The Fox-sponsored series kicked off in Balclutha three weeks ago, with several riders emerging that day as clear title contenders, but the points tables in the three championship classes were given something of a shake-up at Rotorua on Sunday.
In the premier MX1 class it had looked like being business as usual for Bay of Plenty’s defending champion Cody Cooper when he won all three MX1 races at Balclutha, but Australian visitor Kirk Gibbs stepped up to the challenge at Rotorua, winning the day at the popular Bay of Plenty track and shaving Cooper’s points lead to just six points, with the remaining two rounds – and three races at each of those events – now likely to be real cut and thrust affairs.
Gibbs finished 2-1-1 in his three MX1 outings at Rotorua on Sunday, seeing him win the day from Cooper (who managed 1-2-3 results) and west Auckland’s Hamish Harwood (2-2-4).
The best race of the day was the second MX1 clash, when Gibbs and Waikato’s Kayne Lamont collided in the first turn. Starting almost last in the 23-rider field, Gibbs set about his chase, Cooper in front and a long way ahead, with fellow title contender Harwood close behind Cooper.
Gibbs mounted a fierce charge and eventually fought through to the runner-up spot with just two laps remaining and he then stalked Cooper, soon afterwards snatching the lead from the Mount Maunganui man and going on to take the chequered flag.
It was a truly remarkable performance from Gibbs and set the day up for a thrilling final encounter. Gibbs won that final race too, while Cooper became locked in a battle with Hamilton’s Lamont for the runner-up spot, Lamont eventually taking second place, relegating Cooper to third and denying him two valuable competition points.
Cooper now has 142 points after two rounds, while Gibbs is second with 136 points, Harwood third with 120, Lamont now up to fourth overall with 95 points and Taupo’s Brad Groombridge rounding out the top five with 92 points.
Round three is set for Hawke’s Bay this coming Sunday (March 1), with nothing settled and anything still possible in this class.
“I’ve always liked this place. It’s good to get an overall … it’s been a whole,” said the 31-year-old Gibbs. “This is good in my build-up for the Aussie nationals. Coops is always fierce … and Kayne and Harwood. I love coming here. It’s really good prep.”
Cooper was satisfied to keep hold of the leader’s red number plate.
“I was getting beaten up out there. I was struggling here and at Balclutha too with bike set-up. I like the Napier track so I’m looking forward to racing there.”
The 26-year-old Lamont was also satisfied, but for a different reason … happy just being able to compete so well after his horrifying crash at the Honda New Zealand Motocross Grand Prix at Woodville a month earlier.
“I had a shocker in the first race (at Rotorua) today and crashed in the second race start (fighting back to finish fifth), then finished second in the last race. I was hurting, spewing in my throat, but I was catching Cody. I tried to sit back a bit so I wasn’t catching his dirt. A rock from Cody shattered my helmet peak in that last race, so I lost two helmet peaks today. Then I could see that Cody was unsettled and worked out where I could pass him and managed to do that down by pit lane.”
It was a similar story of fierce and unpredictable racing in the MX2 (250cc) class, with Bay of Plenty’s championship leader Josiah Natzke content to extend his points lead at Rotorua, albeit only by two points, as Mangakino’s Maximus Purvis and Oparau’s James Scott, in particular, came on strong to threaten him on Sunday.
Mount Maunganui’s Natzke finished 1-2-5 in the three MX2 races on Sunday, while Purvis finished 3-3-2 and Scott recorded 2-6-3 results.
Visiting Australian Kyle Webster had mechanical issues to deal with in race one and scored no points, but he bounced back to score back-to-back victories in the next two races. However, this was his first appearance in the series this season and so he is a long way back (12th) in the championship points.
Tauranga’s Brodie Connolly continues to lead the 125cc class, now a massive 37 points in front of his nearest challenger, Christchurch’s Marshall Phillips, but he suffered a minor set-back in his campaign when he collided with another rider on the opening lap of his final race on Sunday.
He battled back through almost the entire field to finally settle for a runner-up finish in that race, crossing the line behind Tauranga’s Madoc Dixon, but his dream of a series clean sweep was ended.
“It was a pretty exciting day here at Rotorua and the host club has done a fantastic job preparing the track,” said Motorcycling New Zealand (MNZ) motocross commissioner Ray Broad.
“With the long dry periods that the region has had, unfortunately the rain that arrived on Saturday did not do much to dampen things down.
“Overall the racing has been really tight, especially in the MX1 class and we’ve seen some outstanding performances from Josiah Natzke in the MX2 class and Brodie Connolly in the 125cc class.
“We are really pleased with the number of spectators rolling in the gate. It’s a great turn-around from last year.”
The competition now heads to Hawke’s Bay for round three this coming Sunday, March 1, with the fourth and final round set for Taupo on March 15.
Championship leaders after round two at Rotorua on Sunday are:
MX1 class: 1. Mount Maunganui’s Cody Cooper, 142 points; 2. Australia’s Kirk Gibbs, 136; 3. Auckland’s Hamish Harwood, 120; 4. Hamilton’s Kayne Lamont, 95; 5. Taupo’s Brad Groombridge, 92.
MX2 class: 1. Mount Maunganui’s Josiah Natzke, 126 points; 2. Mangakino’s Maximus Purvis, 118; 3. Oparau’s James Scott, 114; 4. Christchurch’s Dylan Walsh 96; 5. Australia’s Morgan Fogarty, 92.
Under-19 class: 1. Oparau’s James Scott, 145; 2. Australia’s Riley Ward, 113; 3. Pukekawa’s Jack Dunlop, 98.
125c class: 1. Tauranga’s Brodie Connolly, 147 points; 2. Christchurch’s Marshall Phillips, 110; 3. Auckland’s Cobie Bourke, 97; 4. Tauranga’s Madoc Dixon, 91; 5. Rongotea’s Zac Jillings, 87.
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 and TransDiesel Ltd.
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 and photos by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com
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