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

If it’s true that you’re only as good as your last race, then Bay of Plenty’s Wyatt Chase in very good indeed.

 

The 20-year-old from Taupo made his mark on the weekend’s 59th annual Honda-sponsored New Zealand Motocross Grand Prix at Woodville, winning the final MX2 (250cc) class race and ending the weekend second step on the podium, a perfect warm-up for the New Zealand Motocross Championships that are due to kick off at Balclutha, near Invercargill, this coming Sunday.

 

Even while the track at Woodville was getting progressively rougher and more treacherous as the day wore on, Chase seemed to be getting faster with each excursion, taking his Honda CRF250 to register a 3-2-1 score-card from his three outings on Sunday.

 

Those results were good enough to rank him overall runner-up in the class.

 

Chase was in spectacular form, particularly in winning his last race, and ended the weekend just three points behind the eventual class winner, Mangakino’s Maximus Purvis, and a solid 11 points ahead of the man who had won the MX2 class at the Honda Whakatane Summercross just after Christmas, Mount Maunganui’s Josiah Natzke.

 

If Chase can keep his momentum building, he may well expect to end up on top of the podium at Balclutha.

 

“I guess I saved my best until last at Woodville,” Chase smiled.

 

“I had pretty average start in the first race and had to fight through the pack. Second race wasn’t so bad, but I had the lead straight away in the third race and was able to mange things from there.

 

“I’ve certainly showed that I have the pace to win races and now I just need to keep the ball rolling on to Balclutha. My fitness is great and the bike is fantastic, so there’s no reason not to believe that I can win at Balclutha too.”

 

Chase’s Honda team-mate, defending Woodville champion and current national MX1 champion Cody Cooper, from Mount Maunganui, struggled to cope with his unsettling neck injury, sustained in a training session crash two weeks ago.

 

Cooper was frequently the fastest man out of the starting gate, but his best race result on Sunday was a third placing and he had to settle for fourth overall in this premier grade, just ahead of fellow Honda star Hadleigh Knight, of Taupo.

 

Auckland’s Hamish Harwood won the MX1 class, ahead of Australian  visitor Kirk Gibbs and Waitakere’s Ethan Martens, although Cooper believes another week of recovery will see him line up at Balclutha this coming Sunday in a much healthier condition.

 

Other class winners in the senior grades on Sunday were Tauranga’s Brodie Connolly (senior 125cc class and Roddy Shirriffs Memorial Trophy winner); Australian Charli Cannon (women’s class); New Plymouth’s Mitch Rowe (Veterans); Palmerston North’s James Galpin (River Race).

 

Class winners in the junior grades, raced on Saturday, were Auckland’s Cobie Bourke (14-16 years’ 250cc class); Tauranga’s Brodie Connolly (15-16 years’ 125cc class); Te Puke’s Kyan Loomans (12-14 years’ 125cc class); Invercargill’s Jack Symon (14-16 years’ 85cc class); Waitoki’s Cole Davies (12-13 years’ 85cc class); Invercargill’s Seth Morrow (8-11 years’ 85cc class); Tauranga’s Levi Townley (8-11 years’ 65cc class).

 

Chase is supported by Honda New Zealand, Motul, Alpinestars, 100%, Bell helmets, ChaseWorks Suspension, Dunlop, Akrapovic, Renthal, Twin Air, Matrix, Dr Trim, Hinson, Works Connection, Haan Wheels, Un4seen Decals, Parker’s Beverages, DRC, Vortex, Goodbuzz, Ethika, Skinnies Sunscreen and RynoPower.

 

Credit: Words and photo by Andy McGechan

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