Kiwi freestyle motorcross legend Levi Sherwood has bagged the perfect vehicle for transporting his motorbikes to performances around the country – a 2020 Toyota Hiace.

As the new Hiace Ambassador, Levi will be showcasing his brand spanking new Hiace – wrapped in striking graphics designed by Levi himself – at freestyle motorcross (FMX) shows throughout the country following his retirement from FMX competitions last November.

Levi’s new ride

“I’m very excited to be partnering with Toyota with the release of their new Hiace van. The new Hiace is a great fit for me and my bike, so I’m looking forward to spending more time in the van as I travel around New Zealand riding,” Levi said.

Levi is no stranger to Toyota. He grew up in Palmerston North – the home of Toyota New Zealand – and already has a 2008 Toyota Hiace and Landcruiser on his rural Manawatu property. The Landcruiser is very handy when it comes to shifting Levi’s home-built steel FMX ramps from his workshop to his private training ground on the farm.

Toyota New Zealand’s General Manager of Marketing, Andrew Davis, said bringing Levi into the Toyota family as a Hiace Ambassador was a no-brainer.

“Levi is not only an amazing FMX rider but also a self-taught engineer who loves creating, customising and building motorcycle parts and ramps in his workshop.

“The versatile 2020 Hiace van is ideal for Levi. The van is easily customisable and can be purposed for a wide range of jobs and activities,” he said.

A new feature of the 2020 Hiace is the semi-bonnet design which helped improve its safety rating to ANCAP 5-star. Levi, who picked up several injuries during his career, is a fan of the Hiace’s safety system as it matches his personal interest in safety. He has a new business venture to make giant safe landing airbags for FMX shows and training.

As well as the sharp graphics adorning Levi’s new ZR van, the team at Toyota New Zealand in Palmerston North added a few features such as the blacked-out alloy wheels, black nudge bar and tinted glass that sets off the white van and cool black and orange graphics.

Over the past 10 years, Levi has become an international star on the FMX circuit. He wowed audiences in his first Red Bull X-Fighters competition and, despite a late call-up to replace another rider in the 2009 Mexico event, the then 17-year-old took out the first place against vastly more experienced riders.

He went on to build a career in X-Fighters and Nitro World Games. Over the past decade, Levi has been a regular rider in both the Crusty Demons and Nitro Circus shows. He is known for his dedication to training and continually pushing the boundaries in his performances.

Levi stepped back from competition at the end of 2019 and will be concentrating his time and attention into growing the sport in New Zealand and performing in shows throughout the country.

Words and Images from Toyota New Zealand

Altherm JCR Yamaha riders Kirk Gibbs (MX1) and Maximus Purvis (MX2) are two men on a mission, both storming into the lead of their Fox New Zealand Motocross Championship classes yesterday in Hawke’s Bay.

Riding their respective Yamahas in the series’ penultimate round at Ngaruroro Raceway, near Fernhill, they are the men with the upper hand in their title hunts, when the championship wraps up in Taupo, in a fortnight.

Sunshine Coast-based Gibbs was untouchable in the premier class on his YZ450 – qualifying first and winning three from three races. The top-notch results give him a 5-point lead over defending champion Cody Copper and 29-point buffer over Hamish Harwood in third.

Altherm JCR Yamaha rider Kirk Gibbs (#G) leads the MX1 field and championship standings. Photo CLIMINTIEPIX

“It was a really good day for me. I’ll go home and work on some more things that Josh [Coppins – Team Manager] and BT [Ben Townley] gave me to work on. It’s so helpful to have such good people to get information from,” Gibbs says.

He was stoked to have the points lead and had a clear plan for the final set of three races on March 15.

“I’ll go there with a good mindset and put a couple of good races in and try to bring it home,” he says of the MX1 silverware that belonged to him in 2018.

Altherm JCR Yamaha Team Manager Josh Coppins says Gibbs has all the hallmarks of a “true professional.”

“We work hard for him and he works hard for us. We’re very happy with his performance. Good starts, good riding and three from three. He came in from 6 points down and goes away 5 points up, so he achieved an 11-point swing.”

Purvis went 2-1-4, with the final race result slightly lower after the 19-year-old Mangakino flyer crashed on the last lap, while in second.

“He was trying to pass for the lead, and it cost him 4 points, which was a shame. He’s just a young fella and maybe should’ve settled for second and come out with an 8-point lead rather than 4 points but you’ve also got to admire him trying to make the pass. He finished second for the day, went from 8 points behind to 4 points ahead [of Josiah Natzke] in the championship and took the red plate, which is exciting,” Coppins says.

Purvis adds: “It definitely feels good to be leading the points going into the last round. I’ve been trying to chip away at it and now I just have to finish it off with some good results at Taupo.”

Christchurch’s Dylan Walsh displayed some of the form that saw the 22-year-old crowned the British Motocross Championship’s MX2 winner last year, with a 4-2-1 results’ set on his Yamaha YZ250F.

“Round three was a big improvement for me. We made huge changes during the week on the suspension and it paid off. I was able to get the round win and show what I was capable of,” Walsh says.

Coppins says the changes to Walsh’s Yamaha helped make him “much more comfortable and straight away achieve a better result.”

“We have a lot of work to do in the next two weeks. Together with Ben [Townley] and Dylan, we will have some meetings to work out a clear plan moving forward. Dylan is sitting fourth in the championship but what’s most important for us and for him, is that he is starting to find his groove with Yamaha, and he got an overall win. It was harder and took longer than we expected but I’m happy for him to get there,” he adds.

Altherm JCR Yamaha’s second MX1 rider Hamilton’s Kayne Lamont suffered another niggling injury, which hampered his performance. He hurt his thumb in practice and alternated between trying to strap it and leaving it unsupported, as he struggled through a painful three races, finishing fourth each time.

“Overall my day was another survival day. My glute injury [incurred at the Woodville GP] is pretty decent now and I’m not having too many problems with it. I’m just fighting small injuries most rounds, which is quite frustrating,” Lamont says.

Coppins describes the Fernhill track as “really challenging.”

“It got very rough and technical with deep ruts, but it really suited our riders, with a lot of lines available. I expected a good result at this track and was happy we were able to execute one.”

“The final race was red-flagged, and the results were taken as they stood due to an accident. Our Altherm JCR Yamaha team wishes the injured rider a speedy recovery,” Coppins concludes.

RESULTS:
MX1
1st Kirk Gibbs (YZ450) – 75
2nd Cody Cooper – 64
3rd Hamish Harwood – 62
4th Kayne Lamont (YZ450) – 54
5th Brad Groombridge – 46

MX2
1st Dylan Walsh (YZ250F) – 65
2nd Maximus Purvis (YZ250F) – 65
3rd James Scott – 58
4th Josiah Natzke- 53
5th Caleb Ward – 53

2020 ALTHERM JCR YAMAHA RACE SCHEDULE:

2020 Fox New Zealand Motocross Championship
Round One – Balclutha, 1st February 2020
Round Two – Rotorua, 23rd February 2020
Round Three – Hawkes Bay, 1st March 2020
Round Four – Taupo, 15th March 2020

ALTHERM JCR YAMAHA WOULD LIKE TO THANK THE FOLLOWING SPONSORS:
Altherm Window Systems, JCR, Yamaha Motor New Zealand, Yamalube, GYTR, bLU cRU, YMF, YMI, Holland Collision Centre, Ward Demolition, Star Moving, Contract Consultants, Fox, Workshop Graphics, Akrapovic, Motoseat, Motomuck, Vertex Pistons, SKF, Renthal, DID Chains & Twin Air.

Words by Altherm JCR Yahama, Photos CLMINTIEPIX

It does not matter one little bit what the weather does to Taupo in two weeks’ time, the final round of the 2020 New Zealand Motocross Championships there will be a scorcher regardless.

The racers arrived in Hawke’s Bay for Sunday’s third round of four in the Fox-sponsored New Zealand Motocross Championships with national titles balancing on a knife-edge and it’s really no different now, even with another batch of races in the bag.

The MX1 podium at Fernhill on Sunday was (from left) Mount Maunganui’s Cody Cooper (runner-up), Australian Kirk Gibbs (winner) and Auckland’s Hamish Harwood (third).

There were boil-overs and shake-ups left and right at the Ngaruroro Raceway circuit at Fernhill, on the outskirts of Hastings, on Sunday and the large crowd would have left there well satisfied with their day’s entertainment.

There was an 11-point turnaround at the top of the MX1 class at Fernhill, visiting Australian Kirk Gibbs turning a six-point deficit into a five-point buffer over Mount Maunganui’s defending national MX1 champion Cody Cooper.

It was a similar story too in the MX2 (250cc) class, with Taupo’s Maximus Purvis turning an eight-point deficit into a four-point advantage over Mount Maunganui’s Josiah Natzke.

The change of fortunes, while remarkable, will give none of these riders a reason to relax and nerves will be jangling with three more races in each class still remaining to complete the championship series.

The fourth and final round of the 2020 Fox New Zealand Motocross Championships is in Taupo in two weeks’ time, on Sunday, March 15, and there’s no doubt the racing will be fierce.

The only thing that seems certain at this stage is that it would take a disaster for Tauranga’s Brodie Connolly not to win the 125cc class crown.

He scored another hat-trick of wins at Fernhill on Sunday and has extended his championships lead to a whopping 64 points over his nearest challenger, Christchurch’s Marshall Phillips, and this means Connolly has more than two full races up his sleeve.

There was one race for the Women’s Cup competition staged at Fernhill on Sunday and Hamilton’s Amie Roberts won that ahead of Opunake’s Taylar Rampton and Cambridge’s Zara Gray.

The series sponsors are Fox Racing New Zealand, Yamaha Motor New Zealand, Pirelli NZ, Ward Demolition, Aon, ICG, Kawasaki NZ, Blue Wing Honda, Raptor, Yamalube Yamaha Racing and TransDiesel Ltd.

Championship leaders after round three at Fernhill on Sunday are:
MX1 class: 1. Australia’s Kirk Gibbs, 211 points; 2. Mount Maunganui’s Cody Cooper, 206; 3. Auckland’s Hamish Harwood, 182; 4. Hamilton’s Kayne Lamont, 149; 5. Taupo’s Brad Groombridge, 138.
MX2 class: 1. 2. Mangakino’s Maximus Purvis, 183 points; Mount Maunganui’s Josiah Natzke, 179; 3. Oparau’s James Scott, 172; 4. Christchurch’s Dylan Walsh 161; 5. Australia’s Caleb Ward, 143.
Under-19 class: 1. Oparau’s James Scott, 225 points; 2. Australia’s Riley Ward, 184; 3. Auckland’s Cobie Bourke, 164.
125c class: 1. Tauranga’s Brodie Connolly, 222 points; 2. Christchurch’s Marshall Phillips, 158; 3. Tauranga’s Madoc Dixon, 157; 4. Auckland’s Cobie Bourke, 153; 5. Rongotea’s Zac Jillings, 132.

2020 FOX New Zealand Motocross Championships calendar:
Round 1 – Balclutha, Saturday, February 1;
Round 2 – Rotorua, Sunday, February 23;
Round 3 – Hawke’s Bay, Sunday, March 1;
Round 4 – Taupo, Sunday, March 15.

Credit: Words and photo by Andy McGechan

The 2019 KX450 was a bolt out of the blue. Without any real hype, we suddenly saw a brand-new machine with all the big-hitting goodness that any green-blooded rider could hope for. Now we ride the 2020 version, and not only does it feel radioactive, it looks it too.

This is certainly one of those colour schemes that will go down in history as memorable. For good or for bad, the 2020 KX450 has gone all green. The traditional colours you would expect for the airbox/mudflap combo have been changed to green, as are the number boards – leaving no one in any doubt as to what brand of bike this is. Kawasaki are obviously proud of their identity as the mean green racing machines and it is something that goes far beyond the way that their bikes look. Our test at Pirinis left me in no doubt as to how intense this new bike has become.

Green Dragon

I was given a baptism by fire. My bike had come equipped with the aggressive EFI coupling and I had not thought to check or ask about it. After all, the maps don’t usually make too much of a difference anyway – or at least I thought. Well, I can tell you that the power was so instant that it almost felt like I was riding a monster with the sneezles. Even in the higher gears – as I tend to ride when wanting to tame a bike down, it still felt so responsive that I could swear the engine almost prophesized what my throttle hand was about to do and jumped in with both guns blazing.

It wasn’t until after the bike’s owner had ridden the bike himself and exclaimed that he didn’t know how I had been able to ride it that we changed couplers back to the stock setting, where I discovered a much more manageable machine. Not that you would call it mild-mannered, mind you.

There were a million changes to the engine last year that could have contributed to it having such good response. Well, too many to list here without losing your attention. An interesting side-note that I discovered while researching this bike is that it actually makes less power than the previous generation of KX450 up until fairly high in the rev range, and yet you would swear it makes oodles more power the whole way through.

What it produces is a power delivery that most people will get a hoot out of. In saying that, it will pay to use the softer EFI coupler any time you are worried about your arms not being up to the challenge. This is definitely a bike where you want to take note of which map you are using in order to get maximum enjoyment from your ride. If you are in softer soil and your arms can handle it, then feel free to go for the aggressive coupler. But most mere mortals on normal tracks will be better on the stock or easy map, especially in slippery sections like some of what we had at Pirini.

 

Mr Muscles

Fortunately, the track had dried enough to give the suspension a thorough flogging as well. Not surprisingly I was pleased with the plushness of those beautiful 49mm spring forks. Aside from the bliss of not needing to bend my brain on all that was entailed in the old air forks if something wasn’t quite right, what I like most is how smooth the spring forks work through the middle of the stroke. But there was one reservation.

These forks were susceptible to blowing through the stroke on harder hits, to the point of bottoming. While you could effectively go up a spring rate or two with air forks by pumping the pressure up, on spring forks it is more serious of a job and something of an expense. Personally, I think the effort and expense of going to a heavier fork spring would be worth it in my case, partly because of my penchant for some pretty extreme G-forces, but also because of something that has everything to do with the rear of this bike.

We noticed that the shock felt over sprung. Checking the sag, everything seemed pretty good, but on the track, it just felt like the rear overwhelmed the front a little. You might think that you wouldn’t notice it, but there was more to it than only bottoming the fork. I mainly noticed it under sharp accelerating bumps where the rear didn’t squat nicely, and while it didn’t really bother me much, it was an indication that the balance could do with some tuning. I remember that last year we went five or six clicks firmer on the fork compression and rebound while we only made the shock a little bit harder. For this test we could have also given the bike a wee bit more sag, but that could have been at the risk of losing one of the best things about this generation of KX450 – which is how well it turns.

Flick-A-What? 

For many years the biggest Kawasaki was extremely stable. It would brush aside any potential threat of being kicked sideways as though swatting a fly, but its Kryptonite was tight turns. Fortunately, the engineers have been able to find a happy place that allows the big green to turn better than ever. Want to cut inside that rut? Go for it. This bike wouldn’t be your first choice for some of the tighter tracks found in the North Island, but it will get the job done and really reward you on the faster or softer sections.

On a similar vein, Kawasaki are on a seemingly endless quest to make their bikes narrower to help in that quest for flickability. Last year it was the area between radiator shrouds that received that treatment. It is now to the point of feeling more like a 250cc machine between your knees – especially when standing – and that is helped even more with possibly the smoothest and most rounded plastics found on any brand.

There is simply nothing for your boots or knees to get caught up on. I wonder if Eli Tomac himself had something to do with this, who just won his third consecutive AMA Motocross Championship aboard this machine. I say that because I think he had a problem with getting caught up on the shrouds of his previous bike and this bike takes smoothness to the extreme. Not only do the radiator shrouds curve like a VW Beetle over the top and around the front, but they also extend in one unbroken strip almost to the back of the seat. That is not to say that the ergonomics will completely suit everyone’s tastes.

There is something rather quirky about the handlebars. They don’t seem to have much of a sweep backwards, encouraging you to get over the front of the bike more. That can be a good thing if you stand a lot as Eli does, but can make the bike feel a bit restrictive to sit on. The handlebars also feel like they are on the tall side. They are a crossbar style handlebar, which could easily be swapped out for a tapered version, but you will want to test and see if all the gadgets on the left handlebar will fit first.

Techy Bits

Competing for room with the left handlebar grip is a kill switch, launch control button and hydraulic unit for the clutch that dominates the space. A tapered handlebar might struggle to fit all of those things, but that is not to say we are complaining about any of it.

Having a hydraulic clutch has no doubt been the tipping point that Kawasaki needed to bring some people back to their side. It promises a smooth pull at all times in all conditions – which could be the silver bullet should conditions get extreme. I wouldn’t say that the pull is noticeably lighter than a cable would be, you just know that it isn’t going to fade. In saying that, any riders that always have their pointing finger resting on the clutch will want to be careful that they are not unconsciously slipping the clutch at the risk of burning it out before its time. It is slipping the moment you put any pressure on it, which is another one of the reasons why this bike feels like such an extreme racing machine.

Not only is the clutch and throttle super sensitive, the brakes are definitely cut from the same cloth. Coming into a rut I was made well aware that finesse was essential, both to avoid locking the rear and also to avoid the front brakes pulling me up too quickly. What it creates is an incredibly fun machine that takes the idea of “Racing Machine” to the extreme. Because everything is so responsive, very quickly you learn to respect and appreciate its aggressive attitude. This bike is guaranteed to give you the grin factor, which is good because very few people just use these bikes to get from A to B. We do it for adrenaline, which the 2020 KX450 delivers in spades.

By now you may have noticed that I have not told you about many changes for 2020. The reason is that there are simply no changes for this year apart from the green plastics. Yes, a lot of their R&D time and effort would have gone into the development of the new KX250F, but I am sure that had they been sure about the need to change something on this bike then they would have done it. You could look at it like this – they were careful enough to test the new bike so completely last year that it didn’t need any improvements. It could be some peace of mind to many people. Kawasaki dealers across the country also get a second chance to either sell or order more of what is essentially the same bike according to customer demand. And by now most people will know what kind of adjustments they would want to make to one of these bikes – if any.

I hopped on for one more ride, pushed that magical button to fire it into life and gave the launch control another test. Now that we had installed the green EFI coupler I was riding a more manageable bike.

But something within me wanted to go back to the wildness of the white coupling and the intensity of a racing start without the launch control – despite the fact that both decisions would cost me. Deep down, most dirt bikers share the desire to feel like they are on a Factory Race Team bike. Kawasaki might as well bring it out pre-printed with number one plates. Whether or not it is the right machine to propel you to earning that position depends on your desire. Eli Tomac has already proven that the bike can do it, and the cool thing is that I am pretty sure that this bike will make you feel like you could too.

Every so often in motocross racing, a rider has the kind of race that makes all the hard work worth it. For him. For his team. For the sport.

Altherm JCR Yamaha’s MX1 contender Kirk Gibbs had that race yesterday at the Fox New Zealand Motocross Championship’s second round – where he crashed at the start of the second moto, got back on his YZ450 and proceeded to blast his way through the premier pack from a lowly 17th to take the win.

His Team Manager Josh Coppins, who puts countless hours into progressing his four-rider squad, took a moment to savour visiting Australian Gibbs’ glory at the Phillips’ farm property, south-west of Rotorua, at Horohoro.

“That result fired Kirk up and it fired us up too. It made our Altherm JCR Yamaha team feel good about what we are doing and why we do it. Races like that. Performances like that. They are why we do this job,” he says.

Gibbs, who had been sitting 11 points adrift of leader Cody Cooper after the opening round in Balclutha three weeks ago, describes how an early tangle in race two spurred him on.

“I was frustrated with myself and just wanted to be in the fight, so I pushed really hard and caught all the way back up to Hamish [Harwood] and Coops [Cooper] and was able to pass both of them and get the win, so I was really happy with that one,” he says.

His second in the first race and a holeshot-to-victory third race gave him the overall win for the weekend. Gibbs is now well within striking distance to lift the MX1 trophy that he took back across the Tasman in 2018, sitting only six points behind defending champ Cooper.

“I’m really happy with the Altherm JCR Yamaha team and my team at home [in the Sunshine Coast], who are working hard in between rounds. I’m stoked with how today ended up,” he says, of what Coppins calls “getting his mojo back!”

Altherm JCR Yamaha’s Maximus Purvis powers his way into second overall in the MX2 championship in Rotorua

The other Altherm JCR Yamaha rider to finish on the podium was MX2 charger Maximus Purvis, of Mangakino. Coppins says the 19-year-old had a strong weekend with a results’ set of 3-3-2.

“Max rode well. He made some mistakes in his starts in his first few races and when he got that better, he was closer to the front. With two rounds to go, he’s only 8 points off Josiah Natzke’s lead, so he’s right in there for the championship. We are going to work very hard with him this week, aiming to get things a little bit better,” he says.

Purvis had a straightforward plan for the penultimate round this weekend in Hawkes Bay.

“Get some good starts and get some good points,” he says.

The Altherm JCR Yamaha team’s other two riders Kayne Lamont (MX1) and Dylan Walsh (MX2) both finished fourth overall for the round and will be working hard this week to bridge the gaps to the leaders.

Hamilton-based Lamont is still on the mend from extensive bruising to his glute muscles, which he incurred in a crash at the Woodville GP in January. He settled into the racing yesterday, with a 4-5 in the first two races, before finding the form in race 3 that has seen him win MX1 races around the country.

“It started raining a little, which made the track conditions quick slick. I got a decent start and was second behind Kirk and then Cody passed me. I managed to sit in behind him for the race, then I felt like I was actually riding better than him, so hounded him all moto and managed to pass him with two laps remaining to finish second [to teammate Gibbs],” Lamont says.

Coppins adds that it was great to see Lamont “getting back to full fitness and full speed.”

The 2019 British Motocross Championship’s MX2 winner Walsh started strongly, qualifying second on his YZ250F but “didn’t get comfortable all day which really showed in my riding,” he says.

Coppins admits “Dylan struggled a little bit.”

“He was around fourth place all day and sits fourth in the championship. He’s still adapting to the Yamaha and to us. He’s pretty disappointed but he just needs to be patient and bring it home,” he says.

It is a short, busy week between rounds for the Altherm JCR Yamaha team and they will stay in the Taupo/Rotorua region, working with the four riders on the track on Wednesday and Thursday.

“The mechanics will stay at the track preparing the bikes, then we will head over to Napier for a school visit on Friday. We set up on Saturday and race day is Sunday. Hawkes Bay is an important round for us, as at halfway through the championship, points are tight, and this third round needs to be solid. We won’t leave any stone unturned to ensure the four boys are on the front foot for the championship chase,” Coppins says.

RESULTS:
MX1
1st Kirk Gibbs (YZ450) – 72
2nd Cody Cooper – 67
3rd Hamish Harwood – 58
4th Kayne Lamont (YZ450) – 56
5th Brad Groombridge – 49

MX2
1st Josiah Natzke – 63
2nd Maximus Purvis (YZ250F) – 62
3rd James Scott – 57
4th Dylan Walsh (YZ250F)- 52
5th Kyle Webster – 50

2020 Fox New Zealand Motocross Championship
Round One – Balclutha, 1st February 2020
Round Two – Rotorua, 23rd February 2020
Round Three – Hawkes Bay, 1st March 2020
Round Four – Taupo, 15th March 2020

ALTHERM JCR YAMAHA WOULD LIKE TO THANK THE FOLLOWING SPONSORS:
Altherm Window Systems, JCR, Yamaha Motor New Zealand, Yamalube, GYTR, bLU cRU, YMF, YMI, Holland Collision Centre, Ward Demolition, Star Moving, Contract Consultants, Fox, Workshop Graphics, Akrapovic,Motoseat, Motomuck, Vertex Pistons, SKF, Renthal, DID Chains & Twin Air.

Words by Altherm JCR Yamaha Media, Photos by Clmintiepix