There have been major changes at the top of all three classes in the 2017 New Zealand Motocross Championships after a frantic day of racing near Palmerston North on Sunday.

The third round of four in the series was held at Flipp’s Motocross Park at Himatangi, the rough and sandy course proving to be an unsettling surface for many of the leading contenders.

Defending national MX1 champion Cody Cooper arrived in the Manawatu with a solid 13-point lead in the championships, thanks to his stellar performances at the earlier rounds in Timaru and Rotorua respectively, but the Bay of Plenty man ended the day being knocked off his perch and he is now second in the standings, one point adrift of visiting Australian star Dean Ferris.

Ferris came on strong in the Mazda and DRD magazine-sponsored series on Sunday, finishing 3-1-1 in his three outings, topping the day’s podium and completely wiping out Cooper’s advantage.

Mount Maunganui’s Cooper managed only 4-5-2 results, settling for an unaccustomed third step on the podium, below the second best rider in the MX1 class on Sunday, another visiting Australian, Todd Waters, who had chimed in with 2-2-3 results.

“I had a few issues to deal with today with some of my equipment,” said Cooper afterward. “But I like the Taupo track (the venue for the final round) and I’ll be aiming to put things right there. It will be all or nothing for me now in Taupo,” he said.

And, while Cooper was forced to accept this set-back in his MX1 title defence, there was also more drama to come in the MX2 (250cc) and 125cc classes.

Defending MX2 champion Hamish Harwood continues to lead his class after the weekend but he has now seen his 20-point advantage almost halved, shaved back to 11 points, after his main challenger, Christchurch’s Dylan Walsh, launched a blistering attack at Himatangi.

Walsh won all three MX2 class races at Himatangi – with Takaka-raised but Takapuna-based Harwood finishing runner-up each time – no doubt sending shock waves through the Harwood camp, although even runner-up finishes at the final round should still be enough to see Harwood keep his crown.

The 125cc class was probably always going to end in tears for one of the two main protagonists.

Taihape’s Hayden Smith and Karaka’s Kurtis Lilly had been level in the points standings after the first two rounds of the series, but it was probably never going to end that way after Sunday’s three races in this class.

And when Smith finished runner-up in the day’s opening 125cc race to Australian Mason Semmens, a rider making his debut appearance in the series, with Lilly forced to accept third place, a change in the standings was already in the wind.

Smith backed that up by winning the next two 125cc races, with Lilly runner-up both times, and so Smith is now alone at the top of the class standings, eight points clear of Lilly.

The series wraps up with the fourth and final round at Taupo in just two weeks’ time, on March 25, with all three classes in the balance and a fierce day of racing on the cards.

 

STANDINGS:

Leading overall standings after the third round of four in this season’s New Zealand Motocross Championships at Himatangi on Sunday:

MX1 class: 1. Dean Ferris (Australia, Yamaha) 196 points; 2. Cody Cooper (Mount Maunganui, Honda) 195; 3. Todd Waters (Australia, Honda) 179; 4. Luke Styke (Australia, KTM) 157; 5. Rhys Carter (Mount Maunganui, Kawasaki) 40.

 

MX2 class: 1. Hamish Harwood (Takapuna, KTM) 208 points; 2. Dylan Walsh (Christchurch, Yamaha) 197; 3. Ethan Martens (Waitakere, Yamaha) 153; 4. Kaleb Barham (Australia, Husqvarna) 134; 5. Logan Blackburn (Te Puke, KTM) 134.

 

125cc class: 1. Hayden Smith (Taihape, KTM) 213 points; 2. Kurtis Lilly (Karaka, Husqvarna) 205; 3. Hayden Wilkinson (Nelson, Yamaha) 154; 4. Dan Bell (Levin, KTM) 143; 5. Ryan Gwynn (Kakaramea, Husqvarna) 122.

 

MNZ

Solid four-rider squad set to take on the 2017 EnduroGP Series

Husqvarna Motorcycles are pleased to announce Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing’s rider line-up for the 2017 FIM Enduro World Championship. Featuring a mix of championship winners and highly-promising youngsters the team of Mathias Bellino, Danny McCanney, Pascal Rauchenecker and newcomer Christophe Charlier will be looking for top honours in the upcoming EnduroGP series, which kicks off on March 25/26 in Finland.

Remaining under the guidance of team manager Andreas Hölzl the team will be aiming for victories in both the premier EnduroGP and the revised Enduro 2 categories of the 2017 FIM Enduro World Championship.

Leading the team’s efforts once again is France’s Mathias Bellino who will return to two-stroke machinery, contesting the premier EnduroGP class aboard a Husqvarna TE 300. Working hard to prepare himself for what is expected to be a challenging new season the two-time world champion has his sights set on returning to the top step of the podium during 2017.

Husqvarna Motorcycles’ EnduroGP squad will be completed by Christophe Charlier. Making a switch from Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing’s MXGP team the 26-year-old Frenchman is working hard ahead of his Enduro World Championship debut. Aboard a Husqvarna FE 350 machine Christophe will try to collect the experience needed to build a solid future in enduro racing.

Enjoying a highly-promising end to his 2016 season, Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing’s Danny McCanney will be launching an assault for the Enduro 2 World Championship title in 2017. Competing aboard Husqvarna’s TE 250 two-stroke machine, the two-time world champion is among the favourites for top honours in the newly revised class.

Following what’s been an impressive debut season in international enduro competition, Austria’s Pascal Rauchenecker aims high in 2017. Opting to remain aboard his trusted FE 250 machine for the new season, the 23-year-old will complete Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing’s Enduro 2 squad alongside McCanney.

The 2017 FIM Enduro World Championship will get underway on March 25-26, with the season opening GP of Finland set to take place in Paijanne, Helsinki.

A two-man battle is developing for national enduro championship honours this year, with just a handful of points to separate defending champion Brad Groombridge from his nearest challenger, Angus Macdonald.

With two of six rounds now completed, Taupo’s Groombridge knows he’s got a fight on his hands to retain the crown.

The 26-year-old Groombridge finished runner-up to 19-year-old Christchurch rider Macdonald at the opening round south of Nelson just over a week ago.

However, Groombridge finished third overall at round two at Whangamata on Saturday – significantly still one place behind Macdonald – and so Macdonald continues to lead the series outright.

Coatesville’s Sam Greenslade won Saturday’s event outright, just seven seconds ahead of Macdonald and 12 seconds ahead of Groombridge, but, as a non-finisher at Nelson, Greenslade has a lot of catching up to do and is down in seventh place overall after the two rounds.

Fourth overall on Saturday was Macdonald’s brother, Hamish Macdonald, while Helensville’s Tom Buxton and Titirangi’s Callan May rounded out the top half dozen.

As it all stacks up, Angus Macdonald has a five-point lead over Groombridge in the championship standings, with Buxton in third position overall.

There’s no reason yet for Groombridge to panic –  there is still two-thirds of the series still to come – and he’s feeling confident as he looks ahead to the next few events.

“I felt that was a pretty good result at Whangamata, but it still wasn’t a win and of course that’s what I’m aiming for,” Groombridge said.

“The track at Whangamata was quite tight and, uncertain of the terrain, I didn’t want to force the issue and so I rode quite tentatively.

“It looks like being a scrap for the title just between me and Angus at the moment and I’m in a good position. There are still four rounds to go and anything can happen.

“As long as I keep at least finishing near the front I can stay in contention. It’s possible anyway to win the championship without winning a single round,” he smiled.

“It was my first visit to the Nelson course and also my first time at Whangamata, so both times I didn’t know what to expect.

The competition now heads south for round three in the Moonshine Valley, north of Wellington, on March 18.

Round four will be held near Christchurch on May 6 and then Waitawhiti Station, east of Eketahuna, hosts round five on June 3. Finally, the enduro nationals wrap up near Tokoroa just two days later, on June 5.

“I have raced at Moonshine before and I like it there,” said Groombridge.

Meanwhile, the leading riders in the intermediate grade on Saturday were Whitianga’s Blake Wilkins and Auckland pair Cameron Manley and Jeff Van Hout.

 

Words: MNZ

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