Waikato's Josiah Natzke may be 'the next big thing'
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The future could be a bright one for Waikato's Josiah Natzke.
The Hamilton man could be touted as "the next big thing" to come out of New Zealand motocross, emerging from the shadows of fellow Kiwi internationals such as Taranaki's Shayne King, Bay of Plenty's Ben Townley and Motueka's Josh Coppins.
King won the 500cc world title in 1996 and Townley won the MX2 title in 2004 – while Coppins was world championship runner-up on two occasions, in 2002 (250cc class) and 2005 (MX1).
Natzke first wrote his name in the Kiwi history books in 2014 when, at the tender age of just 15 years and 81 days, he become New Zealand's youngest ever senior motocross champion when he clinched the senior 125cc title for the first time.
He backed that up by successfully defending that title the following season and he then embarked on his first major overseas campaign, racing the European 125cc Motocross Championships (EMX125) for the KTM factory in 2015.
He stunned when he finished that season overall runner-up, behind his own KTM team-mate, Spain's Jorge Prado.
However, there was also a hint of disappointment for Natzke that year.
He had won more EMX125 races in the 2015 season than any other rider, his five race wins for the series eclipsing that of eventual champion Prado, who won four times, meaning the pair of them won nine of the 16 races in the championship.
In 2016 Natzke stepped up to race the EMX250 championships and, after a mixed bag of successes and set-backs, he settled for 13th overall at season's end.
The now 18-year-old is starting to make good headway in the EMX250 championships, shaking off a stuttering start to his 2017 campaign to finally break through and win the third round of nine in the series, the Latvian Grand Prix just over a week ago.
Natzke finished 1-2 in his two races, topping the day's podium.
There are still six more rounds of the 2017 series to come, anything is possible.
"I have no idea where I might finish in the championships now. I just want to win all the races and see where I end up, hopefully with a factory ride.
"I just need to win some more races and then see where it goes."
Natzke is two-time former New Zealand 125cc senior champion, in 2014 and 2015, and a junior national champion before that, and his racing in Europe in recent years has at times been glorious, but nothing could be quite as thrilling as the GP win he celebrated in Latvia last week.
Natzke set the 12th fastest time in Saturday's practice at the Latvia GP and he then came out swinging the following day to finish first and second in the two championship points races.
He won the GP overall and the New Zealand national anthem played out as the young Kiwi accepted the trophy for his first big win in Europe since his debut season there in the European 125cc Motocross Championships (EMX125) in 2015.
With his win now in Latvia, Natzke has rocketed from nowhere in the EMX250 standings to 11th overall.
Riding for a KTM satellite support team, this season had been developing as a massive test of character and resolve for Natzke, the teenager scoring points in just one of his four races before the Latvia GP – thanks to a 16th placing in one race at round two in the Netherlands in April – but now his confidence has been given a massive boost and he sees no reason why he can't push on and claw his way into the top five overall.
"I knew how fast I was but, honestly, I just struggled to get the bike working how I wanted it to. Then, boom, as soon as I was happy with the bike, I got results. I'm on the up now.
"The next round is at Ernee (in north-western France) on May 28. I like the French tracks, so I'm looking forward to it. It's certainly given me some confidence, but it's just reassurance for me that I could do it.
"I have no idea what I'm doing in the future yet. I'm just racing week by week. I want to race some MX2 races, but I'm not ready yet. I don't want to go into MX2 and suck straight away. I need to keep building off this win."