The big annual Whakatane Summercross signals the start of the summer motocross season in New Zealand and it’s one event that all the major teams heavily target.
This event on December 29-30 is 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 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 became an international star.
Honda’s Cooper was the main winner at Summercross last year, as well as in 2016 and 2015 too. If he wins again this time around, it will be four in a row and Cooper’s fifth overall Summercross victory in total.
Cooper has been in top form this year, having finished a creditable 11th overall in the 450cc class in the national motocross championships in the United States, before racing for New Zealand at the Motocross of Nations in the US in early October. He also won the MX1 class at the Waikato Motocross Championships in early November.
Riding for the Blue Wing Honda, the 35-year-old Kiwi international will be joined in the Honda enclosure by MX2 (250cc) class specialist Wyatt Chase, from Taupo.
Two riders from overseas are also entered, Australian Caleb Ward (KTM) in the MX1 class and Canadian Matthew Stokes in the junior 250cc class.
Meanwhile, Motueka’s former Grand Prix motocross star Josh Coppins (Yamaha), who is also a two-time former Summercross winner, will line up in the MX1 class at Summercross on Sunday, along with Cooper’s Motocross of Nations team-mate Rhys Carter (Yamaha), Taupo’s just-crowned national supercross champion Cohen Chase (Kawasaki) and Reporoa’s Hadleigh Knight (Yamaha), who is just back from a season of racing in Japan.
All of these riders add even more depth to the racing and perhaps make picking a winner almost impossible.
The MX2 class will be bulging with hot talent too, Takapuna’s national MX2 champion Hamish Harwood (KTM) having to face up to top riders such as Mangakino’s Maximus Purvis (Yamaha), Taupo’s national MX2 No.2 Brad Groombridge, the Suzuki rider who is also current national cross-country and enduro champion and Rangiora’s Micah McGoldrick (KTM).
Other talented riders to look for include Kotemaori’s Reece Lister (KTM), Taihape’s Hayden Smith (Husqvarna), Waitakere’s Ethan Martens (Kawasaki), Tauranga’s Brodie Connolly (Husqvarna), Oparau’s James Scott (KTM), Wairoa’s Tommy Watts (Husqvarna and Kawasaki) and Stratford brothers Scott and Camo Keegan (both Honda), these two men more often seen winning national titles on ATVs (four-wheeled all terrain vehicles).
It will also be worth watching out for hot local heroes such as Whakatane riders Charlotte Knight, Sophie Tierney, Brooklyn McGovern, Aaron Colville, Jordan Prosser, Troy Wilson, Alex Cloke, Jack Brady, Jak Purcell, Flynn Watts, Aydan Hall, Hadley Gibson, Brodie Hatcher and Colby Bain-Bakker.
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 26-27, followed by the four-round nationals that kick off near New Plymouth on February 3.
Credit: Words and photo by Andy McGechan