Having made his nervous debut in the bLU cRU Oceania Junior Cup earlier this year, 11-year-old Valentino Knezovic, now relishes the opportunity to get back on track with some major goals set for the 2021 season.
The Year 6 student at Gladesville Primary School, NSW, was first introduced to motorcycles at the age of 1, when his two uncles purchased a Yamaha PW-50 with training wheels for him to ride.
Having spent his earlier years riding socially on family and friend’s farms, he eventually moved to flat track racing where he had success and later onto supermotard at Sydney Motorsport Park where he developed a love for road racing.
Late last year, Knezovic convinced his Father that he was ready for the Oceania Junior Cup and the mi-bike Motorcycle Insurance Australian Superbike Championship, presented by Motul.
“We were talking about doing road racing as I didn’t want to do speedway, and we had a deposit on a practice bike and I kept asking Dad can we do Oceania Junior Cup,” he said.
Fast forward a couple of months and the dream became a reality when he lined up in pit lane for the first round of the Oceania Junior Cup at Winton Motor Raceway earlier this year.
“At Winton I was really nervous but happy at the same time as it was a big thing,” he said.
“It’s a lot of responsibility on the shoulders in OJC as you have to be professional.
“I didn’t think it would be as scary as it was, but as soon as I rolled through the pitlane I got really nervous, and was thinking oh no, what is going to happen.
“Once I did a few laps I was ok, thinking this is good, and got use to the track and had a bit of fun.
“Once I got over the nerves, I was really happy with what I achieved at Winton as we were going to aim for top 15 and I got 11th, so this was like WOW for me.”
Throughout the weekend, Valentino managed to shave his lap times down through every practice session and race, taking 5 seconds off his lap times from the first session to the last race.
At Wakefield Park Raceway for the second round, Valentino was able to build confidence immediately and in practice session 2 he was the 6th fastest rider.
“I did really well at the free practice but then I had a crash and got a little nervous. I was on good pace, but I came in a bit hot at a corner and the front end went.
“I was nervous on turn two, I had to try fix it, but I couldn’t get my braking right.”
Knezovic would finish outside the top 10 in all three races at Wakefield, admitting afterwards that his nerves after the crash, and his entry into turn two had impacted his race pace and his results from the weekend.
“I’ll fix it next time we go there, as I know I had the speed and what I need to do,” he said.
At the start of the year Knezovic was aiming for a top 15 finish in the Championship but now after two rounds has set his sights higher. He currently sits in 15th place.
“I know I have the pace; I just really want to finish in the top 10 now, that would be a good goal to reach.”
Away from racing Knezovic is hard at work training as much as possible during NSW COVID-19 lockdown, riding his pushbike and has even taken to building his own mountain bike track with his uncle to stay in tip top shape.
But it is back in the OJC and ASBK paddock where Knezovic really wants to be.
“It is organised, and it makes you feel like you are a professional,” he said.
“When in the pits I have fun with my friends Marcus Hamod and Cameron Swain and we sit and watch the racing to learn.
“In the pits you have fun, but when it’s time for racing you get serious.
“I want to learn as much as possible and want to get really high up in OJC and maybe eventually end up in Asia Talent Cup and or the Supersport 300 and R3 Cup.”
While his heroes include MotoGP riders, the late Marco Simoncelli and multiple World Champion Valentino Rossi, it is also ASBK riders such as Ben Baker, Max Stauffer and Yannis Shaw that Knezovic takes inspiration from.
“They all have unique riding styles that you can learn from and put that together for a really fast lap.”
While the dream for Knezovic is to race in MotoGP against the likes of Alex Marquez or Luca Marini, he is just taking one step forward at a time.
Knezovic can’t wait to get back in the OJC paddock and is looking forward to his first ever race at Phillip Island, a circuit he regularly visits on his PlayStation MotoGP 21.
“If we could get to Philip Island and get back on the track that would be great as I haven’t been to race there before but have watched plenty of times.”
For now, Knezovic will continue training hard until the next round of the Oceania Junior Cup.
Keep up to date with the latest news on the mi-bike Motorcycle Insurance Australian Superbike Championship, presented by Motul via www.asbk.com.au and following ASBK on Facebook and Instagram. You can also join our ASBK mailing list at www.asbk.com.au
ASBK CHAMPIONSHIP CALENDAR
Round 7 & 8 – The Bend Motorsport Park, SA November 11 – 14* (Double Header Round) *Except SBK who will have a single round x3 races = 1x Race Saturday and 2x Sunday)
Round 9 – Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit, VIC December 3 – 5
Photos by ASBK/Optikal and Andrew Gosling