WORLD TITLE WITHIN GRASP

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One tricky rut was all that stood in the way of Motueka’s Josh Coppins finally clinching a world motocross crown at the weekend.

Along with a strong contingent of fellow New Zealanders, the 39-year-old Coppins was among those at the head of the action at the 2016 edition of the Veterans’ Motocross World Championships in the United States at the weekend.

Even as one of the oldest riders in the premier 30+ Pro division, the two-time former world championship runner-up and multi-time New Zealand champion was one of the title favourites and his winning form during Saturday’s non-scoring “warm-up” races showed that status was well-founded.

However, the former Yamaha factory rider and now manager of the Altherm JCR Yamaha Racing Team in New Zealand was eventually denied the title by the narrowest of margins.

Coppins (Yamaha YZ450F) finished 1-2 in the two races, which positioned him first equal with 36-year-old American factory test rider Mike Sleeter, although the Kiwi hero was relegated to second overall because of the count-back rule (Sleeter having the superior result in the final race) and that outcome could be traced back to one small mistake.

“I crashed in the rutted corner in the second race while I was going for the pass on Sleeter. I had set up my move on him on lap five (of 11) but dropped the bike,” Coppins explained.

“I managed to pull a lot of time back on Sleeter after that mishap, but the damage had been done and I simply ran out of time to get past him again.

“It was very close racing and I did enjoy it. I struggled a bit with my conditioning for the high temperatures (the thermometer hovering around the 30 degree mark all weekend), but I’m not offering that as an excuse.

“I really wanted to win this year because I move up to the 40+ grade next season. This event has been on my ‘bucket list’ for quite some time and I was surprised at all the support I had coming from the crowd. There were a lot  of former GP fans of mine who’d come to watch and I was blown away by that. I didn’t realise I had such a large following.”

With riders permitted to compete also in younger age categories than their own, Hawera’s Daryl Hurley took the opportunity to join Coppins in the 30+ grade, finishing 7-4 and claiming fourth overall.

Hurley won his own 40+ Pro grade and Taupo’s John Kirkcaldie celebrated victory in the 40+ Expert grade, while Christchurch’s Dean Baird and Wellington’s Darryn Henderson were riders who also had to be satisfied with finishing runners-up in their respective classifications.

Hurley finished 1-1 in the 40+ Pro grade to take that title, while Kirkcaldie won the 40+ Expert “support” grade with 1-2 results, with Winton’s Martin Axtens finishing 5-8 to settle for 7th overall in the same grade.

Baird finished 2-4 in his races to earn runner-up result his 40+ Intermediate grade and Henderson finished 2-2 to claim runner-up in the 50+ Expert grade.

Taranaki’s Mitch Rowe finished 4-4 in his 50+ Pro class, which gave him fourth overall for the event, while the title went to British former factory GP racer Kurt Nicoll.

The 51-year-old Rowe took the opportunity to also race in the younger 45+ Expert grade, where he finished 6-6 and a creditable 7th overall. Also taking advantage of the “drop down” rule, Axtens (7-8) finished 8th overall in the same category.

Papakura’s Tony Cooksley managed 3-4 results for third equal in the 60+ Expert grade, level on the score-sheet with American former factory rider Chuck Sun, although relegated to fourth on count-back.

Bay of Plenty’s Ian Conway finished 10-11 in the 55+ Intermediate grade, good for 11th overall, while Andrew Stewart finished 8-4 for fifth overall in the 50+ Novice grade.

Tauranga’s Julie Managh finished 3-4 in the Intermediate Women’s grade, which gave her fourth overall for the event. She had also raced in the non-championship women’s race on Saturday, finishing fifth overall alongside the Expert grade competitors.

© Words and photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com

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