The European 125cc Motocross Championships will go down to the wire in the Netherlands this weekend, with a young Kiwi hero at the forefront, and an “old dog” too.
Waikato motocross ace Josiah Natzke is locked in a dogfight for the 2015 EMX125 title, with his own Red Bull KTM team-mate the only rider who stands between him and ultimate glory.
While fellow Red Bull KTM rider Jorge Prado, of Spain, leads the standings, Natzke is just one point behind and all will be decided at this weekend’s Dutch Grand Prix at Assen.
Racing for the Belgian-based Red Bull KTM Juniors motocross race team, and with massive support from KTM and Red Bull in New Zealand, the Hamilton 16-year-old finished sixth and third in his two EMX125 races at the previous round of the series, the Belgian Grand Prix, just over three weeks ago.
The statistics favour the Kiwi – he is the rider with the most wins in the series so far – and he is therefore perhaps the rider most likely to win in Assen this weekend
Natzke has secured several spectacular and memorable wins in the EMX125 championships this season – scoring victories in Spain, Germany, France and Italy.
Of the 14 races over the seven rounds thus far, Natzke has won five of them, compared to Prado’s three race wins.
But, even if everything turns to custard this weekend, Natzke still has plenty of reason to feel satisfied with his first full season of international racing, his achievements thus far perhaps already greater than anyone, himself included, could have expected.
“The season didn’t start off how I wanted to, with me struggling with the tracks and adapting and I was quite a few points down. But I began to dig myself out of the hole and establish my place in the championship, taking race wins and even an overall, which was always the goal,” he said.
Natzke is continuing a proud Kiwi tradition of previously unheralded New Zealand riders shining on the world motocross scene.
“New Zealand is quite well established in the motocross GP scene. I think Ben Townley (of Taupo) and Josh Coppins (of Motueka) really made a good name for Kiwis over here, so I’m trying to do the same,” said Natzke.
“I do feel a long way from home but this has to become my home as well, my home away from home. My sister told me ‘don’t let your heart come home before you do’, which is so true, because, if you let your heart come home, then that’s all you think about. It’s like I do want to go home, but I love it over here too.
“I enjoy each day and love the challenges. I do miss all my friends and family back home though. I really do come from the best country in the world. I’m always going to look forward to coming home though.”
Natzke was keen also to offer advice to fellow New Zealand racers who have aspirations to also succeed at this sport’s pinnacle.
“You really have to want it. You can say you want it, but, until you actually show that you want it, you’re not going to make it. It’s tough and I’ve been in a pretty good situation being on a factory team and it’s the best team out there.
“It’s tough and there are a lot of challenges, but if you learn to accept them make the most of every situation you will get through it.
“There’s no talk of what might be in store for me next year yet. I don’t think I would stay on a 125cc bike though. I’m just focussing on this year and I’ll do my best and I’ll let KTM decide my future.”
Natzke became the youngest ever rider to win a senior motocross title in New Zealand, at age 15, when he dominated the senior 125cc championships in 2014, before successfully defending his title, with support from the CMR Red Bull KTM team, in Pukekohe in March of this year, just a week before heading to Europe.
Also racing at Assen this weekend will be New Zealand’s two-time former 500cc world motocross vice-champion Darryll King.
Hamilton’s King will be attempting to win back the World Veterans’ Motocross Championship crown that he won for the first time in 2012.
King twice finished runner-up in the 500cc Motocross World Championships, in 1997 and again in 1998, both times beaten to the main prize by Belgian legend Joel Smets.
King also won the Australian Motocross Championships open class title three times, in 2001, 2003 and 2004.
Then, in 2012, King successfully defended his New Zealand MX2 (250cc) championship crown, a remarkable achievement for a man who was at that time aged 43, up against young men in their teens and twenties.
The winner of the Veterans’ World Cup in England in 2012, Yamaha stalwart King was unable to defend his title in 2013 and narrowly missed out on recapturing it when he finished first and fourth in his two races in Sweden last year, beaten to the title by Czech rider Martin Zerava by just four points.
Zerava (Suzuki) took the title by finishing 2-1 in the two races in Sweden, while Sweden’s three-time former veterans’ world champion Mats Nilsson took his Yamaha to finish 3-2 and settle for third place overall, just one point behind King.
Spaniard Francisco Garcia Vico only just missed out on the podium finishing fourth in Sweden, while another Swedish rider, Stefan Norstrom, settled for fifth overall.
King is now more determined to win than ever as he builds up for another crack at capturing the premier crown for racers over the age of 40 and he heads off-shore in a confident mood, even with the knowledge that both Zerava and Nilsson will be on the starting gate at Assen.
© Words and photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com
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