New Zealand will pin its hopes on a mix of youth and experience when its three-man squad heads to Italy in September.
After much debate and careful consideration, Motorcycling New Zealand’s selectors have this week settled on its team for the big annual Motocross of Nations (MXoN), a season-ending clash of countries that is often referred to as “the Olympic Games of motocross”.
And so it will be Mount Maunganui’s Cody Cooper, Takaka’s Hamish Harwood and Hamilton’s Josiah Natzke (pictured above) who will fly the Kiwi colours at the 2016 edition of the MXoN at Maggiora, in north-western Italy, on the weekend of September 24-25.
“It has taken a lot of discussion and we are happy with the team that we have selected,” said Motorcycling New Zealand motocross commissioner Howard Lilly.
“It made the final decision harder because we had to deal with injuries popping up, but it will be exciting to see the old working with the new, particularly with Cody and Josiah.
“I certainly hope we can qualify (for the final races), that’s the first goal, and then we’ll see if we can finish among the top 15 after that. That’s realistic.”
With support from West Harbour-based company Workshop Graphics, the Taupo Motorcycle Club and Motorcycling New Zealand, the squad will be managed by Bevan Weal, the 47-year-old the owner of a Taupo sign and graphics company.
National MX1 champion Cooper has been a regular for New Zealand at the MXoN.
He has raced eight times at the MXoN since his debut at the event in France in 2005 and he was one of the Kiwi trio to finish on the podium when the MXoN was held in England in 2006.
Meanwhile, current national MX2 (250cc) champion and former Australian under-19 champion Harwood has raced just once before for New Zealand at the MXoN, in Latvia in 2014, when the Kiwi team failed to qualify for the final point-scoring races.
This year’s event in Italy will be Natzke’s MXoN debut, although he has raced extensively in Europe over the past two years, finishing runner-up in the European 125cc Championships last season.
The steep, hillside course at Maggiora, north-west of Milan, last hosted the MXoN in 1986, when the three-man team from the United States finished first and second in all three of the final races, the most dominant performance by one country ever in the history of the event.
The Team New Zealand riders will be among the many who will try to prevent that American whitewash happening again, although the defending MXoN champion team from France, last year’s third-ranked team from Belgium and the Italian hosts will be among the more fancied contenders this September.
A New Zealand team has previously featured among the elite at this iconic event.
Team New Zealand has finished a remarkable third outright at the MXoN on three memorable occasions – in England in 1998, in Belgium in 2001 in England again in 2006.
The Kiwi trio that raced at the MXoN in France last year comprised Cooper and fellow Bay of Plenty riders Ben Townley and Kayne Lamont and they finished eighth overall among the more than 30 countries entered. Townley and Lamont are unavailable this season because of injury.
The New Zealand Team has supporters clothing available, all proceeds from this clothing goes directly towards the team.
Limited edition Tracktion hoodies $69 each and limited edition Staple Tee’s $35 each. Available from the MNZ on-line store.
© Words and photos by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com
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