WAIKATO TEEN KNOCKING ON DOOR OF WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP
Josiah Natzke is on the verge of becoming the latest in a long line of Kiwis to have cracked the big time in world motocross.
Following in the wheel-tracks of fellow New Zealanders such as Darryll and Shayne King, Daryl Atkins, Josh Coppins and Ben Townley — and with massive support from the Red Bull KTM Juniors race team in Europe — 16-year-old Natzke has been turning heads since he stepped off the plane in Belgium in March.
The Waikato youth has quickly adapted to the motocross hotbed of Europe.
He has secured spectacular and memorable victories in the European 125cc Motocross (EMX125) Championship in Spain, Germany, France and Italy.
He is second in the championship, just 10 points behind French Yamaha rider Maxime Renaux and four points ahead of his 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.
Natzke is no stranger to this prestigious event, having raced a 65cc KTM at the Junior World Motocross Championships as a nine-year-old when it was staged in Taupo in 2009. He also raced a 125cc KTM when the event was held at Lierneux in Belgium last year.
He finished seventh and 10th in his two 125cc outings to end seventh but has improved remarkably over the past 12 months and rates among the favourites to win outright this time.
It has been an astounding rise up the ladder for the young Kiwi.
“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, languages and 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. 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, 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.
He was the youngest rider to win the crown, aged 15, when he dominated the class in 2014, and defended his title in March, a week before he headed to Europe.