Defending MXGP champion Tim Gajser will once again be leading the way for Team HRC as they look to repeat their efforts and win the 2020 FIM world motocross title. This year he’ll be under the awning with a new team mate as his #243 bike will be lining up next to Mitch Evans’ #43 machine for his first season in the MXGP class, on what is a brand new Honda CRF450RW.

For Gajser, it’ll be a chance to win his fourth world title after successes in 2015, 2016 and 2019 and he’ll be hoping he can replicate the form that saw him win last year’s championship by over 200 points and included a record breaking seven wins in a row for Honda in the middle period of the season. Now though, the focus is on the first round at Matterley Basin which is a track that he enjoys in what will be the first MXGP gate drops for the newest edition of the Honda CRF450RW.

Joining him in what is once again an extremely competitive MXGP class is rookie Evans who moves up from the MX2 world championship which he rode in 2019. Despite being just 21 years old, many experts believe that Evans is much more suited to the more powerful 450cc machines, which is something he proved when he won his first outing on the larger capacity bike at Sugo for the Japanese national championship. Now though, the Australian youngster wants to show that as quickly as possible in the MXGP class as he hopes to settle into this 2020 campaign.

Their machine for the season is a completely new Honda CRF450RW, which has been developed to cope with the multitude of conditions that an MXGP rider has to negotiate during these 20 gruelling rounds of the 2020 FIM world championship. First up though, is the three rounds of the Italian series, before the MXGP opener at Matterley Basin, Great Britain on March 1st.

Tim Gajser and Mitch Evans in action

Words and Photos: Honda Racing Corporation

The 2020 Honda New Zealand Motocross Grand Prix at Woodville

The big annual New Zealand Motocross Grand Prix at Woodville has long enjoyed its prominent position as New Zealand’s largest stand-alone motocross event.

But, if that wasn’t already enough, the upcoming Honda-sponsored race weekend – which will celebrate its 59th birthday in late January – has again been afforded extra status as an FIM Oceania event.

The 2020 New Zealand Motocross Grand Prix at Woodville will run on January 25-26, with an entry list that typically reads like a “Who’s Who” of the sport, and will feature dozens of races for all categories, from the mini riders, aged between four and 11, on bikes as small as 50cc, to juniors, women, veterans and senior men, on bikes with engine capacities anywhere between 125cc and 450cc.

The river race set for Sunday is also a massive crowd-pleaser.

But it is the New Zealand versus Australia element to the event, the FIM Oceania Challenge Cup, that sparks much added interest and elevates it to a new high level.

Mount Maunganui’s Cody Cooper (Honda), who led the Kiwi assault in the FIM Oceania Challenge Cup competition at Woodville last season

The FIM Oceania Challenge Cup will again feature two squads of riders nominated to represent their respective countries over the two days and the race-within-a-race element should again prove popular with the always-appreciative crowd.

The FIM Oceania aspect has enjoyed runaway success over the past two season, the New Zealand contingent beat the visiting Australians in the inaugural FIM Oceania Trans Tasman Challenge in 2018, edging them out by a solid 57 points, but the Australians fought back at the 2019 edition and beat the Kiwis to the coveted trophy, albeit winning by just one solitary point.

No let-up in the friendly rivalry is expected this time around either.

Participating riders from Australia and New Zealand have yet to be confirmed, but there is no shortage of willing candidates keen to lock horns in this inspired trans-Tasman showdown.

The Manawatu Orion Motorcycle Club (MOMCC) has hosted the Woodville GP every year since its inception in 1961 and is proud to again be chosen to stage this FIM Oceania Challenge competition.

MOMCC president Fraser Miller said he wanted to thank FIM Oceania for giving the Manawatu Orion Motorcycle Club this opportunity again.

“It is a real privilege to have this status,” he said. “We want to give the crowd great entertainment, something they can really get behind and there really is nothing better than the sporting rivalry that exists between Australia and New Zealand,” he said.

Racing over the two days attracts thousands of spectators to the Tararua region, filling motel rooms and camping grounds to the point of overflowing, the New Zealand Motocross Grand Prix at Woodville a must-see spectacle for any motorsports enthusiast.

Credit: Words and Photo by Andy McGechan

Husqvarna rider Dylan Yearbury proved unstoppable at the marathon dirt bike race near Atiamuri on December 14.

It was the first time that the 25-year-old Cambridge diesel mechanic had attempted to race the annual Husqvarna Hard X cross-country race, but it didn’t take him long to settle into a groove and he eventually went on to comfortably win the gruelling battle.

It was meant to be a four-hour race, but with Yearbury (Husqvarna FC250) taking on average only 53 minutes to complete each lap, it meant he entered the timing zone at the end of his fourth lap with time still time left on the clock and so he was sent out to complete a fifth energy-sapping lap.

In the end, he was one of four riders to complete five laps in the allotted time and remarkably he crossed the finish line more than nine minutes ahead of runner-up rider Tom Buxton (KTM), of Helensville, with another Husqvarna rider, Napier’s Mackenzie Wigg, finishing 13 minutes later, to claim third overall.

“The race was not as tough as some I’ve done,” said Yearbury, “but it was very tiring. Riders never really got a break and I’m feeling pretty tired now (even two days later).

“I loved the bike. It’s actually a motocross bike and so I’m thinking about racing it at the Whakatane Summercross just after Christmas.”

The Husqvarna Hard X event had originally been scheduled to run in March, but the fire risk art that time was too great and so it was postponed until the weekend and perfect weather conditions greeted the more than 150 riders entered.

Event organiser Sean Clarke said the course featured “mostly Bronze level trails, but with a few Gold and Silver deviations”, which meant there was something to challenge all levels of rider ability.

Riders registered themselves as either gold, silver or bronze grade competitors, facing terrain and obstacles to match their skill levels.

Otaki’s Matt Lauder, Aucklanders Ben Hastie and James Kerr and Pio Pio riders Danny Blakeman and Shane Singleton were the stand-outs in the Silver Grade, with Taupo’s Wil Yeoman, Te Awamutu’s Rachael Archer and Thames rider Natasha Cairns the leading riders in the Bronze Grade.

Gold Grade winner Yearbury has impeccable credentials for this kind of competition.

He was exceptional at the Nut Buster Hard Enduro, part of the two-day final round of the New Zealand Extreme Off-Road Championship series, near Christchurch last month, and he also won the three-day Husqvarna Hard Adventure Enduro near Tokoroa last year, so his debut in the Husqvarna Hard X cross-country race at the weekend was never going to trouble him unduly.

Yearbury was using this event as part of his build-up towards returning to race major cross-country events in the United States next year.

“I had my first taste of racing the Grand National Cross-country Championships (GNCC) in the US this year and my best result was finishing fifth in a GNCC race in the XC2 (250cc) class. I also finished second at a national enduro event there.”

If Yearbury can hammer some of New Zealand’s best extreme enduro and cross-country racers the way he did at the weekend, there is perhaps no doubting that he’ll be a contender in the US near year.

Yearbury is supported by Husqvarna NZ, Fox NZ, Mitas tyres, NV Motorcycles in Morrinsville, Northern Accessories and XRC (Xtreme Race Components).

The Husqvarna Hard X race was sponsored by Husqvarna New Zealand, Forest and Trail Events, Michelin Tyres, Kiwi Rider magazine and Satco NZ Ltd.

Cambridge’s Dylan Yearbury (Husqvarna FC250), runaway winner of the weekend’s annual Husqvarna Hard X cross-country race near Atiamuri

Words and Photo by Andy McGechan

Husqvarna builds their bikes tough and expects that they’ll last the distance with even the toughest of treatment and over the most daunting of terrain.

And it’s highly likely that one of their riders will prevail too when the 2019 Husqvarna Hard X race plays out in forestry near Atiamuri in just over a week’s time.

This annual four-hour cross-country race, set for December 14, is a unique challenge that will feature some of the same terrain used for the separate Husqvarna Hard Adventure Enduro events, “but on a more compact 25-kilometre course”.

The event had originally been scheduled to run in March, but the fire risk art that time was too great and so it was postponed until now.

Event organiser Sean Clarke describes the challenge as “mostly Bronze level trails, but with a few Gold and Silver deviations”, meaning there will be something for everyone but also that it will provide a stern test for the elite riders entered.

And this perhaps plays right into the hands of 25-year-old Cambridge diesel mechanic Dylan Yearbury, one of the favourites to win the race after his recent impressive outings at similar events across the country.

Yearbury (Husqvarna FC250) was a stand-out competitor at the Nut Buster Hard Enduro, part of the two-day final round of the New Zealand Extreme Off-Road Championship series near Christchurch last month, and he also won the three-day Husqvarna Hard Adventure Enduro near Tokoroa last year, so he certainly holds no fears for the four-hour cross-country “sprint” at Atiamuri on December 14.

“I have never raced this event before, but I’m looking forward to it,” said Yearbury.

“This should be nice and technical and that suits me. I have been focussed a lot lately on my riding and I’m getting good results. I am using this event as part of my build-up towards me returning to racing in the United States next year. I head back to my base in South Carolina on January 27.

“I had my first taste of racing the Grand National Cross-country Championships (GNCC) in the US this year and my best result was finishing fifth in a GNCC race in the XC2 (250cc) class. I also finished second at a national enduro event there.

“I have only limited support in the US, but hope that I can attract some attention and gain a little factory support in the future.”

Riders entering the Atiamuri event must nominate themselves as either Gold, Silver or Bronze grades competitors – depending upon their age, ability and fitness levels – and that’s the course they will be assigned to tackle, with the grades each scored separately.

Clarke said the event, which will run from 11 am until about 3 pm, would have mass appeal.

“This Hard X event is to show riders what a three-day hard enduro is like but in a compact way,” he explained. “It will be a lot easier to enter and ride. Riders don’t need a GPS device on their bikes, they don’t need headlights or taillights and they don’t need to be concerned with the thought of six hours of gruelling riding, like what they might encounter at a hard enduro … this is really just a long cross-country race.

“Everyone is probably thinking it’s going to be a psycho-hard event, but it’s not,” said Clarke.

Another of the elite Gold level riders will be Wainuiomata’s Jake Whitaker, a record eight-time national trials champion, and it will be his fine balance attributes and his skill with precise throttle control that he acquired from that parallel motorcycling code that may give him a slight edge.

Taupo’s Hadleigh Knight is another worth watching out for. He won the three-round Dirt Guide cross-country series which wrapped up near Tokoroa two weeks ago.

The outright winner of the Hard X event last year was Helensville’s Tom Buxton and this is one rider in particular who rivals such as Yearbury, Whitaker and Knight will most be keeping a close eye on this time around too.

The Husqvarna Hard X race is being held in a private forest on Ongaroto Road, about 30 minutes’ drive south of Tokoroa and 30 minutes’ drive north of Taupo, and the venue will be signposted on SH1 near Atiamuri. There is no charge for spectators.

Cambridge’s Dylan Yearbury (Husqvarna FC250), exhibiting hot form at the moment and one of the favourites to win at Atiamuri.

Yearbury is supported by Husqvarna NZ, Fox NZ, Mitas tyres, NV Motorcycles in Morrinsville, Northern Accessories and XRC (Xtreme Race Components).

The Husqvarna Hard X race is sponsored by Husqvarna New Zealand, Forest and Trail Events, Michelin Tyres, Kiwi Rider magazine and Satco NZ Ltd.

Credit: Words and Photo by Andy McGechan

In a historic first for Motorcycling New Zealand (MNZ), two Kiwi world champion riders Courtney Duncan and Hamish MacDonald were officially presented with their 2019 FIM World Championship medals at a glittering ceremony in Monaco, on Sunday night. (Monday NZ time).

Since MNZ became affiliated with the FIM in 1986, New Zealand has never had two riders win world championship events in a single season.

MacDonald and Duncan experienced a red carpet entrance into the beautiful Sporting Monte-Carlo venue, which boasts views out across one of the most famous bays in Europe and mingled with other 2019 FIM World Champions, including Alex Marquez – Moto2, Tim Gajser – MXGP, Bartosz Zmarzlik – Speedway GP, Emma Bristow – Women’s TrialGP, Bradley Freeman – EnduroGP and Sam Sunderland – Cross Country Rallies.

They then joined nearly 600 guests at the most illustrious occasion on the international motorcycling calendar, before being awarded for their incredible achievements. Dunedin-based 23-year-old Duncan (Kawasaki) dominantly won the FIM Women’s Motocross World Championship in 2019, after three years of near misses, since bursting onto the scene as a race-winning rookie in 2016. While 20-year-old MacDonald (Sherco), of Christchurch, claimed the FIM 125cc Youth Enduro World Championship – New Zealand’s first title in the discipline, thanks to an impressive second season at this level.

MNZ General Manager Virginia Henderson says: “It was an extremely proud day for the New Zealand motorcycling community to see Courtney and Hamish receive their medals. The FIM Awards provide a fitting moment to recognise and reward the exploits and achievements of all the two-wheel heroes and heroines and officially crown them as the 2019 FIM World Champions.”

FIM President Jorge Viegas said before the event that: “It will be with immense pride that we welcome our many FIM Champions both individual and team – some new and some returning – who through their incredible skill and bravery continue to increase audiences both at the events and via the amazing TV coverage the various disciplines enjoy.”

“It is always moving to see our champions standing shoulder-to-shoulder on stage with the individuals and organisations that protect and promote motorcycling activity around the world, and who nurture the sporting heroes of the future!” Viegas added.

Duncan says it was “definitely a proud moment receiving my world championship medal among all the other winners.” 

Her victorious season started with a win in the opening moto of the season at Valkenswaard, The Netherlands. Although she slipped to fourth in the second moto and allowed Dutch rider Nancy van der Ven (Yamaha) to claim the top spot, that would prove to be the only moment she would let her guard down all season.

Consecutive doubles in Portugal, the Czech Republic and Italy, set up a title shot at the final round in Turkey, where she wasted no time in wrapping things up with a dominant 12-second victory in the first moto. Duncan signed-off her 2019 assault with a second race win, making it nine from ten for the season, as she followed in the footsteps of fellow Kiwi Katherine Oberlin-Brown (nee Prumm), who won the Women’s World Cup in 2006 and 2007 before the class was elevated to FIM World Motocross Championship status.

MacDonald showed the world how it was done this year too, by scoring a podium in every single race that he finished in the seven-round season. The first Kiwi rider to compete at world level in over fifteen years, he also showed no shortage of grit and determination to come back after breaking his shoulder at the third round in Spain, where he missed out on the points completely after back-to-back double victories in Germany and Portugal.

His only other no-score after that was on the second day in Italy and despite having conceded the championship lead to Italy’s Claudio Spanu (Husqvarna), MacDonald gradually fought back to make sure of the title with a pair of third places at the final round in Ambert, France. 

He and Duncan were treated to all the super-star treatment in Monaco – complete with a helicopter transfer into Monte Carlo and Duncan was dressed for the awards night by Kiwi fashion label Company of Strangers, from her hometown of Dunedin.

“It was a huge honour to be representing New Zealand at these awards and to have Hamish alongside – another Kiwi – is pretty special for our country. I will enjoy this moment before I get back to work towards next season,” Duncan says.

MacDonald was blown away by the hillside district of Monte Carlo, describing it as “amazing and so beautiful.”

“It was great to represent New Zealand on a world stage – not just myself too which is pretty crazy because New Zealand has never had two world champion riders in one year!” Hamish says.

Like Duncan, he will start increasing his hours on the bike and cross-training, as he prepares for the upcoming season, where he moves up to the junior enduro category.

“It will be tough, but I like a challenge and I’m excited to see what it brings, and hopefully I can come back to Monaco next year! Summer will be hard training for me. I don’t know if I’ll race any events in New Zealand yet. I’ll also be doing lots of riding, running and cycling preparing for my return back to Europe in January 2020.” MacDonald says.

Duncan also heads back to Europe around the same time, as her first round is in Britain at the end of February, where she will begin her title defence. 

“I’ll start to build for the season when I’m returning to New Zealand at the end of the week. It’ll be another big year, which I’m looking forward to.” Duncan says.

Words: MNZ, Lower Image: Noel May, Top Image: Dario Agrati