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15-year-old Moto3 rookie Can Öncü wins his very first race, becomes youngest GP winner

2018-11-19 10:12
Can Öncü Moto3 winner

Image: JAVIER SORIANO / AFP

Wildcard rider and 2018 Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup Champion Can Öncü became the youngest ever Grand Prix race winner after a simply sensational ride to P1 in wet conditions at the Gran Premio Motul de la Comunitat Valenciana.

The 15-year-old beat 2018 World Champion Jorge Martin (Del Conca Gresini Moto3) by over four seconds, with John McPhee (CIP – Green Power) completing the podium in the final Moto3 race of 2018.

Jostling for places

It was McPhee who got the initial launch from P3 on the grid but it was pole man Tony Arbolino (Marinelli Snipers Team) and P6 starter Marco Bezzecchi (Redox PruestelGP) who managed to brake later into Turn 1 to gran P1 and P2, with Öncü passing McPhee into Turn 2 after getting a good start from P4.

READ: Marc Marquez wins Malaysian MotoGP as Valentino Rossi crashes out of lead

There was drama straight away at Turn 4 though as Tatsuki Suzuki (SIC58 Squadra Corse) lost the front of his Honda machine, taking out the helpless Aron Canet (Estrella Galicia 0,0) and Lorenzo Dalla Porta (Leopard Racing) in the process.

The top four of Arbolino, Bezzecchi, Öncü and McPhee had an immediate gap to the chasing pack on the opening lap, but after a couple of laps, McPhee couldn’t quite keep the pace as Arbolino created a half second lead over Bezzecchi.

Then, chasing his compatriot, Bezzecchi crashed at the treacherous Turn 4 on Lap 4 – the Italian remounting to re-join the race, with second in the Championship slipping away from his grasp.

This left Arbolino with a two second lead out front, with wildcard Öncü giving chase – the Turkish rider lucky to stay on after a huge scare at Turn 6 though.

What a moment

The Italian’s rhythm was frightening as he looked like he was on rails around the Circuit Ricardo Tormo, edging out the gap to Öncu by a couple of tenths a lap, with McPhee falling into the clutches of the two Del Conca Gresini Moto3 bikes – Fabio Di Giannantonio and Martin, with the former now in a position to take P2 in the Championship with Bezzecchi crashing.

Then, a huge race-defining moment. Leader Arbolino crashed at Turn 4 with 12 laps remaining to hand the lead to 15-year-old Öncü, his lead? 6.8 seconds over Di Giannantonio, Martin and McPhee. Meanwhile, Bezzecchi suffered his second crash of the race at Turn 12, with teammate Jakub Kornfeil also crashing at the same corner.

With 10 laps to go, Öncü had stretched his lead to eight seconds and with eight to go, it remained at eight. Tensions were high on the Red Bull KTM Ajo pit wall as twin brother Deniz and Team Manager Aki Ajo kept telling Öncü to keep it calm.

Meanwhile, Di Giannantonio had a moment at Turn 2, which handed teammate and World Champion Martin P2.

History was inching ever closer and with five to go, Öncü’s lead was still eight seconds. The battle for the final podium spot was being won by McPhee as he got the better of Di Giannantonio, but all eyes were fixated on the leading number 61 KTM.

A huge moment

With three to go, the gap was 7.5 seconds and with two laps remaining, it was still north of seven seconds. Last lap time, the biggest lap of Öncü’s and it was almost disaster at Turn 6 – a huge moment for the second time on the exit, but he kept upright. Then? Jubilation.

Öncü became the youngest ever Grand Prix winner at 15 years and 115 days old, taking the record from Scott Redding, set at Donington Park in 2008.

What a debut and what a future as Öncü also became the first rider to win on their Grand Prix debut since Noboru Ueda won the 125 race at the Japanese GP in 1991, while he also became the first former Asia Talent Cup rider to win a Grand Prix – stunning.

Behind, Martin crossed the line in P2 to cap off an incredible year before he moves to Moto2™, with McPhee taking P3 on his last ride for CIP – Green Power, the first since his German GP podium.

P4 for Di Giannantonio ensures he claims second in the Championship, with Enea Bastianini (Leopard Racing) claiming a top five on his final Moto3 appearance – the Italian wrapping up fourth in the overall standings.

Jaume Masia (Bester Capital Dubai) got P6 – and rookie of the year - on home soil, with Niccolo Antonelli (SIC58 Squadra Corse), front row starter Nakarin Atiratphuvapat (Honda Team Asia), Marcos Ramirez (Bester Capital Dubai) and Celestino Vietti (SKY Racing Team VR46) rounding out the top ten.

Crashes were aplenty as the race became one of attrition. Alonso Lopez (Estrella Galicia 0,0), Albert Arenas (Angel Nieto Team Moto3), teammate Raul Fernandez, replacement rider Izam Ikmal (Petronas Sprinta Racing), Kaito Toba (Honda Team Asia), Darryn Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo) and Vicente Perez (Reale Avintia Academy 77) among the fallers.

Wow. What a way to end a stunning 2018 Moto3™ season. Can Öncü, remember the name – we’ll be seeing him full-time in the lightweight class in 2019 and what a season we’re in for.

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