Atiamuri’s Hadleigh Knight is back after a couple of successful seasons of racing motocross in Japan, but he’s not home just to rest and relax. After achieving top-10 results in the motocross nationals in Japan in 2017 and again in 2018, it hasn’t taken the Yamaha ace long to switch over to endurance racing mode and he has just scored two podium finishes on the New Zealand cross-country scene in as many weeks.

He took his 2019-model Yamaha YZ450F to finish runner-up to fellow Bay of Plenty man Ben Townley (Yamaha WR450F) at the fourth and final round of the New Zealand Cross-country Championships near Taumarunui a fortnight ago. Third overall that day was Whanganui’s rising star Seth Reardon (Yamaha YZ250FX), making it a Yamaha 1-2-3 for the event.

Knight then backed that up with another runner-up finish, this time behind Titirangi’s Callan May, at the first of three rounds of the popular Dirt Guide Cross-country Series near Tokoroa a week ago, leading home former national cross-country champion Paul Whibley. His finishing ahead of Manawatu’ man Whibley was remarkable in itself, with Yamaha hero Whibley also a two-time former cross-country champion in the United States.

“I’m pretty happy with my results, but obviously I’d prefer to win,” said the 22-year-old Knight. “Racing cross-country events has been a bit of a shock to the system after racing motocross – it’s different racing at such speeds through the bush – but I do plan on racing a few more cross-country and enduro events now that I’m back home for good. I will do all the rounds of the Dirt Guide Series now and hopefully, I can win that. It’s a series that’s close to home, so that suits me. As well as that series, I will race in the MX1 motocross class to represent the Taupo Motorcycle Club at the upcoming Battle of the Clubs (BOTC) Motocross.”

The BOTC, set for Taupo’s Digger McEwen Motorcycle Park on Saturday, June 29, is a fundraiser event to assist in New Zealand sending a three-rider team to the big annual Motocross of Nations, the “Olympic Games of Motocross” that will be held in The Netherlands in late September.

Atiamuri’s Hadleigh Knight racing towards a podium finish on his Yamaha YZ450F.

Words and Photo by Andy McGechan

Big news from KTM New Zealand and Australia – the group that brings the orange bikes into Australasia, Automotive Holdings Group (AHG), has sold the remaining 74% share of its motorcycle importation business back to parent company KTM. AHG have been exclusively importing and distributing KTM motorcycles in Australia and New Zealand since 1994, as well as brands Husqvarna Motorcycles and WP Suspension in more recent years.

KTM, the manufacturers based in Austria, purchased a 26% share of the AHG motorcycle importation business in 2017, now moving to full ownership in 2019 of both KTM Group New Zealand and KTM Group Australia. With over 11,000 motorcycle units sold yearly (KTM and Husqvarna), the NZ and Australian market is the third largest in the world for the brand, and with the changes taking effect from the 1st of July 2019, will become the third biggest subsidiary of KTM.

“What a journey it has been since our first AHG Dealer Conference in 1994 and there have been so many significant milestones along the way,” said Jeff Leisk, General Manager, KTM Group Australia and New Zealand, “I am extremely proud to have seen the KTM and Husqvarna Motorcycle brands go from strength to strength in both the Australian and New Zealand markets. We have built strong relationships with our dealers and our customers and this has been the key to our success. Becoming a factory owned subsidiary will increase the level of support that we can offer our dealer network, our staff and our customers, so I am excited about the next chapter.”

Hubert Trunkenpolz, Chief Marketing Officer, KTM said “We are absolutely delighted with the outcome and our full ownership of KTM Group Australia and KTM Group New Zealand. This transaction once again reinforces our commitment to the Australian and New Zealand markets. This is a very positive development for the KTM dealer network and the KTM customers in both countries.”

While the change of ownership is a massive development for both the company and the market, there will be no impact on KTM Group staff, or the dealer networks for KTM, Husqvarna, and WP Suspension. What it will mean though, is more flexibility for products, prices, and service – by essentially cutting out the middle-man between the dealers and the manufacturer. This should translate to less mark-up on products and parts, as well as stronger communication between the market and the home of the brand.

Jeff Leisk, General Manager, KTM Group Australia and New Zealand

Photo: KTM Press (Australia/New Zealand)

Armed with a brand new KTM bike, Auckland’s Callan May was determined he would lead from the beginning of this year’s edition of the three-round Dirt Guide Cross-country Series.

That’s exactly what the 27-year-old did last Saturday when a shotgun blast signalled the start to the two-hour senior race, in forestry at Ohakuri, about halfway between Tokoroa and Taupo.

May took his new 2019-model KTM 350EXC-F to exit turn one with three or four other fast starters for company, but the Titirangi man was on his own and out front just five minutes after that and he “never looked back from there”.

“The conditions were difficult (after heavy rain had drenched the forest), but it was not impossible,” said May, “I have only raced about four times since last December and all of those rides happening in just the last few weeks. Also, I’m on a new bike now, so I didn’t really know what to expect. But I’m loving the new KTM 350EXC-F. It’s a stock standard bike and giving me a fresh outlook on my racing. It is very easy to ride and go fast on it. I had built up such a good lead (over the pursuing riders) that, when I entered the timing zone with just a couple of minutes left before the two hours had elapsed, I decided to just sit there and wait for the clock to tick over the two hours. I couldn’t see anybody in sight behind me.”

May was eventually credited with a 26-second win over runner-up rider Hadleigh Knight, of Atiamuri, with Manawatu’s Paul Whibley, also a former Dirt Guide champion, claiming third overall, finishing a further minute behind.

“My fitness was pretty good, despite me having not raced much lately,” May confessed afterwards. “I have been mountain-biking a lot though.”

The popular three-round Dirt Guide Series has wide appeal, attracting a diverse range of talents, but it also entices the cream of New Zealand’s dirt biking community to turn up in large numbers.

This is something that should surprise nobody because it is precisely events such as this that have created, inspired and nurtured Kiwi cross-country racing talent over the years before setting some of our brightest young talent on pathways to top-level international competition.

First equal in the Dirt Guide Series in 2013, May is one of several Dirt Guide champions from the past who have progressed to race overseas, each of them able to trace their careers back to popular Kiwi dirt bike competitions such as this one.

Other former Dirt Guide race winners who have gone on to greater things overseas include individuals such as Whibley, Coatesville’s Sam Greenslade and Howick’s Liam Draper.

Draper is currently racing for a KTM team in the United States and waving the Kiwi flag high at the Grand National cross-country Championships there.

Meanwhile, the winner of the 90-minute junior race on Saturday was Taupo’s Wil Yeoman, with Oparau’s Hunter Scott and Rotorua’s Hunter Steens completing the podium.

Round two of the series is set for the same course at Ohakuri, in just three weeks time, on June 22, and the third and final round of the series on August 24, also at the popular Ohakuri venue.

Saturday’s main race winner May is supported by O’Neal, Oakley, Michelin, TCX Boots, Renthal, Kiwi Rider magazine, BikesportNZ.com, Mac Media, Arai, City Electrix and Motomuck.

The Dirt Guide Series is sponsored by Michelin, Bel Ray, Renthal, O’Neal, DRC, Zeta, Kiwi Rider magazine, Oakley, TCX boots, Yoshimura and Forest Trail Events.

Titirangi’s Callan May (KTM 350EXC-F), with the Dirt Guide Series round one win in the bag for 2019.

Words by Andy McGechan

 

This season’s New Zealand Enduro Championships will nudge past the halfway stage this weekend, with the fourth round of seven set for rugged terrain in the Wairarapa.

This 2019 Yamaha and Mitas Tyres-sponsored series has featured three different winners so far, so it’s virtually impossible to tell yet which individual might deserve the tag of outright title favourite.

However, the fog of uncertainty may lift a little this Sunday afternoon (June 9).

Round four on Sunday takes riders to remote Ruakokoputuna Road, south of Martinborough, and results there could be pivotal in deciding the outcome of the 2019 championship.

Points from only six of the seven rounds are to be counted, with riders to discard their one worst result, so the race for the outright win, and the various class titles too, could remain wide open right until the final showdown in July.

“The course is steep farmland, but nothing too extreme,” said Motorcycling New Zealand (MNZ) enduro commissioner Justin Stevenson. “It is very similar to tracks we have used in the past and one of my favourites,” he said. “It has been a bit wet there lately, so sharp, fresh tyres might well be recommended.”

Helensville’s Tom Buxton won round one near Whangamata in March, Cambridge rider Dylan Yearbury clinched the win at round two near Porirua in April and Thames rider Chris Birch topped the podium at round three near Tokoroa two weeks later.

And nipping at their heels throughout have been a gaggle of very fast individuals, any of whom are capable and well-positioned to move up and take the series lead – riders such as Whanganui’s Seth Reardon, Whangamata’s Jason Davis, Wainuiomata’s Jake Whitaker, Tokoroa’s Jake Wightman or Cambridge’s Beau Taylor.

Even Stratford’s Josh Hunger, Rotorua’s Bradley Lauder, Cambridge’s Ashton Grey and Christchurch’s Josh Dando, who also feature among the leading dozen or so riders, could possibly count themselves outside chances of winning the series overall, while entries have come in for Sunday’s event from Tauranga’s former motocross world champion Ben Townley and Manawatu’s Paul Whibley, a two-time former cross-country champion in the United States.

It’s highly unlikely that any of the event winners so far will go onto be crowned national champion this year, with Buxton and Yearbury currently overseas and Birch also committed off-shore, leaving a vacuum that will almost certainly be filled by the likes of Reardon, Davis, Whitaker, Wightman or Taylor.

This weekend’s event at Martinborough and the round five event that follows at Masterton on June 29 could be pivotal in the championship chase, which will wrap up with a double-header, rounds six and seven, on consecutive days in Hokitika in July.

The 2019 Yamaha NZ Enduro Championships are supported by Mitas tyres, Macaulay Metals, Best Build Construction, Silver-bullet, Kiwi Rider magazine, Dirt Rider Downunder magazine and Moto Events NZ.

 

2019 Yamaha NZ Enduro Champs calendar:

Round 1 – Saturday, March 16 – Thames
Round 2 – Saturday, April 6 – Kapiti
Round 3 – Saturday, April 20 – South Waikato
Round 4 – Sunday, June 9 – Martinborough
Round 5 – Saturday, June 29 – Bideford, Masterton
Round 6 – Friday, July 19 – Hokitika, Westland
Round 7 – Saturday, July 20 – Hokitika, Westland

Words and Photo by Andy McGechan

For 2020 the all-new YZ450F comes with less weight, more power, and sharper handling, making it the most competitive 450cc model that Yamaha has ever produced.

In order to create a motocross bike that can race and win at every level against the toughest opposition, Yamaha’s engineers have analysed every single component and made a wide range of major and minor improvements wherever possible.

 

As a result of this intensive part-by-part analysis the entire motorcycle has been subject to an extensive redesign, and the team of engineers has succeeded in achieving significant weight savings together with power gains and enhanced handling performance for the 2020 YZ450F.

 

More powerful and compact new 450cc engine

Already renowned for its enormous power output, the YZ450F engine has been thoroughly redesigned for 2020 to deliver stronger and more controllable performance. The new engine is significantly more compact and lighter, and the revised configuration enhances the bike’s mass centralized design to make it one of the easiest-handling open class motocross machines.

Featuring a high compression reverse cylinder head as well as a durable forged piston and aggressive cam profiles, the compact new 450cc engine is designed to deliver the best balance of race-winning performance together with ultimate controllability.

All-new rearward-slanted cylinder

One of the key engine improvements for 2020 is the new rearward-slanted cylinder that is both lighter and more compact. Because this innovative design is positioned closer to the bike’s mid-section it helps to achieve an idealized mass centralization, and this contributes enormously towards the YZ450F’s dynamic handling characteristics. The new rearward-slanting cylinder is equipped with a high compression bridge-box design piston, and together with the high-efficiency reverse cylinder head with its long and straight inlet, this industry-leading design produces a fine balance of 450-class power combined with exceptional controllability.

YZ250F: Tune, Race, Win

Following its complete redesign for 2019, the YZ250F is proving to be one of the most competitive 250cc 4-strokes, with Dylan Ferrandis winning the AMA Supercross West Championship. In the 2019 MX2 World Championship Yamaha YZ250F riders Jago Geerts and Ben Watson are amongst the main contenders, and at local and national level the YZ250F continues to impress.

Sporting an electric start, and a 250cc, liquid-cooled, four-stroke engine housed in an aluminum bilateral beam frame, as well as being suspended by industry leading KYB spring type forks and KYB rear shock, the 2020 YZ250F provides the ultimate balance of race-winning performance, rideability and comfort. It also continues to feature Yamaha’s advanced racing technology including dual-mode switchable engine mapping and wireless connectivity for the Yamaha Power Tuner App.

Other models in the 2020 Off Road range

Yamaha’s 2020 range is designed to give everybody the chance to enjoy the thrill of leisure riding and off-road racing, whatever their age or experience level.

In addition to the YZ65, YZ85 and YZ125 youth MX bikes and the YZ250F, YZ450F and YZ250 adult race bikes, the 2020 Off Road range also includes the PW and TTR kids’ bikes. Aimed at younger riders from 4 years upwards, the PW and TTR models are the ideal way to get into two wheels, and many of today’s champions started with one of these user-friendly models.

Words and Photos: Yamaha Media Europe