The MX1 class podium after the opening round of the Fox New Zealand Motocross Championships in Balclutha – Auckland’s Hamish Harwood (left, third), Mount Maunganui’s Cody Cooper (centre, first) and Australian Kirk Gibbs (right, second). Photo by Mark Bailey

The small South Island town of Balclutha hosted the first of four rounds in this season’s FOX-sponsored series and what a display it was, with close and exciting racing throughout the various bike categories.

The venue, at Riverside Reserve in Glasgow Street, Balclutha, was a previously untried circuit, but the host South Otago Motorcycle Club worked tirelessly to make it a perfect racing environment and the rider responded with some scintillating race action.

It was a contest that had it all … upsets galore, with dozens of riders threatening for race wins at various stages during the day, risk-taking often rewarded but the smallest of mistakes punished, with mechanical or tyre failures also playing a part in some of the outcomes.

This opening round of the championships was edge of the seat stuff for racers and fans alike as nine championship races – three in each o

f the championship classes – saw 13 different individuals step onto the various podiums throughout the afternoon in Balclutha.

Bay of Plenty riders led the way, with Mount Maunganui’s Cody Cooper unbeaten in the premier MX1 class, while Tauranga’s Brodie Connolly also scored a hat-trick of wins as he dominated the 125cc class. Mount Maunganui’s Josiah Natzke survived a set of furious battles to narrowly claim top spot in the MX2 (250cc) class.

“It was great racing again in the South Island, with the South Otago Motorcycle Club hosting. The club did a fantastic job preparing the track and venue,” said Motorcycling New Zealand (MNZ) motocross commissioner Ray Broad.

“The racing didn’t disappoint, with three riders leading the charge in MX1 and an intense battle brewing in MX2, there is definitely going to be great action at round two in Rotorua. Again thank you to the riders that competed at round one, and to the club,” he said.

A new YZ65 Cup support class was an extra element in the programme at Balclutha and it will be present again at the fourth and final round in Taupo in mid-March, the special feature offering an opportunity for the nation’s youngest rising stars to show what they’re made of.

After Saturday’s series opener, the competition now heads to Rotorua for round two in just two weeks’ time, on February 23. Round three is set for Hawke’s Bay on March 1, with the fourth and final round in Taupo on March 15.

Points leaders after Saturday’s racing are:

MX1 class: 1. Mount Maunganui’s Cody Cooper, 75 points (maximum); 2. Australia’s Kirk Gibbs, 64; 3. Auckland’s Hamish Harwood, 62; 4. Auckland’s Ethan Martens, 46; 5. Taupo’s Brad Groombridge, 43.

MX2 class: 1. Mount Maunganui’s Josiah Natzke, 63 points; 2. Oparau’s James Scott, 57; 3. Mangakino’s Maximus Purvis, 56; 4. Australia’s Morgan Fogarty, 47; 5. Christchurch’s Dylan Walsh, 44.

Under-16 class: 1. Oparau’s James Scott, 75 (maximum); 2. Australia’s Riley Ward, 66; 3. Palmerston North’s Luka Freemantle, 53.

125c class: 1. Tauranga’s Brodie Connolly, 75 points (maximum); 2. Tauranga’s Madoc Dixon, 66; 3. Christchurch’s Marshall Phillips, 54; 4. Rongotea’s Zac Jillings, 48; 5. Ashburton’s Ben Wall, 42.

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, TransDiesel Ltd, with the Otago Community Trust and The Trusts Community Foundation specifically supporting the Balclutha event.

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.

Words by Andy McGechan, Photo by Mark Bailey.

The preliminary battles have been fought and now the real fight for national motocross glory is set to begin.

Several major motocross events have been run over the past couple of months, each of them offering up broad hints as to who may be the most likely title contenders for 2020, but none of those results really matter because it’s what happens in the Otago region this weekend that counts above all.

The South Island town of Balclutha will this Saturday host the first of four rounds in this season’s FOX New Zealand Motocross Championships, making this perhaps the world’s southern-most motocross championships, and excitement levels are at an all-time high.

The venue, at Riverside Reserve in Glasgow Street, Balclutha, has never before hosted a motocross event of this magnitude, and the rider line-up is second-to-none, making it a must-see event.

Auckland’s Hamish Harwood won the coveted New Zealand Motocross Grand Prix title at Woodville on Sunday and so will obviously be among those favoured to lead the way in the premier MX1 class this coming Saturday too, although Mount Maunganui’s defending national champion Cody Cooper and other top riders such as visiting Australian Kirk Gibbs, Waitakere’s Ethan Martens and Taupo’s Hadleigh Knight may have something to say about that.

The amount of talent on show in the MX2 (250cc) class at Woodville also hints that fireworks may be about to erupt in this category too, with individuals such as Mangakino’s Maximus Purvis, Taupo’s Wyatt Chase, Mount Maunganui’s Josiah Natzke, Christchurch’s Dylan Walsh and Oparau’s James Scott among the favourites.

“We are really looking forward to the start of the 2020 New Zealand Motocross Championships. In the MX1 class, it is former South Island rider Hamish Harwood (originally from Takaka) who is one of the favourites, but the real action will be in the MX2 class where the real fireworks go off. Any number of riders could win in MX2,” said Motorcycling New Zealand (MNZ) motocross commissioner Ray Broad.

“It is great to be back in the South Island and we are looking forward to some great support from the locals.”

The Otago Community Trust and The Trusts Community Foundation have come on board as additional supporters of Saturday’s event and the many hours of work put in by the host club are appreciated by MNZ.

As well as the MX1 and MX2 classes, the 125cc class is sure to provide edge-of-the-seat entertainment on Saturday.

The 125cc class, as always, represents the breeding ground for stars of the future, these young riders also no doubt particularly keen to perform on the previously-untried Balclutha stage.

A new YZ65 Cup support class will be an added feature of this weekend’s series opener and will feature again at the fourth and final round in Taupo in mid-March, offering a great opportunity for the nation’s youngest rising stars to show what they’re made of.

After Saturday’s series opener, the competition heads to Rotorua for round two on February 23. Round three is set for Hawke’s Bay on March 1, with the fourth and final round in Taupo on March 15.

Australian Kirk Gibbs (left) and Auckland’s Hamish Harwood, the two Fox-outfitted riders likely to be out front and battling at Balclutha this Saturday

The senior New Zealand Motocross Championships are sponsored by Fox Racing New Zealand, Yamaha Motor New Zealand, Pirelli Motorsport, Ward Demolition, Aon, ICG, Kawasaki NZ, Blue Wing Honda, Ford Ranger Raptor NZ, Yamalube Yamaha Racing, Eni TransDiesel Ltd, Dirt Rider Downunder magazine, with the Otago Community Trust and The Trusts Community Foundation specifically supporting the Balclutha event.

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.

Words and photo by Andy McGechan

Tokoroa’s Breanna Rodgers (left) and Australian Hayley Ball pose for a little arm-wrestling fun ahead of their clash in the ANZAC Challenge Cup at the weekend.

The 49th annual New Zealand Motocross Grand Prix at Woodville had extra spice this year with Trans-Tasman rivalry adding some “nice niggle”.

The Honda-sponsored Woodville event is regarded as the New Zealand’s premier two-day motocross but, while most focus may have been on the individuals who were winning in each of the various categories, there was also an undercurrent of “friendly friction” running through the event with the inaugural G&H Engineering-sponsored ANZAC Challenge Cup.

A squad of visiting Australian riders was matched up against their Kiwi counterparts, with a beautiful trophy on the line and, of course, bragging rights.

After the junior phase or racing at Woodville on Saturday, the New Zealanders led the contest-within-a-contest by 180 points to 97, although the Trans-Tasman showdown was much tighter the following day.

When the points were tallied up at the end of Sunday’s senior racing, the Kiwis had won overall by 334 points to 274.

Best-performed individual was 14-year-old Australian junior champion Charli Cannon, from Queensland, who finished eighth overall (against the boys) in the Junior 14-16 years’ 250cc class on Saturday and then showed iron-women spirit to also race in the women’s grade on Sunday, finishing the day unbeaten.

Best of the New Zealanders chosen to represent their country in the ANZAC Challenge was Taupo’s Wyatt Chase, who finished overall runner-up in the senior MX2 (250cc) class on Sunday.

The high-profile Go Girls Racing Australia (GGRA) team contributed the majority of riders to Australia’s bid for ANZAC Challenge Cup honours.

GGRA is an organisation set up to promote and develop females in motocross, explained president Nicole McIntyre.

The organisation started with 10 girls in 2004 and last year had 150 members. It is growing all the time.

“I would like to thank the committee from the Manawatu-Orion Motorcycle Club (that ran the Woodville event) for their amazing support of our GGRA team and really want everyone to know that the effort they put in to overcome some hurdles was truly appreciated,” said McIntyre.

“The weekend saw me close out 12 months of planning to take six of Australia’s top female riders and parents to New Zealand to race, a total of 14 people under the banner of Go Girl Racing Australia. The logistics and cost alone was huge, but we did it.”

The GGRA group has committed to returning to race at Woodville again next year too.

The New Zealand Grand Prix at Woodville always attracts the cream of talent from all corners of New Zealand but has also over the years enticed visitors from Australia, Indonesia, Japan, The United States, Great Britain, Sweden and other parts of Europe, a testimony to the event’s world-class status.

Thousands of hours are put in by a massive crew of club volunteers, with heavy-duty earthmoving equipment also donated by various organisations and so many sponsors all coming together to make it happen.

This year’s New Zealand Grand Prix at Woodville was supported by Blue Wing Honda, the Tararua District Council, Fly Palmy, Copthorne PN, Manawatu Toyota, Scan Power, Placemakers, G&H Engineering, McDonalds Manawatu, New Zealand Natural Clothing, Kiwi Rider magazine, BikesportNZ.com, Stringfellows, the Lion Foundation, NZCT, Profab Engineering, Roofing Industries, ACP, Judd refrigeration and Dwyertech.

Words and photo by Andy McGechan

The Altherm JCR Yamaha team experienced the highs and lows that come with the tough sport of motocross, as it opened its 2020 campaign at the New Zealand Motocross Grand Prix at Woodville.

The newly-formed team made up of MX1 riders Hamilton’s Kayne Lamont and Australian Kirk Gibbs, plus MX2 riders Mangakino’s Maximus Purvis and 2019 British Motocross MX2 Championship-winner Dylan Walsh had mixed fortunes at the big, annual, stand-alone motocross weekend, which doubles as a FIM Oceania event.

Purvis (19) came out tops with a win in his category – demonstrating he is a force to be reckoned with for the four-round Fox New Zealand Motocross Championships, which begin this weekend in Balclutha.

After wet practise and qualifying sessions, Purvis got a good start in the first race, working his way to the front from fourth position.

“Then I pulled a comfortable gap and maintained it for the rest of the race,” Purvis says.

He succinctly summed up his second race: “Got the holeshot and gapped out.”

A third in the final race was enough to give him the overall MX2 win, in what was an impressive first race outing after recovering from an ankle injury.

“Overall, I’m really happy with my starts and speed and I’m looking forward to round one of the nationals,” Purvis says.

Max and Mechanic Nabe

Altherm JCR Yamaha team manager Josh Coppins was unable to attend due to overseas Yamaha commitments, but kept close tabs on his riders, in what was the 59th running of the Woodville event.

“Max has been off with an injury and it was good to see him get a win straight off the bat for his first race back with us, as last time he raced for us was in March,” Coppins says.

Sunshine Coast-based Gibbs has returned for his second season with Altherm JCR Yamaha and although he found the slippery track conditions challenging, he has also staked his claim as a 2020 nationals front-runner. His 2-2-1 set of results gave him the runner-up position in the flagship MX1 class.

“In the first moto, I didn’t get off the line very well at all and had to come from pretty much dead last. I actually felt really comfortable on the bike, made some good progress on the leaders and then got into second. Then I got right onto the back of first for the last lap but just ran out of time,” Gibbs says.

The track had been watered before the second race and he “struggled a little bit trying to push hard when the track was drying out.”

“I got into second, then just as I got into the lead Hamish Harwood passed me. He could turn off a few things a little bit better than me until the track started to dry out towards the end of the race and then I got right back on him but couldn’t pass,” Gibbs says.

In the final race he settled into second behind Harwood.

“I sat there for a little bit but started to inch up. He made a little mistake down the back and I got through and rode it home for a win. All in all, I felt very good and felt good on the bike. My starts can definitely be better and I’ve got to work on those this week and then I’ll come out swinging for round one,” Gibbs concludes.

Coppins says Gibbs hasn’t raced since August, “so he needed some track time.”

“He came through in the first race from a stalled start, to finish second, which was a great ride – only under one second off the win. He’s quite happy with his speed and results after a four-month break,” he adds.

After recently being signed by Ben Townley Tours and racing as a satellite rider with the Altherm JCR Yamaha team, 22-year-old Walsh was keen to make an impression back on home soil.

A mixed bag of results saw him claim 4-5-4 as he settled into competitive racing on his Yamaha YZ250F.

“It was a rough start to the New Zealand racing, although it was good to learn the bike all weekend and make changes. The best race I had was the last moto, despite having a fall. I’ve got to take the positives from it and the fact I’ve got the bike set-up a lot better for next weekend,” Walsh says.

Coppins believes Walsh probably heaped a fair amount of pressure on himself.

“Dylan was a little bit rusty and made some mistakes but he had good speed. The potential is there – he got a holeshot and led some laps. I think he’ll be a whole lot better this weekend. No doubt he’s frustrated with himself and I know Ben [Townley] is working hard with him to get him to calm down and enjoy it,” Coppins says.

After an injury-free build-up to the season, Lamont had a first race that every rider dreads – crashing heavily early on.

“I got the holeshot in race one and crashed after the second turn on one of the jumps, which sent me out for the day. I went to hospital and I’ve got no broken bones but I do have a haematoma on my bottom and a slightly bruised lung. My bike was good and I was feeling good. Hopefully, I can get out on the race track again soon and put in some good results,” he says.

Coppins thinks it’s highly unlikely Lamont will be able to ride at least at Balclutha as his bruising is extensive and is currently being monitored to make sure it stops bleeding.

“That obviously puts him out of the MX1 championship hunt, which is a shame. I honestly felt he was ready to win. We’d worked hard to get him ready.”

“That means it falls back onto Kirk – so that’s a good backstop. I’m looking forward to working with him and making some improvements this week while he’s staying with me in Motueka. We’ll do some testing and iron out any issues for this weekend.”

“A first and fourth in MX2 and second in MX1 is not too bad. Obviously we’ve had better Woodville GPs but it’s a fairly solid start heading into round one,” Coppins wraps up.

The forecast is looking wet for the week in Balclutha and potentially over the weekend in the small South Island township.

“I’m looking forward to coming home and being at the race track as I missed the two New Zealand Superbike rounds and this weekend at Woodville,” Coppins, who is the Yamaha Motor New Zealand Motorsport Manager, says.

RESULTS:

MX1
1s​t ​Hamish Harwood – 72
2n​d ​Kirk Gibbs – 69 (Yamaha YZ450F)
3r​d ​Ethan Martens – 54

4th Cody Cooper – 51

5th Hadleigh Knight – 48

MX2

1s​t ​Maximus Purvis – 70 (Yamaha YZ250F)
2n​d  Wyatt Chase – 67
3rd  Josiah Natzske – 56

4th Dylan Walsh – 52 (Yamaha YZ250F)

5th James Scott – 46

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, Contract Consultants, Fox & Workshop Graphics.

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