believing in myself ... Portimao was what decided it.
"The last quarter of the season was very tough pressure-wise. Raul did an incredible job as a rookie ... he really made me work for it. Consistency was the key in the end … ultimately that's what got us across the line."
For Gardner, 2021 made the struggles of his early career melt away.
"There's been so many hard years, from 2015 to 2019 … there were points in my career that I honestly believed there was no more, this was it, the end of the road," he says.
"The worst one was breaking both my legs (in a motocross crash in 2018), and I went home and thought 'this is it, I don't have a ride for next year and I don't have any results, my career's over'. But I could either sit there and cry, or pick myself up and push like a motherf***er ... and that's what I did.
"I really changed my chip last year and things started to go a bit better. I managed to get my mind under control and everything was falling into place, and I was really trying to keep positive about everything. Things have taken a turn, for sure."
Those next turns will be spent on the fire-breathing MotoGP monsters raced by the world's very best. Gardner is moving up to the Tech 3 KTM Factory Racing Team – with 2021 teammate Fernandez alongside – and rekindling a relationship with veteran French team principal Herve Poncharal, whose Moto2 squad Gardner rode for in 2017-18.
Next year began at Jerez soon after the Moto2 season wound up, Gardner and Fernandez getting a taste of their 2022 machinery in the first of three scheduled off-season test sessions.
"It was a hard two days physically and trying to learn the bike," Gardner says.
"It was really trying to understand, work with used tyres, understand the traction control, wheelie control … all the electronics. Power, ride-height systems, brakes – there's so many things. But I had a good time and I had everything more under control. Not riding to the best of my abilities because the ribs are quite sore, but it was about getting more laps.
"I hope everything goes well and that I adapt fast to the bike but mostly next year I want to enjoy myself a lot – and not forget that I'm fulfilling a dream that I've had since I was little, to race in MotoGP."
If history is any guide, expect Gardner to methodically make the most of his big career chance. He'll do what he always does – put his head down, chip away, shut out the outside noise, keep it simple and go step by step. If 2021 showed us anything, it's that approach – allied to the power of persistence and a determination to rewrite his story – that can take you to the top of the world.