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.