2017 has been a phenomenal year for racing, and not just in the top classes. The Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup returned for its eleventh season, and it proved to be a good one.
Crowds witnessed the older riders such as Aleix Viu and Omar Bonoli return for a third year with every intention of taking the crown, with both Rory Skinner and Viu taking to the top step in Jerez. However, they were joined by numerous new riders who each triumphed the Selection Event last October, which made it clear that the two experienced riders wouldn’t be the only ones in the title race, with Masaki and Can Öncü soon picking up the pace (and the trophies) within the first opening rounds of the season.
Jerez saw Skinner take the top step of Race 1 as the battle with pole-man Ai Ogura was red-flagged during the last few laps of the race. However it was the title favourite Aleix Viu who stole the win in Race 2, as Skinner suffered a crash in the opening laps. The second race in Jerez also brought light onto Turkish newbie Can Öncü, as this third place was the first podium of many as Can went on to dominate the Dutch podium during races 3 and 4 in Assen almost 2 months after the opening round. Öncü rode practically unchallenged in both Dutch races as the excitement of relentless battles arose in the fights for the final podium places.
Sachsenring saw the dominance yet again of the Öncü name, however in Race 1 it was brother Deniz that took to the top step in the wet as Can conquered Race 2 in the dry. Yet for Deniz it was his win in Brno that a made a mark for him, as it demonstrated that hard work pays off as the Czech round proved Deniz to be strong in the dry, as well as the wet:
“I think this season went very well for me because I have learned many things. In the beginning it was not easy for me because I have 20kg weight in my bike, I needed to understand how to ride with this but after I was faster and faster. My favourite race was Race 2 in Brno because I like the circuit and won the race.”
The final few rounds of the season saw significantly positive performances from Japanese rider Kazuki Masaki on top of his already considerably strong year, as the 17-year-old snatched four of the final 5 podiums, achieving one-twos left and right. Only in the final race at Aragon did Masaki fail to make the points as he finished 21st, but luckily for Masaki the crown had already been declared his during the previous race while title rival Viu finished third, as opposed to Masaki’s victory.
Despite missing out on the title by just 11 points, Aleix Viu proved once again capable of battling at the front. Achieving 7 podiums in 2017, Viu was able to add onto his list of accomplishments from previous seasons. A notable feat while battling for victory was his skill in overtaking at Misano in the first corners of the circuit, however his improvement over the years left a bittersweet favourite race of 2017:
“This season was good. In all of the circuits I was fast and I can battle for the win. In some races I don’t have luck and in the end, I finish second. But was a good year. My favourite was Race 2 in Aragon because it was my last race and last win in the championship.”
The concluding race of the calendar saw a mashup of rider results compared to the ‘norm’ witnessed for the majority of the season, with Masaki finishing well out of the points, Can retiring from the race, and rookie-to-the-Rookies Adrian Carrasco landing his first podium. Eyes also fell to Italian Omar Bonoli as the third-year also achieved his first podium. Omar has shown consistent improvement throughout his Rookies Cup career and, from a personal perspective, is no surprise to have been able to experience the full 3 years, and finally was able to achieve what he deserved:
“From the previous year, this year I have improved much in terms of results both physically and mentally. My favourite race was without a doubt that of Aragon because I felt emotions I have not felt for so long.”
Of course, the Rookies Cup isn’t all about podiums and wins for a lot of riders, it’s also about the development of skill and gaining experience on the world stage. For the likes of Sean Dylan Kelly, it was time to step up their game as they headed into their second season. For Sean, his 2017 experience proved to be as important as his first year, if not more so:
“Overall my 2017 season was very positive. An extremely difficult one for me but that’s what taught me so much. Mentally I’ve made a big change this year and that’s important for the rest of my racing career. Going into my second year I obviously expected a step up from my first. It didn’t go exactly as I would have wished as I did have some unfortunate crashes and bad luck in general, missing out on many races, but looking at the points and comparing I made over 30 points more than last year.”
As is the occurrence with any championship both big and small, the competitiveness and skills are forever improving with each season. Ex Rookie’s rider and current Moto3 rider Patrik Pulkkinen followed this year’s season, and was impressed by the progression of the series:
“I think that the Rookies did very well this year. I saw that they were improving all the time and also the new Rookies were in really good level and they gave a good fight between the ‘old’ Rookie riders. It was really surprising that the new riders did so well and with one winning the championship and another was third. I can see that the championship level is going higher all the time and it looks like the riders are closer than ever.”
Pulkkinen competed in the 2015 and 2016 seasons of Rookies Cup and was the predecessor of Peetu Paavilainen, who competed this year and is set to line up on the 2018 grid of the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup. However, it was not an easy start for this Finnish rider as a crash during the off-season lead to Peetu missing the first round in Jerez. Despite this he still received praise for his season from Patrik:
“I think that Paavilainen did really well this season. He had a tough year with injuries and still had a good year. He deserved a second year in Rookies Cup so I hope that next year he has better luck and will also learn much more.”
With this year’s Rookies commenting on their personal seasons, they also shared some tips for future Rookies that we will leave you with:
Deniz Öncü: two-time race winner 2017 – “My advice is if they want to make good results in Rookies Cup then they need to work really hard, it is not easy.”
Sean Dylan Kelly: regular top 10 competitor – “Any rider going into the Red Bull Rookies Cup is a fast one and knows how to race. The only advice I can give is to really use the opportunity wisely and enjoy it!”
Omar Bonoli: podium-placer Aragon 2017 – “My advice for the new riders in 2018 is to give the best they can from the first race and never give up until the end.”
Aleix Viu: runner up 2017 – “Go race by race and try to give the best in all of the races.”
So there we have it, the Rookies Cup 2017 is wrapped up! Next stop on the way to the 2018 season will be the Selection Event in the next coming month. Stay tuned for updates!
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Sean Dylan Kelly: