In a dream debut in the Moto3 World Championship, Can Öncü made history as the youngest rider to win a Grand Prix, aged just 15 years and 115 days.
The Red Bull KTM Ajo Junior Academy talent is also the first Turkish rider to win a GP race. After his excellent Valencia Grand Prix, the winner of the 2018 Red Bull Rookies Cup talks about the race and what made the result possible:
What did it mean for you to debut in the World Championship?
“It’s definitely a great feeling. It is a dream come true, both for me and for my team. Winning on our first Grand Prix appearance as a wildcard is amazing. In addition, we have broken a record, so I am doubly happy. I want to thank my team, Red Bull KTM Ajo, Dorna and all those who have supported me.”
What were your expectations before starting the Grand Prix?
“My goal was to finish in the Top 5, as I wanted to beat the top riders in the class before they made the move up to Moto2. My team, Red Bull KTM Ajo, gave me the opportunity to take part in the last Grand Prix of the season and, of course, I wanted to get the best possible result. When the two riders leading the race went down, I was a little scared, but finally I won the race and I’m very happy.”
What were the keys to making this result possible?
“I’ve worked with the same team of people since the season started, so now, after so many months together, we know each other very well and they are like a second family to me. I trust them a lot because, in addition, we have one of the best bikes. I learned a lot during my time in the Red Bull Rookies Cup, the FIM CEV and also in the Asia Talent Cup, so at Valencia I simply put all this knowledge into practice.”
Valencia was a race that will go down in the MotoGP history books. Talk us through it.
“I made a great start; In fact, I think it was the best start I’ve ever had, since that’s usually something that I find hard. I took off from fourth position and, on the second corner, I managed to gain a position and take third. During the opening laps I tried to follow the leading riders, but at Turn 6 I almost crashed so I decided to ease off a little; Finishing third would have been a great result for a wildcard.
“Shortly after, I saw the two riders ahead of me crash out. At first I was a little worried because when a rider crashes it is a warning that you should be more careful. Unexpectedly, I was left alone at the front. When I saw that I was ahead of the chasing group by more than five seconds, I decided that I had to go for the victory.
“However, it seemed as if the race was never going to end, since there were still sixteen laps to go and I had to set the pace myself. Normally in the FIM CEV the races last just sixteen laps, so for me it was like starting a second race. Also, at Turn 6 on the last lap, I thought I was going to crash. I was able to stay on the bike and win the race.
What did you feel when you crossed the finish line and the entire Red Bull KTM Ajo team were on the wall to celebrate?
“It was just a perfect moment, because everyone was very happy and I felt delighted. It really was an incredible experience for the whole team.”
In addition to being the youngest rider to win a Grand Prix, you are the first Turkish rider to do so as well. What does this mean for you and your country?
“Kenan Sofuoglu called to congratulate me, which I was very excited about. Above all, it made me very happy to see all my team smile. In Turkey all of the TV channels broadcasted the Valencia race, so everyone saw what we did on Sunday. I want to thank all of them, and also all those who congratulated me.”
It was a difficult weekend due to the wet conditions. Are you good at riding in the wet, or was it a tough Grand Prix for you?
“At the beginning of the weekend I didn’t have a good pace, but even so, I managed to stay close to the Top 10 in every practice session. I felt confident; Maybe I didn’t have the best pace, but I was comfortable with the pace that we were able to set in qualifying. On Sunday, the warmup didn’t go quite as we had hoped, but I was motivated, so I said ‘I’m going to go for the podium.’”
You have debuted in the World Championship in the best way possible. What will be the goal from hereon in?
“Now we need to learn more, since everyone has seen what we are capable of, so we need to work harder and train more. For now, our next objective will be to be competitive at the final FIM CEV event in Valencia next Sunday.”