Can and Deniz Öncü: The winning twins

Having the same last name on the screen of their respective KTM RC 250 Rs is the only giveaway of this duo being twins. Brothers Can and Deniz look nothing alike, making it obvious they are not identical twins – they’re fraternal twins.

Deniz is short in stature, barely makes the scales tip to forty kilos, and if you didn’t know any better you’d say he’s quite a bit younger than his brother Can. But since they’re twins, they couldn’t be too far apart age wise; they both celebrated their fifteenth birthday at the end of July. Can is easy to pick out of a crowd, or to distinguish from his brother, obviously. Can is quite a bit taller than Deniz and unlike his ‘little brother’ Can has a lot of bushy hair to stuff into his crash helmet.

Deniz & Can Öncü (TUR) Assen (NED) 2018 © Guus van Goethem

Apart from their physical differences, they share one unmistakable resemblance; they have a feisty right wrist. Can and Deniz are taking the GP paddock by storm, showing impressive talent and even more potential by shaking up the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup – the Grand Prix’ talent class. Both Turks are currently racing their second season in the class, taking their fellow rookies hostage with their unmistakable potential for future greatness.

Recently Can underlined his prowess by taking the Rookies championship title prematurely at the Misano GP round. And Deniz isn’t out for the count yet, either, with a chance to finish second in the championship during the final round at Aragon (September 21-23). This season Can looks to be the man to beat of the two, but make no mistake; Deniz took the Asia Talent Cup – an Asian counterpart of the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup – title last year, so he’s no slouch.

Can Öncü (TUR) Assen (NED) 2018 © Guus van Goethem

On the prowl
Despite their obvious talent, the Turkish brothers have remained off the radar of most motorcycle racing fans, but you can be sure that’s all about to change. The duo is set to move into the Moto3 World Championship rather sooner than later. FIM even changed its regulations to allow Can to move into Moto3 next year. The 2018 Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup champ would otherwise not be eligible to enter the GP championship, as he’ll only be fifteen when next season kicks off in March. The FIM added an exemption to allow the Rookies Cup champion to be allowed a starting license at fifteen years old, as they have also allowed the Moto3 Junior World Championship winner to progress a year ahead of his peers. The twins from Alanya have a long road ahead of them, but they’re both on the prowl to reel in a successful career in motorsports, and so far things are going really well for the duo.

MotoGPTM is still quite far away for the youngsters, but in working towards that goal the two Turks will always have the experience of Kenan Sofuoglu to build on. As their mentor, Sofuoglu – a five-time World Supersport 600 champion – is working tirelessly to help the Öncü brothers to achieve success. Not just personal success, either. Sofuoglu is the poster boy of Turkish motorcycle racing culture and, as such, has been going above and beyond to outline Turkey as a racing nation. To figure out where the Öncü twins fit into this masterplan, we sat down with Can and Deniz to get to know them. Always good to pick the brain of young and talented riders like them, who have their minds firmly set on making it into MotoGPTM in a couple of seasons time.

MotoGP Assen MotoGP Assen
Deniz Öncü (TUR) Assen (NED) 2018 © Jarno van Osch/Shot Up Productions

How did you end up in motorsports?
Can: “We used to go to our father’s office every now and then, and we would pass a place along the way that had two minibikes out in front. We would dream of riding those two bikes together. When we were four years old, we got our first bikes. It was unbelievable! Our father had bought them for us. In the beginning we only rode the bikes for fun, finishing the day off with a barbecue. At some point a friend of ours suggested we should enter a race. Deniz couldn’t partake because he was injured at the time, but I could. I won the race first time out, lapping the number two twice.”
Deniz: “Not a word of a lie. He really did win it by a huge margin.”

Did your father race at some point?
Deniz: “No, he never did. Let’s put it this way; he was the fastest superbike rider in the streets … but actual racing – no, he did not.”

Do a lot of kids ride in Turkey?
Deniz: “They do. Not like in Spain, though. The problem is they don’t train enough to really master racing. We do. We get up at six in the morning every single day to work out. The other kids simply don’t. They get up at around eight or nine, then get breakfast and head to school. Then when they get back from school, they play videogames. If they are into sports, they’ll mostly do that during the weekends. When that’s your approach, you’re never going to make the improvements you need.”

What road did you follow before you came to the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup?
Can: “We started out doing motocross after which we switched to supermoto. Four years ago, we made the switch to road racing in the Turkish NSF100 Cup and R3 Cup. From there we made it into the Asia Talent Cup and since last year we’ve been racing in the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup as well.”

What made you switch to road racing over staying in motocross or supermoto?
Can: “Two reasons, actually. The first being speed. The higher the speed, the bigger the rush. And safety was a factor, too. If you crash in motocross, you’re always bound to break something. In road racing that isn’t as big of a concern. We wear a lot of protection and going off usually means you literally slide off, usually quite innocently. Highsiders, however; that’s a different story.”

So you don’t do motocross anymore because of the risk of getting injured?
Deniz: “Yes, it’s just too dangerous. We race almost every two to three weeks, and if you were to break something on a motocross bike, you’re out for a while. That would cost you so many points for the championship and sitting at home doesn’t gain you any more experience. We do on occasion ride supermoto in the winter. Purely to work on drifting the bike and improving our balance on the bike. In the summer we focus on working out in the gym, running, and cycling.”

Can & Deniz Öncü (TUR) KTM RC 250 R Assen (NED) 2018 © Jarno van Osch/Shot Up Productions

Does Turkey offer you enough circuits to train at?
Can: “Unfortunately it doesn’t and that’s a big problem. Istanbul Park is the only track in Turkey that could host a GP and we aren’t even allowed to race there because it’s constantly rented out to car drivers. Kenan Sofuoglu does have a small track we train at sometimes.”

Speaking of Kenan; isn’t he the man that persuaded you to switch to road racing?
Can: “That’s right. About four years ago he pushed us into road racing. Mostly because of safety concerns, but it turned out to be a good choice to make the switch.”
Deniz: “Kenan still coaches us. We can call him whenever we have a problem, any problem. He is a good friend of ours and he always sends us his best wishes before a race. And – as a five-time world champion – we can learn so much from him. He really is a hero of ours, like he is to many Turks.”

There’s also a young Turk in the World Superbike paddock, Toprak Razgatlioğlu. Are there any others we should keep an eye out for?
Can: “Not at this time. No-one is training hard enough to make it big in Turkey. Of course I hope more guys can make it to the world championship level, but for the time being that just isn’t the case.”

It seems working hard is the key to success for you, right? It must be quite hard to keep that up for young guys like yourselves.
Can: “Luckily we have our father to support us. He’s constantly pushing us to be as good as we can be. Even when we don’t want to, hahaha. He makes us work to be at one hundred percent all of the time.”

Can you still rival each other on track even though you’re twins?
Deniz: “Of course we can. He might be my brother, but I’ll always try to beat him. That goes both ways. And on track we also help each other when we can. If my lap times are lacking, Can gives me pointers, and I will help him whenever he needs it.”
Can: “I really want to win, but if that is not within reach and Deniz beats me, I can still be happy in the end. It also motivates me to be better next time out, so I can beat him.”
Deniz: “And when he does, I’ll be ready to beat Can the next time. It’s a great motivation for both of us, allowing us to grow and work our way up to a higher level.”

You both have completely different physiques; what sort of effect does that have on the bike?
Deniz: “Everyone always thinks I’m at an advantage because of my weight and length, but it’s the exact opposite, actually. My brother weighs about sixty kilos, the bike weighs eighty kilos. Because of that, he doesn’t have to add weight to the bike in order to make the rider plus bike minimum weight. I have to stick on twenty kilos of ballast somewhere because I only weigh forty kilos. That is never an advantage, because where are you going to put all that weight? Plus, if you’re a bit heavier, it allows you to work the bike more. Extra weight usually adds a bit of extra muscle too.”

MotoGP Assen MotoGP Assen
Deniz Öncü (TUR) KTM RC 250 R Assen (NED) 2018 © Jarno van Osch/Shot Up Productions

It’s pretty obvious you guys like motorsports, but what else do you enjoy?
Can: “We really like BMX riding. Not too competitively though, because we don’t want to crash. It’s mostly for training and a bit of fun. We don’t enter in races either. We also swim a lot, because it’s both training as well as a way to relax. Personally, I’m not too much into running, but my brother thinks it’s the greatest thing in the world. I think he likes it best because he can really ‘kill’ me at running, but then I’m faster on a bicycle. That’s why I like it.”

It seems you really do everything together.
Can: “We do. We even share a bedroom. We’re together 24 hours a day.”

Will that change in five years when you might both have girlfriends?
Deniz: “Don’t know, but for now we’re not thinking about girlfriends. It’s just bikes. That’s what our entire world is about.”

You’re both riding the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup and the Moto3 Junior World Championship this season. In both classes you’re riding KTM; is there a big difference between the bikes?
Can: “The Red Bull KTM Ajo bike is completely different from the Rookies bike. That KTM allows you to change and adjust pretty much everything. That makes the bike way easier to ride than the KTM we run in the Rookies Cup. But then you can also get the adjustments wrong, because there’s just so much you can change. Luckily, we have a very good team behind us that always has plenty of data at hand to sort things out. We learn to set up the bike better each time out, which will be a big advantage when we progress in our careers.”

Wouldn’t that be the ultimate dream end goal; the two of you as the riders for the KTM factory racing team in MotoGPTM?
Deniz: “That would absolutely be great, but we don’t get to hung up on dreams like that. We set small and achievable goals; that way we can be proud of our achievements much quicker. When you set a goal you probably won’t be able to achieve, it can only go badly. So for now our entire focus is on the next step; and that’s Moto3.”
Can: “But yes, it would be a dream to form a single MotoGPTM team as twins. That is something we would both really like.”

Deniz & Can Öncü (TUR) Assen (NED) 2018 © Guus van Goethem

Photos: Jarno van Osch/Shot Up Productions | Guus van Goethem