The man from Motueka has won national titles in New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom and impressively finished among the top five in the Motocross World Championships in Europe for a total of six separate season between the years 2000 and 2008.
He came agonisingly close to winning the MX1 world championships title outright in 2007 (forced instead to settle for third overall that year because of injury) and the photos displayed here are from that fateful season in Europe.
Before that he raced and won as a junior and senior rider in New Zealand, and later on in his career he even gave it a go on tarmac, racing on several occasions on a super motard bike at the Nelson Street Races.
Coppins retired from fulltime racing at the end of 2012 and races only occasionally these days because he’s “far too busy” managing the Altherm JCR Yamaha Racing Team, although he does still give up time for coaching and mentoring up-and-coming youngsters or acting as an ambassador for the Yamaha brand.
It’s not hard to see why he’s often approached for advice and he’s certainly got the knowledge and experience to tell us a little about the current state of the sport in New Zealand, so BikesportNZ.com sat down for a chat …
“The numbers (of riders) we get at events in New Zealand is good at the moment. The start lines are really full,” he said.
“Probably the biggest negative, though, is the competition. Generally, in most classes we have only one or two really fast guys. The actual racing provided by the clubs, the tracks and from the clubs’ points of view is really good and going well, but let’s just say that the inclination (from riders) to go and race internationally is really weak.
“The top guys in MX1 and MX2 here is thin … there’s not a lot of depth. That’s the big negative that I can see.”
This was perhaps highlighted by the fact that just-about-to-turn 34-year-old fellow former GP rider Ben Townley rocked up at round one of the New Zealand Supercross Championships at Tokoroa in December and clean swept the premier SX1 class. He didn’t travel to Winton for round two of the supercross nationals a fortnight later, but 41-year-old Coppins did show up there, also making his sole appearance in the series, and it was his turn to clean up the SX1 class.
“Supercross we can’t really judge it so much,” he said diplomatically, “because a lot of the major teams weren’t there, so it was probably expected (that Townley and Coppins would dominate).
“If I could sum it up with one word, it’s a lack of ‘passion’ from our up-and-coming riders, and by this I mean riders aged 16 to 18 years.
“The guys who have taken themselves to Europe are different. Dylan Walsh is an example … everyone thought he was a bit of a rat-bag and didn’t give him the time of day, but now he’s our brightest hope. He’s got a factory-supported MX2 ride in Europe. He’s still up and down but he’s going to get results.
“He’s an example of someone with passion. He’s been living on his own for the past four or five years, after two years or so in America and two in Europe. I really respect that and his passion.
“We’re not lacking the skills, we’re not lacking the tracks, we’re not lacking the opportunities … for my opinion, and it’s only my opinion, we’re lacking the desire to tick all the boxes.
“I could see Dylan Walsh’s potential when I put him in my team a couple of seasons ago. I could see his potential 100 percent in his speed, but he needs to become more of a rounded rider. When he’s good, he’s very good, but when he’s bad he’s bad at GP level.
“He’s still got to learn the sand. He comes from the Millsaps training side of things, which is super aggressive. It didn’t work for him at Lommel, where he had to be a little more technical and find rhythm. He still needs to understand that. But, when the track suits him, he’s right up there with his speed, right up there with some of the top guys in the world. I definitely rate him.
“I’d next be looking at the likes of James Scott and Brodie Connolly but, in Brodie’s case, he needs to be overseas right now. Unfortunately he needs to be getting that experience now. I’m not sure how far he can go.
“The way it looks to me, from the outside, is that Australia would be his limit. That’s what I can see at the moment.
“James (Scott) is a little different. He was up in Europe and showed some good potential. Look, I don’t know any of these guys really and don’t really know what their potential is, what their plans are, what their aspirations are … or what their families are thinking … James showed enough, but he needs to be back there.
“A prime example is (Australian) Jay Wilson. He was world 85cc champion (in 2009) … he beat Jeremy Seewer and Dylan Ferrandis … he beat them all,” said Coppins.
Wilson sensationally became Australia’s first ever motocross world champion at the FIM Junior Motocross World Championships in New Zealand in 2009, the then 15-year-old’s 1-2 moto score-line securing him the 85cc world crown. He fended off stiff challenges from Italian rider Samuele Bernadini and his own Australian team-mate, Dylan Long, as well as beating Seewer and Ferrandis.
Seewer and Ferrandis are currently rated among the top two or three riders in the world.
“Look, you are a product of your environment,” Coppins continued.
“It you’re winning races in New Zealand by a country mile, you won’t progress. If Jay (Wilson) went back to Europe with those guys and raced with Seewer and raced with Ferrandis, for example, he’d be up with them now.
“Liam Everts (the Belgium son of 10-time world champion Stefan Everts) is another example. He comes out here to New Zealand and doesn’t win here. But now he’s the hottest thing in Europe.
“The same with (recent GP success stories from Australia) Hunter Lawrence and Jet Lawrence. You’re the product of your environment … surround yourself with good people and good competition and you’ll do well.
“Brodie Connolly needs to be overseas now, but it depends on what he and his family want to do. Maybe he’s comfortable just racing here. But if he has world level aspirations, I’d go as far as to say it’s almost too late.
“If you choose the Australian route (to get to Europe) it’s tough too. There are probably only three or four guys making money in Australia. Is that a pathway? If it was my son, I wouldn’t see it as a future pathway.”
It’s worth noting that both Coppins and Townley were aged only 16 or 17 when they first arrived in Europe … why wasn’t it too late for them?
“It that era that we went over, it was alright. But times have changed. Now there’s EMX85, EMX125 and EMX250, the ADAC series with 85cc bikes, the Dutch championships with 85cc bikes … the top kids in those classes now will be the top riders in Europe in three or four years’ time.
“That was Liam Everts last year and it will be him in a couple more years. Again, it is being the product of your environment and these kids know those tracks. So many of our riders have been unsuccessful, not because they’re not good enough, but because they can’t adapt. They’re used to Taupo, they’re used to Whakatane, they’re used to all the tracks here.
“What James Scott has done has been invaluable, because he’s learned what (notorious Belgian sand track) Lommel is all about. It comes down to the want from the rider and if the families can support it. It’s a lot of money. I totally get it if the families don’t want to support it. It’s a huge commitment.
“Unfortunately we’ve gone a decade or so now (without anyone stepping up). Luckily we’ve got Dylan now and perhaps James. Right now, if I have to say who’s our next big thing, I’d have to say I’m looking as far back as Levi Townley and he’s maybe only eight or nine. That’s just how it is now I think.”
It’s interesting to note that it took, on average, just three seasons before intrepid Kiwis such as Shayne King, Coppins and Townley went from being non-qualifiers at GPs in Europe to becoming world elite.
King first went to Europe in 1993 and be was 500cc world champion in 1996; Coppins first went to Europe in 1995 and he became a regular world top-10 from 1999 onwards; Townley first went to Europe in 2001 and he was MX2 world champion in 2004.
Have you too got the “right stuff” to take the plunge and give it a go?
© Words and photos by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ
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