It’s tough when you have a big No.1 plastered over the front and sides of your motorcycle – everyone has you in their gun sights, wants to shoot you down and take that title away.
Bay of Plenty’s national MX1 motocross champion Cody Cooper can feel the pressure, although it’s something he’s become accustomed to over the past few years, and he is determined that it will be he who is “firing the bullets” at this year’s Honda New Zealand Motocross Grand Prix at Woodville, coming up next weekend, on January 27-28.
The man from Mount Maunganui has won the main title at the Honda-sponsored Woodville GP on two occasions in the past, in 2007 and again in 2014, and he has realistic ambitions to make it a third win this season.
He has also won the premier MX1 class overall at Woodville on several other occasions, although the past three years have seen Australian visitors win the event’s namesake feature trophy – Kirk Gibbs taking it in 2015 and Dean Ferris in 2016 and 2017 – and that’s something that Cooper aims to rectify this time around.
For each of the past five years, Cooper has moved on after Woodville to win the national MX1 crown and the 34-year-old has plans again to do that again this year, the four-round 2018 New Zealand Motocross Championships kicking off in Taranaki just a week after Woodville, on February 4.
But first there’s the little matter of winning the NZ GP title.
Cooper loves racing at Woodville and his build-up to the event has been going according to plan, with him winning the MX1 class at the Waikato Motocross Championships in November and then the Auckland Motocross Championships a couple of weeks after that, before going on to dominate MX1 at the big annual Honda Summercross in Whakatane just after Christmas.
Cooper has some huge heavy-hitters lining up against him again this year and they too are expected to be faster and fitter than ever before.
Cooper would like nothing better than to become a rare three-time feature trophy winner at the iconic event.
Only five riders have won at Woodville three times or more in the past – Taranaki brothers Shayne King (an incredible 9-time Woodville winner) and Darryll King (5-time winner), Motueka’s Josh Coppins (5-time winner), Tauranga’s Peter Ploen (3) and Pahiatua’s Ken Cleghorn (3).
It is interesting to note that, while plenty of international visitors have won the event in the past, Kiwi riders are world class too and it is home-grown New Zealand riders who have dominated over the years.
Queenslander Gibbs won the main trophy at Woodville in 2015 after a massive battle with Cooper and, in winning that feature race, Gibbs became the first non-Kiwi in 25 years to claim the coveted New Zealand GP crown. American Willie Surratt won there in 1989 and that was the previous time that a non-Kiwi had won at Woodville.
KTM rider Gibbs is back again this season, here for Woodville and the national championship series that follows, and he is definitely one rider who will be a thorn in Cooper’s side.
Kiwi internationals such as Mangakino’s Kayne Lamont (Yamaha), Taupo’s Brad Groombridge (Suzuki), Mount Maunganui’s Rhys Carter (Kawasaki), Rotorua’s John Phillips (Honda) and Takapuna’s Hamish Harwood (KTM), to name just a few, have good reason to fancy their chances too.
As well as Gibbs’ entry, Australian strength will also be seen in the smaller bike classes, with Jay Wilson (Yamaha), Mason Semmens (KTM), Bailey Malkiewicz (Yamaha), Tyler Darby (Honda) and Australian national women’s champion Maddie Brown (Yamaha) bringing their considerable skills to New Zealand’s No.1 motocross battleground.
Top Kiwis expected to feature in the 250cc and 125cc classes include Mangakino’s Maximus Purvis (Yamaha), Oparau’s James Scott (KTM), Taupo’s Wyatt Chase (KTM) and Wairoa’s Tommy Watts (Husqvarna).
Racing over the two days at Woodville caters for minis, juniors, women and veterans, with two 10-minute vintage motocross bike races an additional feature of Saturday’s programme this year.
The novelty river race on Sunday is also a major crowd-pleaser.
© Words and photos by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com
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