Red Bull Rookies: Can Öncü unstoppable in Race 1 at Assen
Turkish 14-year-old Can Öncü grabbed a dominant lights-to-flag win from Pole Position to extend his lead in the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup to 24 points. His twin brother Deniz led a five man KTM RC 250 R battle in hot pursuit but just lost a podium place coming out of the last chicane, passed by Xavi Artigas and Ryusei Yamanaka.
The almost ever cheerful Can Öncü pushed his unruly mop of curly hair aside, beamed his big grin and bathed in his second victory of the season. “Yes I am happy, it was a great race, I made the best start ever, it was amazing. On about lap three I made a small mistake and I was sure that the others were catching me, I kept hearing noise and I was sure that they were coming but I guess it was my own bike talking to me.”
“I wasn’t watching my board I was just riding but towards the end I looked and my father told me I had a two second lead so I knew I just had to control that. I am very happy for the win and very happy that my brother had a good race, I think that tomorrow he can do even better,” emphasised Can.
Spanish 15-year-old Artigas was just as happy with second, bettering the two fifth places he has already scored this season. He was in the midst of the chasing five but didn’t get ahead until it counted, on the run to the line. “I tried to pass them a few times but Yamanaka is very strong on the brakes. On the last lap I thought that something might happen at the last chicane so I slowed a bit and then went full speed through the last part and onto the straight, it worked.”
Yamanaka was on the podium twice last year but the 16-year-old Japanese had only managed fifth this season until today. “I am glad to be back on the podium after the races at Jerez and Mugello which were not good enough. It was a good race today but tomorrow I want to win. The bike is good, we will not change anything but I will push harder from the start, give it 100% in the opening laps so that I can go with Can.”
Quietest man back in the Rookies garage was Deniz Öncü having seen the podium stolen from him in the final ten metres. “With my injured finger I couldn’t brake like I would normally but I managed. I didn’t get a good start and from the first to last lap we were passing and re-passing, if I got passed I just passed straight back.”
“Coming into the last section on the final lap, Yamanaka passed me out of the slipstream but I got into the corner ahead of him. He and Artigas passed me coming out on the straight, I couldn’t do anything about that.”
Just a few metres further back, Filip Salač led Sean Kelly across the line for fifth and sixth after being part of that quintet fighting for second. “It was the hardest race of the season so far,” sweated the Czech 16-year-old. “It was hot and it was a big battle. I got a good start but then made a small mistake and I gave myself a lot of work to do. A lot of us are struggling with the front through the fast sections but I was also fighting it in the slow corner so I hope we can improve things for tomorrow so I can be on the podium.
Kelly, the 16-year-old American, bettered his two seventh places from 2017. “I’m happy with my best result in Rookies Cup but then not so happy because you know, you see the podium positions ahead of you and you just can’t get there. Still it was a step forward, I know where I am fast, I know where I am slow, I have all the information, it is up to me to make the improvement tomorrow,” asserted Kelly who again will set off from the front row after his best qualifying.
It is still 15-year-old Spaniard, Jerez winner Carlos Tatay who chases Can Öncü in the points after finishing eighth, struggling with bike setting. “I was talking it over with Santi (suspension engineer Santi Morralla) after qualifying and we decided to try a change for the race. It didn’t work and I was in trouble with the bike, I did what I could and I am satisfied that I made the maximum out of the situation and I hope we can improve the bike for tomorrow.”