The Rise and Fall of Danny Kent

"Danny is probably the most talented rider I have ever worked with," Peter Bom, Danny Kent's former crew chief at Kiefer told me several times last year. Bom has seen plenty of talent in his time: he also worked with Stefan Bradl at Kiefer, Chris Vermeulen in World Supersport and World Superbikes, Cal Crutchlow in World Supersport. World champions all, and to this tally he added Danny Kent.

Less than a year after helping him win the Moto3 world championship, Danny Kent asked the Kiefer team for a new crew chief, abandoning his collaboration with Peter Bom. Kent felt that Bom had been slow to pick up on the changes in the Moto2 class during Bom's three years in Moto3. Stefan Kiefer obliged, and Kent started the season with a new crew chief and a Suter Moto2 chassis.

Three races into the new season, Kent has left the team. He competed in two races for them, scoring three points in the first, crashing out of the second. At Austin, after a miserable few practice sessions, Kent refused to race. The team could have seen the decision coming, perhaps: Kent had finished 29th in morning warm up, 2.5 seconds off the pace of fastest man Taka Nakagami.

Later that afternoon, in a series of tweets, Kent explained his decision was because of "irreconcilable differences", which had prevented him from reaching his potential. He said he was still hungry, and believed he could be competitive in Moto2. Team boss Stefan Kiefer told Dutch Eurosport, "personally, I do not think this is correct, but that's what he decided." In a press release later that day, Kiefer stated that the decision was "difficult to understand from the team's point of view."

The truth is out there

What really happened? Is the Kiefer Racing team really that bad? Is the Suter uncompetitive? Was Kent right to leave the team? The fact that Kent's teammate Domi Aegerter finished Sunday's race in fifth, just under eleven seconds behind the winner Franco Morbidelli, suggests that there is not that much wrong with either the bike or the team. However, if Danny Kent felt he could not be competitive on the Suter with the Kiefer team, then he was automatically right about that: 90% of racing at this level happens in the mind, and if a rider believes they can't compete, then they can't, no matter what bike they are on or what team they are with.

In many ways, Kent's 2017 season was a mirror image of 2016. When I spoke to Kent at the IRTA Test in Jerez back in March, the Englishman was happy and confident. He spoke of how much he liked the Suter, saying it had better rear grip than the Kalex which allowed him to steer the bike with the rear. The downside, he told me, was that when temperatures rose and the track got greasy, that rear grip went away, and with less front-end grip than the Kalex, it was tougher to manage the bike.

Kent may have been competitive at Jerez, but he was nowhere once the racing started. The same thing happened in 2016 as well: after the Jerez test last year, Peter Bom told me that Kent had been very quick indeed and felt very confident. Once the season got underway, Kent started to struggle. That led to friction with Bom, Kent complaining that the bike never felt right, and that as he was the Moto3 champion, he knew best. By the end of the season, Kent was asking for his crew chief to be replaced.

When the going gets tough

The fact that nothing changed between 2016 and 2017 suggests that the problem was not with the team, nor with the crew chief, nor with the bike. The problem was with Danny Kent. In what is arguably the toughest class in motorcycle racing, Kent didn't do the work or have the mental toughness to keep picking himself up and dusting himself down to try and fight again. He tried to rely on his talent, but in Moto2, talent alone won't get you very far.

If Moto3 is a test of talent, Moto2 is a test of character. It is a pool populated by either piranhas or prey: if the pack sense any weakness, smell any blood in the water, they will tear you limb from limb. The challenge riders face in Moto2 is to find the strength to push at the limit during qualifying, to ensure a good starting position, and the endurance to push in the race, the courage to risk pushing early to try to escape the clutches of the howling pack behind.

Valentino Rossi gave a good explanation of why Moto2 is so tough in the press conference at the Circuit of The Americas. "Everybody has the same bike, more or less everybody. Especially the same engine, the same tires, the same brakes and everything. So it's more difficult to make an overtake. Always the races are very tight and it's difficult to make the difference."

It's tough in the middle

That is exactly what mid-pack Moto2 riders will tell you. If passing can be tough at the front, it is positively brutal in mid-pack and further back. Everyone knows that you can't make up any time with the engine, so you have to take risks on the brakes and with your lines in the early laps, then try to be as precise as possible in the second half of the race as you try to make up ground.

Differences are counted in hundredths of a second rather than tenths, and half a second will often cover ten or fifteen places. A single mistake or running into traffic on a qualifying lap can drop you eight, nine places on the grid, making your life even tougher in the race. Every lap has to be ridden at 100%, to get the rider up to speed mentally, and to ensure they are ready once qualifying and the race starts.

Doing that requires an insane level of fitness, which means spending the break between races training, studying, practicing. Tito Rabat did endless laps round Almeria in pursuit of his Moto2 championship, lapping in the morning before track days began, during lunch break, then again for an hour after track days finished. Johann Zarco traveled round Europe from track to track with a Yamaha R6 in the back of a van. The VR46 Riders Academy youngsters race flat track at Rossi's ranch, then lap Misano on Yamaha R6s.

Even then, there is no guarantee of success. Riders have to take that fitness, and the sharpness they learned by riding bikes at speed, and leverage that every race weekend. They cannot afford to take any time off during a Grand Prix weekend: they have to be 100% focused at all times, always searching for an edge over their rivals.

High stress demands mental toughness

That focus, that existence is incredibly stressful for young men and women who are, for the most part, in their late teens and early twenties. The mental strength to deal with those demands and the stress they create is what makes the difference between success and failure. Sure, there are good teams and bad teams, but there are more tenths to be found between the ears of a rider than in the suspension settings and bike geometry of a Kalex or Suter.

And sure, often the bike feels strange. It won't turn in like the rider wants, or it doesn't have the stability they expect under braking, or the rear won't grip and drive. Danny Kent faced significant problems in his years in Moto2, but they were no different to the problems faced by every other rider on the grid. Talk to any rider, be it MotoGP championship leader Valentino Rossi or Patrik Pulkkinen, last in Moto3, and they will immediately launch a litany of complaints of what an absolute heap of junk their bike is, and how their rivals have an unfair advantage, obviously riding near perfect machines.

Those who get lost in agonizing over their problems find themselves stuck in the bottom half of the field. Those who get on with the job of riding what they have and work their way around problems are able to make progress, and improve. The lot of a motorcycle racer is never a happy one, but a successful racer just gets on with the job in hand.

The way to win

All of this is what Kent failed to understand, and what he failed to adapt to. In part because his excess of natural talent, but also perhaps because of the way he won his Moto3 championship. In 2015, Kent's season got off to a good start in Qatar, then he went on to win the second race of the season (ironically) in Austin, then again in Argentina, winning by the biggest dry margin ever in a Moto3 race at the time.

By the time they returned to Europe, Kent had a margin of 17 points in the championship. He won again at Jerez, and with the exception of Le Mans, was either wining or on the podium at every race through to the Sachsenring. Leaving Germany, Kent had an advantage of 66 points over Enea Bastianini, and 88 points over Miguel Oliveira, who would end the year in second place.

Where had Kent's dominance come from? Though Peter Bom remained cagey, he explained that they had found an advantage by departing from the bike geometry recommended by Honda, which Alex Márquez had used to win the championship the previous year. It was a choice which made HRC nervous, but as Kent kept on winning, they tolerated it. Kent's confidence blossomed, and that confidence gave him three or four tenths even before he jumped on the bike.

Others catch up

By mid-season, the other Honda teams had figured out that they, too, needed to abandon Alex Márquez' setup, and were competitive with Kent. At Misano, KTM brought a new chassis for their Moto3 bike, which improved the handling, got rid of most of the chatter which had plagued the bike, and transformed Oliveira into a real threat.

Kent was still competitive, but a combination of complacency and nerves saw his fortunes slump. He won one more race, the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, but after that, unnecessary crashes and poor decision making meant the championship went down to the final race in Valencia. Even then, Kent could only manage to struggle to ninth. It was enough, and Kent became the first British Grand Prix champion for 35 years by a mere six point margin.

Did Danny Kent deserve his championship? Absolutely. He did everything right: he worked closely with his team, trusted their advice, and listened to them. And because he listened to them, he gave good feedback, telling them what they needed to know while not getting distracted. His success gave him the motivation to put in the hard yards, to do the fitness training, to retain his focus and keep his eyes on the prize.

Decline and fall

But that long stretch of the last few races were a sign that he was struggling with the pressure. Every rider on their way to a championship feels it, even the greatest. But how they handle it is the mark of the man (or, perhaps one day, woman). Compare and contrast Danny Kent in 2015 with Brad Binder in 2016. Both riders had big leads and strong advantages. Both gained their confidence from dominant wins early in the season. But Binder held his nerve, and wrapped the title up at Aragon. Kent got caught in unnecessary battles, crashed, and ended up taking the title fight all the way to the wire in Valencia.

Those early signs of trouble exploded in 2016. After a very good preseason, Kent struggled badly. His best result, sixth in Qatar, came in the opening race. He didn't finish six races, and finished out of the points in four more. He was usually qualifying on the fifth row, or further back. That's the point in the field where the start turns into something resembling the old computer game Road Rash, played in deathmatch mode. The two or three tenths between there and the second and third row makes a huge difference to the ease of riding, but that was time Kent was never able to find, for whatever reason.

There were a lot of reasons. There was talk that he wasn't training hard enough, and that he wasn't focused. He spent far more time on his phone, chatting to his girlfriend and his friends, than he did studying data and working on setup. If the way to fix Kent's problems was the rigorous application of hard work, Kent did not appear inclined to put it in. His 2017 season was more of the same.

Career suicide?

And so in Austin, Danny Kent pulled the plug. Disaffected with the way his season was going, and with no prospect of progress, from his perspective, he decided to leave the team. He says he still believes he can be competitive in Moto2. If it was just a matter of talent, he would be absolutely right. But it isn't. There is much, much more to it than that.

Now, Kent is looking around for new opportunities, and hoping for another chance in Moto2. He will not be given one. For when Kent walked away, he confirmed the prejudices that team managers in the Grand Prix paddock have about him. The problem for Kent is that he does not just have the Kiefer strike against his name. His year in Moto2 with Tech 3 was similarly mediocre, for much the same reasons. Team members would privately joke about Kent being more interested in his hair than in his training. Those kind of jokes make their way through the paddock. All racing paddocks are one great big gossipy sewing circle, and news and rumors, good and bad, spread fast.

So Danny Kent finds himself without a ride. His reputation precedes him, meaning team managers will now only look at him if he brings money with him. That is an ignominy a world champion does not deserve. But no one will touch him in the Grand Prix paddock, unless he can prove he has changed. His best hope is to head to World Supersport, and find a ride that will let him beat Kenan Sofuoglu. If he can't do that, then he is in real trouble.

Through a glass, darkly

I feel a great deal of sympathy for Danny Kent. He is a likable and supremely talented rider, and was always open when I spoke to him. He has an infectious smile, and Peter Bom has happy memories of the year in Moto3 where the two shared a room, and joked and worked their way to the title. But his trouble is he has always relied on his talent, which was enough to take him a very long way indeed.

Something similar happened to me, as a young and stupid teenager. At school, I got through exams without working, on my wits alone. Then, at university, I failed utterly, twice, because I didn't put in the work and didn't have the right attitude. It took me until my thirties until I had grown up enough to understand that hard work was a necessary ingredient for success.

My skill set – a way with words – is not subject to the vagaries of aging. Danny Kent is not so lucky. There is a very limited window of opportunity for success as a motorcycle racer, before time takes its toll on body and mind. At twenty-three, Kent is still young enough to have a good few years ahead of him. But to get the chance to demonstrate once again just how talented he is, he needs to learn the other skills a racer needs: dedication, focus, self-belief. The willingness to learn, and to analyze your own weaknesses, and the self-confidence to believe you can fix them. Those qualities are a good deal more difficult to learn than just riding a motorcycle very fast.

I hope he succeeds.


Danny Kent was asked for his reaction to this article, and issued the following statement through his manager:

"I don’t expect anyone to understand the position I’ve been in and what has passed over the past 17 months since winning the Moto3 World Championship. It’s easy for people to point the finger - and I take my fair share of the blame - but it’s not the whole story.

"I find it difficult to swallow when personal digs are being made at me, with regards to fixing my hair or messaging my girlfriend. In the bigger scale of things these things affected nothing and so I don’t see the need to bring them up. I don’t want to dwell on the past, I know where I have to improve to get back to the front and I don’t wish to talk negatively about others in the paddock.

"I’m looking to the future and yes, it may be difficult for team managers to instill their trust in me but I can assure you I’m not giving up and I will push hard to come back at a competitive level in the right surroundings. DK


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Total votes: 253
Total votes: 154

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Comments

Less about Kent and more about why the transfer to Moto2 from Moto3 is so difficult for some of the champions.

Total votes: 142

...inspiration from Vinales as he had similar episode in Moto3 before he clinched his title. It was make or break for him back than and watch where is he now.

Total votes: 136

Very indepth knowledge of the subject there David. Great read.

Its a real shame to see this happen to a young Champ. All those years of hard work and sacrifice by the whole family to get him to the top, and the wheels fall off. Very sad, all round.

I've seen many teenagers in many sports do similar, for many resons over the years. Some are almost there with natural talent, but lose desire because of over-bearing parents pushing too hard. Some get the 'I'm the best' attitude, and drive people away. Others get the 'I've made it, I'm at the top' and stop working. 

I think you have described Danny's case very well in your text. Such a shame to see. As you said, these actions can close many doors, and the padlocks are hard to remove.

Vinales did a walkout in 125's, made amends and got back on with the job. Look at him now. Fenati had his moments last year and is back with a vengeance now. Results are coming.

I hope Danny can do the same before its too late.

Total votes: 138

...they will immediately launch a litany of complaints of what an absolute heap of junk their bike is, and how their rivals have an unfair advantage, obviously riding near perfect machines.
Channeling Matt Mladin? or is it maybe Kenny Roberts...

Total votes: 102

One other change for DK might be to change his manager.

If I were managing him I would not let him issue a statement that focuses on the wrong things in the article. It is objective and reasoned the barbs are hearsay. For him to dismiss them as irrelevant just adds weight to the article's criticism.

As you say skills are just one part of success, attitudes and habits, important parts of any personality, dictate how the skills are used. 

This reply just illustrates that his attitude and habits are not conducive to success in a team sport, something his manager should never allow him to show.

Whatever Danny good luck in the future.

 

Total votes: 144

In the past, some riders had long careers on the small bikes. And did not necessarily went to the big bikes. See Angel Nieto, for instance. I suppose some riders are made for the more powerful bikes and some are more suitable for the small bikes.

Total votes: 129

Having read David's and other journos' articles I come to the conclusion DK can't do a "Vinales". The best he could do is probably a "Fenati", although the Italian's success is still very much open. 

Vinales was absolutely dedicated from the beginning. His reasons for leaving that MOTO3 team were therefore different.

Total votes: 122

 

It's a small small world in moto3 and moto2 and its one of the biggest gossip paddock in the world once you in it ... 

let's hope that DK is not ditched after this year, on the otherhand what david suggested is far more an option to go to WSS and is far more relaxed . would love to see him riding there

And what happend to DK in the last 17 months  is that we forget that he is not the only rider who is getting lost in moto2 .. 

like danny webb, kenan sofuoglu and few more 

i like the change fore fact that the moto2 class changing in2018 as thriumhp is coming we gonna see allot of changes.
 

 

Total votes: 117

How many of the former (none of the current) Moto2 top riders had early success in the class?  We can see a common trend among the few who have had early success - they are not just talented, but ridicoulsly alien level talented and now on factory MotoGP machines.

Kent should note that the previous year's Moto3 champion only started to see the light at the end of the tunnel (podium finishes and contention) at the end of last season, with miserable results before that, and that this year's current title favorite never won a race in the class until this year.

Total votes: 143

I have been curious about Kent's Moto 2 struggles. He has had a few quick practice sessions, but when the green lights flash he seems nowhere. The comparison to Sofuoglu is interesting as well. Yet that Superglue is still pretty much untouchable in World Supersport is inexplicable to me! It could be that something is wrong with Moto2. Then there are the unique riders who seem to get along with any motorcycle or type of competition. People like KR, JM Bayle and even MM come to mind. We may be witnessing something similar in Jorge Lorenzo with his struggles aboard that Ducati.

It is no secret that talent only takes you so far in the world of professional competition...  

Total votes: 137

I guarantee nobody would care about his hair care regime if he was on the podium most weeks, and the only place he could quiet those voices is on the track. Or... not...

What happened to Kenan Sofluoglu during his venture into Moto2, surely a consummate racer with every bit of talent & commitment you need to be up front in Moto2, is a hint that perhaps there is some secret ingredient that is hard to spot - it might be impossible to win if you _don't_ have all the other attributes of a champion but having them without any of the secret sauce seems to be a recipe for lower mid field obscurity or worse...

Total votes: 124

the response from Kent doesn't instill much confidence. Seems like a chance to really make a powerful statement on his future but it's a little underwhelming. At the same time I'm not a title holder in any category so what do I know.

Total votes: 136

First off, kudos to Danny for publicly responding to this article. I suspect most would either ignore it or respond intemperately.

I don't know Mr. Kent, of course, and I'm sure that's true of the vast majority of those who will read this article. And as he rightly points out, it's hard to know the whole story if you weren't there. That said, David's take rings true, not least because--with the benefit of hindsight--I can look back on my own life and understand why I did certain things that no doubt seemed nonsensical to others. But even though some things become clearer with age, I think it's important to have sympathy for one's "former self." It's easy to forget that we were all rookies at life, once. I, for one, can't imagine being 18 or 19 and having to bear up under the kind of pressure and scrutiny these guys face. And let's not forget that people still die and receive life-changing injuries doing this.

Anyway, I hope that things work out for Danny.

Finally, in response to the bit about making the bike do what you want even if the "feel" is wrong. I've never raced motorcycles, but my mind immediately flashed to something I learned early in my flying career. I was struggling with landings during a checkout in a new type, and at some point the instructor said, "Look, just make it do what you want it to do. You're the boss, not the airplane." That sounds really obvious, but it was exactly what I needed to hear. I'd been trying too hard to be smooth and precise--because that's how you were "supposed" to do it--when what I really needed to do under the circumstances was muscle the thing around. Once that sank in, I was fine.

As David said, so much of this stuff is between the ears...

Total votes: 134

Another insightful feature, clearing up a few of the many lingering questions about Danny's seemingly sudden decision to walk away. To be honest, I am a little suprised how open the article is about the contents of the paddock gossip mill, but overall it is completely warranted with regards to his potential future in the championship which does not look too good at this point. I guess a lot of the mental side of things was somewhat obvious even from the outside, his crumbling at the end of the 2015 season being especially painful to watch, but there can of course be many reasons for bad results. It's also good to read his reaction to the piece.

As Danny himself repeatedly mentioned his former rival and teammate Miguel Oliveira as a comparison for what he could be doing in Moto2, I think it is valid to use him as a good example of a vastly differing attitude to working and the sport itself. Oliveira has repeatedly taken on development challenges which slowed down his career progress and provided limited payoff for a lot of effort, yet always stayed positive and fully invested in the work. Maybe working as a test or endurance rider might do Danny some good? He'd still be riding, yet removed enough from the big show to reevaluate some things and also appreciate the gains from grinding out laps, working hard and analyzing data. And working with one of the big manufacturers might even get him a foot in the door again.

Total votes: 122

A great article, and timely as ever.

I'm not even an amateur, but I enjoy watching all of these immense talents and athletes apply their skills and crafts to racing.

This year, after 10 years of watching only road racing, I started following SX (and MX) in the US, and have been treated to a really stellar season. Along the way, I educated myself on the last 15 or so years of champions, and particularly followed the story of Ryan Dungey, and his copmetitors since his first championship. There are lots of parallels and similarities in the mental toughness required, and the hard work required, and the team trust required, and sometimes after all that a little bit more hard work and a little bit more mental toughness to win a championship. There's also a lot in the transition from the junior classes, and I imagine this pressure is nowhere near what those on the MotoGP circuit face. 

Only thing I would say is, though we can be disappointed and hopeful for riders that fall from grace, let's continue to be respectful for all that participate - it's harder than most of us can imagine, and for those that ever achieve anything, they earned it and can always be proud of what they achieved, even if in our minds it's less than we think they should have gotten.

Total votes: 138

To be honest, I've always doubted the 'hugely talented' part. It's easy to forget that Kent had two stints in both Moto3 and Moto2 and only really had one good half a year, 2015. Conveniently the same year the biggest in that class moved on to Moto2. The other seasons were mediocre at best. Anyone remember Sandro Cortese? Teammate to Kent in Moto3, went on to win the championship. Mired in Moto2 and never going to sit on a MotoGP bike. Nobody's asking why.

Reading this excellent article it seems that good half a year was not a result of his exceptional talent but rather a perfect storm of an exodues of the biggest talent in the class and confidence due to a 'cheat code' found by his team. To me it just seems pretty clear that he just isn't as talented as he and seemingly quite a few other people seem to think and that's the reason he hasn't accomplished much. Life has no easy answers usually but this one seems pretty clear to me: Peter Bom is just plain wrong.

Total votes: 147

First thoughts after reading this excellent article is how much Danny Kent would benifit from Ant West being his rider coach.

Total votes: 127

The commentary on Moto2 sure puts Zarco's performances in perspective. Now look at him go, better results than blokes who have been in MotoGP for years. And Jack Miller has some work to do!

Total votes: 125

Firstly, I do feel for Danny Kent and hope that he is back on the up one way or another soon.

Danny's struggles along with those of many others coming up from 125s/Moto3 and getting lost in the pack do emphasise Aki Ajo's comments that Moto2 is the hardest class and the guys who progress through it up to MotoGP really have found a sweet spot to make things work. No doubt the reasons behind each rider's struggles are different (Danny, Sandro Cortese, and whatever happened to Nico Terol and Mike di Meglio?) and the stuff about hair and girlfriends of course only matters when you're not winning (over in car racing Lewis Hamilton sometimes gets some stick about social media use, but his results mean he can do what he wants) - when things are tough your paddock image is pretty important.

The comment above about him maybe seeming impatient is a good one - not everyone is a Marc or a Maverick coming through rapidly and most of the top riders in Moto2 have spent two or three years getting there, often with consistent machinery.

It is sadly true that paddock memories are short so it might be that a change of scenery is needed. In a way, given the stick Jack Miller was given for going straight from Moto3 to MotoGP, it's ironic that Danny didn't take the Pramac ride he was offered for 2016...

Total votes: 131

There is no doubting Danny's talent, which he has proven from the very start of his GP career.

He simply needs a manager who he is prepared to listen to and almost obey without question. I believe that he has got rid of at least one, got rid of Roger Burnett and James Toseland from his life for some unexplained reason. I don't know how he is going to pick himself up from this if he has been unable to apply himself to the task of learning the art of Moto2, which is still a horrible nonsense class in my opinion anyway!

Total votes: 119

I don't know the present Danny Kent, but I did know a version when he was in the Aprilia Superteen series. That Danny was fast as hell, massively talented and hungry as hell for success. He would ride his nuts off just to win the new tires that were up for grabs - in order to be quicker in the next race. This desire drove him. He didn't win the series, James Folkard did, but I judged Danny to be by far the hungrier rider - so much so that I, via my  race budget paid for Danny to go to the then Puig academy. He was superb....then.  But then I remember a quote repeated to me from another ex Superteen rider, himself pretty quick, one C Stoner, and he said that were many talented riders out there but few that were REALLY hungry for success. Casey was, always, and proved it, that is until the day he wasn't then he packed it in. Maybe that is the X ingredient.

Total votes: 98