Waikato’s Josiah Natzke has been kicking down doors in Europe this season and this weekend he hopes he can at least slam one of them firmly shut behind him.
With massive support from the Red Bull KTM Juniors race team, the 16-year-old Hamilton youth (pictured above as a 9-year-old in 2008 and, below, as he is now) has been turning heads since the day he stepped off the plane in Belgium in March, quickly adapting to the motocross hotbed of Europe and rapidly proving himself to be one of the sport’s rising young firebrands.
He has already secured several spectacular and memorable wins in the European 125cc Motocross (EMX125) Championships this season – scoring victories in Spain, Germany, France and Italy – and he is currently second in the championship standings, just 10 points behind French Yamaha rider Maxime Renaux and four points ahead of his own Red Bull KTM Juniors team-mate Jorge Prado, of Spain.
There are still two rounds to go in the EMX125 competition, but it takes a short break as the focus switches to the stand-alone Junior World Motocross Championships, set for the circuit of El Molar in Madrid, Spain, this weekend (July 18-19).
Natzke is no stranger to this prestigious event, having raced a 65cc KTM at the Junior World Motocross Championships for the first time, as a nine-year-old, when it was staged in Taupo, New Zealand, in 2009. He also raced a 125cc KTM when the annual event was held at Lierneux, near Bastogne, in Belgium last year.
He finished seventh and 10th in his two 125cc outings to end up seventh overall in Belgium in 2014, but he has improved remarkably over the past 12 months and now rates among the favourites to win outright in Spain this time around.
It has been an astounding rise up the ladder for the young Kiwi over the past few years.
“To be honest, (when I was just nine years old and racing at Taupo) I didn’t know where I would be now. But it’s pretty cool to be where I am and to be able to be fighting for a world championship,” said Natzke.
“I do remember (American factory rider) Eli Tomac racing in New Zealand in 2009. He became junior world champion that year and he’s gone on to achieve a lot, so it would be nice to do the same as him.”
It is an adventure for Natzke to be racing among the best motocross riders in the world, as well as learning to cope with strange food, the languages and the customs.
“I’m just pumped to be here,” he said. “It’s been a tough journey but a fun journey. It was tough at first but I’ve begun to love it and make the most of it.
“It can’t be done alone though. I have worked very hard, but so has everyone around me like (New Zealand former world champion) Ben Townley and my parents. And people like Red Bull, KTM and CNC Pro Cut have believed in me.
“The lifestyle seems quite normal now though. Food is all good and I’m picking up some of the language, so it’s all going good for me.”
After this weekend, the focus will switch back to the EMX125 championship, with the seventh round of eight at Lommel, in Belgium, on August 2, before it wraps up at Assen, in The Netherlands, on August 30.
Natzke is a two-time senior New Zealand 125cc champion, having become the youngest ever rider to win the crown, aged just 15, when he dominated the class in 2014, before successfully defending his title, with support from the CMR Red Bull KTM team, in March of this year, just a week before he headed to Europe.
He follows hard in the wheel-tracks of such Kiwi motocross greats as Taranaki brothers Shayne, Darryll and Damien King, Tokoroa’s Daryl Atkins, Motueka’s Josh Coppins and Taupo’s Ben Townley.
These riders put New Zealand on the international motocross map in the 1990s, with the last of them retiring from international competition a couple of seasons ago. Natzke is part of the new brood of Kiwi talent hoping to keep the silver fern flying high internationally and this weekend could be one of those moments.
© Words and photos by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com
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