He may have very little experience with racing in such seriously muddy conditions, but, when the rain set in on Saturday to turn the pristine Hawke’s Bay circuit into a muddy mess, it was Australian visitor Kirk Gibbs who shone out.
The CML KTM Racing Team rider was the top individual in the premier MX1 grade at the Saturday’s third round of four in this season’s New Zealand Motocross Championships at Fernhill.
Gibbs showed early on, with the track at its best, that he again meant business in New Zealand and, even as conditions deteriorated, he was one of only a few consistent performers all day.
The 29-year-old from Queensland started the weekend in second position overall in the MX1 class title chase, nine points behind Hamilton’s Kayne Lamont (Altherm JCR Yamaha Racing Team YZ450F), but when the engines were shut off late that afternoon, he was on top and six points in front of Lamont.
In the day’s first of three MX1 races, Gibbs chased Lamont to the chequered flag, that result actually boosting the Kiwi hero’s advantage to 12 points over Gibbs.
But then the rains came.
Gibbs finished runner-up again in race two, this time behind Rotorua’s John Phillips (Honda Racing Team CRF450), the track becoming more difficult with each passing shower.
Significantly, Lamont could only manage sixth in race two and so his series lead was suddenly shaved back to just five points.
Further drama was to follow and, as the drenching continued and the track became even worse, it was Gibbs’ international riding experience that came to the fore.
He finished runner-up again in the final race, this time behind Mount Maunganui’s defending New Zealand MX1 champion Cody Cooper (Honda Racing Team CRF450), but Gibbs’ 2-2-2 scorecard gave him overall victory for the day and also saw him leapfrog Lamont and into the series lead.
The fourth and final round of the series is this coming Saturday, at Taupo’s Digger McEwen Motocross Park – home turf advantage for Lamont – and sets up for a thrilling final showdown.
“It was a little bit of an up-and-down weekend, to tell you the truth. When the rain came down it was gnarly,” said Gibbs. “I got three second placings, but no wins. It was good to get the overall.
“I kept crashing in the first race, but still managed to get second. Then I had a flat tyre in the second race and it was just a matter of survival.
“I haven’t ridden in mud since the Motocross of Nations (in England in October). The track here today was worse than that.”
Meanwhile, Gibbs’ CML KTM Racing Team-mate Hamish Harwood continued his relentless march towards retaining the MX2 (250cc) title.
With three wins from three starts, the West Auckland-based former Takaka rider saw his advantage balloon out to 49 points over his nearest challenger, Taupo’s Brad Groombridge (Kea Trailers Suzuki RM-Z250), meaning Harwood has almost two full races up his sleeve and only three more MX2 races at Taupo to come.
The national MX2 champion in 2016 and again last year, Harwood is well-placed to make it three consecutive MX2 crowns.
A dual-class ironman, Harwood also took a 300cc two-stroke version of his KTM250 SX bike to finish the day third overall in the MX1 class and he remains sixth in the MX1 series standings.
A third member of the CML KTM Racing Team, young Australian Mason Semmens, is battling with Mangakino’s Maximus Purvis (Altherm JCR Yamaha Racing Team YZ125) for National 125cc class honours.
Purvis heads the 125cc standings, 15 points ahead of Semmens after the pair shared wins at Fernhill. Both riders favour the Taupo track, so perhaps expect more fireworks from the dynamic duo this weekend.
© Words and photos by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com
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Check back here on www.BikesportNZ.com during this week as we bring you more words and pictures from the weekend.