It was an enthralling final round at Pietramurata in northern Italy at the weekend as Duncan battled from behind in the points to successfully defend the title she first won in 2019.
Starting the final round of the series four points shy of the points-leader, Dutch rider Nancy Van De Ven, the 24-year-old from Dunedin in New Zealand immediately stamped her authority on the event by claiming pole position in qualifying but her immediate rival for the title parked directly inside Duncan at the start gate for race one and the Kiwi girl found herself on the ground halfway to the first corner as they touched.
Losing 20 seconds to the race leader before turn one, and separated by 26 other riders, the Kawasaki girl kept a cool head and started an unbelievable catch-up race; already 13th by the end of the opening lap, but continually forced to leave the ideal racing line to make passes, she was third by the end of lap four but the gaps to the girls ahead were enormous as the leaders had enjoyed a free track.
Just past half-distance in the 20-minutes-plus-two-lap race, Duncan moved into second place but the race leader, at that moment also virtual leader in the points chase, was still 20 seconds ahead.
But the girl in green refused to surrender. Relentlessly closing down her rival she jumped into the final lap on the leader’s rear wheel and swept majestically to the front with a decisive move around the outside at the next turn to hold the inside at the following corner and come home winner by just over two seconds. The six-point last lap turnaround meant she carried a five-point advantage over each of her closest rivals into the final race of the series.
Each of the title candidates steered clear of trouble at the start of race two with Duncan initially fourth; secure in the knowledge that third place would be sufficient to retain the world title, no matter how her rivals fared, she took over that position with a neat inside pass on the opening lap, advancing to an even more secure second on lap three before settling into a solid error-free rhythm.
Backmarkers made life ever more hectic as the race entered the closing laps and the Kiwi girl sensibly avoided potentially dangerous situations to bring it home third, sufficient to secure not only her second consecutive world title with Kawasaki but also her 14th career GP victory from 25 starts.
“It’s just an unbelievable feeling right now,” said Duncan afterwards.
“I dreamt of these days when I was a kid; I’ve worked 15 years of my life for moments like this. This year has been so full of uncertainties with the COVID-19 (pandemic) and our own challenges, like the crash I had in Mantova (round three of the series in September). When I got back to my bike after that crash and the handlebars were snapped, it felt as though the championship was gone in the blink-of-an-eye and I’m so proud how we fought back, stayed positive and confident to come out on top for a second year.
“Massive thanks to the entire team – you can’t do it alone! – but we got it done. There was so much pressure on each of us coming to the final round with the points so close; it was a matter of winner-takes-all and you have to rise to the occasion.
“I actually got more excited by the situation. These are the moments that count; I stood up and rose today and that’s why I’m champion. I fell down at the start of the first race but thankfully some more went down at turn two; I just never gave up, put it behind me and concentrated on pulling back as many places as I could. Potentially, I got a few gifts, particularly when (Germany’s) Larissa Papenmeier fell on the last lap, but I gotta thank my crew for keeping me posted; I’m proud of the way I stayed composed and I was just in my zone all race.
“Such a crazy race and it put me in the right position before race two. I knew the points so I didn’t need to take any risks. I stayed out of the chaos and tried to stay focused through the last laps but I don’t want to take it away from the girls in front who were riding so good; I let it play out in front of me and took the overall today and the championship. It was so close in the end.
“I’m so speechless. Just with all the uncertainty – it’s been just such a difficult year for me this year. That huge crash in Mantova (round three of the series) was massive and to get back to my bike and see my handlebars bent. I just thought ‘no, is this championship done?’ But I kept believing and, when the times got tough, we kept going.
“We were all put under-the-pump knowing it was tight coming to the final round but thankfully I got that moto win in race one and that made the difference. I just want to enjoy this one this evening but 100% sure I want to make it a three-peat with Kawasaki next year.”
Photo courtesy Kawasaki Europe
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Results and Standings:
WMX – Race 1 – Top 10 Classification:
- Courtney Duncan (NZL, Kawasaki), 25:42.933; 2. Larissa Papenmeier (GER, Yamaha), +0:02.040; 3. Lynn Valk (NED, Yamaha), +0:20.444; 4. Shana van der Vlist (NED, KTM), +0:31.301; 5. Nancy Van De Ven (NED, Yamaha), +0:34.235; 6. Kiara Fontanesi (ITA, KTM), +1:04.764; 7. Sara Andersen (DEN, KTM), +1:17.156; 8. Jamie Astudillo (USA, KTM), +1:34.392; 9. Sandra Keller (SUI, KTM), +1:36.965; 10. Francesca Nocera (ITA, Yamaha), +1:39.420.
WMX – Race 2 – Top 10 Classification:
- Nancy Van De Ven (NED, Yamaha), 25:49.193; 2. Kiara Fontanesi (ITA, KTM), +0:01.717; 3. Courtney Duncan (NZL, Kawasaki), +0:07.334; 4. Larissa Papenmeier (GER, Yamaha), +0:19.615; 5. Lynn Valk (NED, Yamaha), +0:29.625; 6. Shana van der Vlist (NED, KTM), +0:43.146; 7. Sara Andersen (DEN, KTM), +1:02.697; 8. Jamie Astudillo (USA, KTM), +1:28.194; 9. Francesca Nocera (ITA, Yamaha), +1:30.185; 10. Malou Jakobsen (DEN, KTM), +1:45.525.
WMX – Overall Top 10 Classification:
- Courtney Duncan (NZL, KAW), 45 points; 2. Nancy Van De Ven (NED, YAM), 41 p.; 3. Larissa Papenmeier (GER, YAM), 40 p.; 4. Kiara Fontanesi (ITA, KTM), 37 p.; 5. Lynn Valk (NED, YAM), 36 p.; 6. Shana van der Vlist (NED, KTM), 33 p.; 7. Sara Andersen (DEN, KTM), 28 p.; 8. Jamie Astudillo (USA, KTM), 26 p.; 9. Francesca Nocera (ITA, YAM), 23 p.; 10. Sandra Keller (SUI, KTM), 21 p.
WMX – Championship Top 10 Classification:
- Courtney Duncan (NZL, KAW), 207 points; 2. Nancy Van De Ven (NED, YAM), 207 p.; 3. Larissa Papenmeier (GER, YAM), 200 p.; 4. Kiara Fontanesi (ITA, KTM), 193 p.; 5. Lynn Valk (NED, YAM), 164 p.; 6. Shana van der Vlist (NED, KTM), 135 p.; 7. Sara Andersen (DEN, KTM), 121 p.; 8. Line Dam (DEN, YAM), 114 p.; 9. Anne Borchers (GER, SUZ), 94 p.; 10. Tahlia Jade O’Hare (AUS, KTM), 91 p.