The big annual Whakatane Summercross signals the start of the summer motocross season in New Zealand, an event that commands massive attention from all spheres of the sport – sponsors, spectators,  bike manufacturers and from racers of all levels.

It is certainly one event that all the major teams heavily target.

This 48th annual event on December 28-29 is again expected to attract the cream of New Zealand motocross to the loamy Awakaponga circuit, near Matata, just outside Whakatane, the Honda-sponsored spectacle again this year acting as a springboard for riders heading into the busy part of the season, one that will culminate with the four-round New Zealand Motocross Championships in February and March.

It will be hard to look much further than Mount Maunganui’s multi-time former and current national MX1 champion Cody Cooper for the likely main trophy winner for this popular post-Christmas blow-out, a rider who grew up in Opotiki before going on to become an international star in the sport.

Honda’s Cooper was the main winner at Summercross last year, as well as in 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017. If he wins again this time around, it will be five in a row and Cooper’s sixth overall Summercross victory in total.

Cooper finished with an impressive 1-1-1-2-1 score-card over his five MX1 races at Summercross last year, while his nearest rival, fellow Mount Maunganui rider Rhys Carter, managed 2-2-2-1-2 results.

Cooper has been in top form already this year, having won the MX1 class at the big annual Honda MX Fest at Taupo in October, before backing that up with a comfortable MX1 class win at the annual Waikato Motocross Championships near Te Kuiti just two weeks ago.

Riding for the Blue Wing Honda, the 36-year-old Kiwi international will be joined in the Honda enclosure by MX2 (250cc) class specialist Wyatt Chase, from Taupo.

Meanwhile, several other former and current national motocross champions are also expected to line up to race Summercross 2019.

Mount Maunganui’s Josiah Natzke, Hamilton’s Kayne Lamont, Oparau’s James Scott, Tauranga’s Brodie Connolly and Mangakino’s Maximus Purvis are just a few of the riders who could be expected to challenge Cooper and Chase at the front of the glamour MX1 or MX2 categories.

Equally talented riders such as Tauranga’s Madoc Dixon, Taupo’s Hadleigh Knight, Taupo’s Brad Groombridge, Palmerston North’s Luka Freemantle, New Plymouth’s Logan Kerrisk and Rongotea duo Seth Henson and Zac Jillings also add undeniable class to proceedings and any of them could be fancied to spring a surprise or two.

All of these riders add even more depth to the racing and perhaps make picking a winner almost impossible.

Local heroes and heroines –  from Whakatane, Ohope, Edgecumbe, Thornton and Kawerau – will, naturally, be out in force again this year, including Finn Baker, Miller Spence, Hunter Davies, Corey and Chloe Munn, Ashlee and Josh Jennings, Jack Elliott, Corban Toone, Olly McIlroy, Troy Wilson, Carter Davies, Morgan Purcell, Samuel East, Hadley Gibson, Aydan Hall, Flynn Spence, Quade Young, James Wilson, Troy Wilson, Andrew Savage, Geordie Boon, Jak Purcell, Darren Capill, Charlotte Knight, Kaylene Cornes, Sophie Tierney, Brooklyn McGovern and Aaron Colville.

“This event is always a big one,” said host Bay of Plenty Motorcycle Club spokesman Tony Rees.

“The club will be working hard out to make sure that people can come along and really enjoy Summercross. It’s usually a hot one here, although we have had a few wet ones in the past.

“We have a made a few changes here and there to the track, but essentially the track always gets spruced up quite a bit for Summercross anyway, because the calibre of riders here goes up a little bit from the usual club level events.

“This is the kick-off to the main part of the season. All the top teams and riders want to be here to see how that might go at the nationals (starting in February).”

The Honda Whakatane Summercross is a two-day affair, with minis and juniors racing on Saturday and the seniors, women and veterans racing on Sunday.

If this event doesn’t shake out the cobwebs, then nothing will, and riders and fans alike will use this as a form indicator before the next big race meeting, the annual Honda New Zealand Grand Prix at Woodville on January 25-26, followed by the four-round nationals that kick off at Balclutha, at the bottom of the South Island, on February 1.

Credit: Words and Photo by Andy McGechan

Mount Maunganui’s Cody Cooper (Honda CRF450), again the favourite to win at Summercross this season.