This year’s New Zealand Cross-country Championships were something of a mixed bag, with the senior title wrapped up well before the final round, but it was far from settled in the junior ranks with Rooks locked in a tense battle with friend and rival Adam Loveridge.
Honda rider Rooks led defending national junior champion Loveridge (Husqvarna) by a scant five-point margin as competitors arrived at the rolling farmland course, halfway between Kuratau and Taumarunui, for the fourth and final round of the series on Saturday.
Only three of the four rounds were to be counted, with riders dropping their one worst result, so it meant that, after they’d each discarded their “dud” race, there was actually just three points between Rooks and Loveridge.
It was simple mathematics – whichever of these two riders finished in front of the other on Saturday would claim the national crown for 2019 and, with a brutal 90-minute race in store, anything could still happen.
Rooks took his Honda CRF250 into the lead at the start on Saturday, but Loveridge snatched the advantage from him soon afterwards and that set the tone for a thrilling see-saw battle between the dynamic duo.
Trouble with a bog section on lap two cost Loveridge the lead and Rooks was quick to capitalise, stretching his legs out front.
However, Loveridge quickly recovered and the back-and-forth battle at the front between the pair continued over the following laps, with Loveridge back in front as they began the seventh and final lap.
However, once again Loveridge came unstuck in the tricky bog and Rooks grabbed the lead, which he held until the end, eventually winning the race – and the national title – by just four seconds, one of the closest results in many years.
Taupo’s Wil Yeoman (Yamaha) finished third in the junior race on Saturday and also claimed third overall for the series.
Tauranga’s Jack McLean (Honda) and Morrinsville’s Liam Calley (Kawasaki) rounded out the top five juniors for the series.
“It wasn’t easy, but when Adam (Loveridge) got stuck in a swamp on the last lap, that opened it up for me. I simply managed to avoid the mud,” said the 16-year-old Rooks, a year 12 boarding pupil at New Plymouth Boys’ High School.
“I was pushing it a bit at the end to stay in front.
“This was my last race in juniors and I’ll be hoping to continue on a maybe get a top 10 in the senior ranks next season,” said Rooks.
The three-hour senior race that followed was won by Tauranga’s Ben Townley (Yamaha), finishing ahead of Atiamuri’s Hadleigh Knight (Yamaha) and Whanganui’s Seth Reardon (Yamaha).
Raglan’s Jason Dickey (KTM) finished fourth in the senior race on Saturday, but, after winning the senior race at all three of the previous rounds, Dickey already had the senior title in his back pocket.
Raglan’s Brandon Given (Honda CRF450) finished eighth overall in the senior race on Saturday, but this became his “throw away result”, enabling him to finish the championship third overall, behind Dickey and Reardon.
Various class winners this season were Dickey (over-300cc four-stroke class); Reardon (under-300cc four-stroke class); Pukekawa’s Jim Orton (over-200cc two-stroke class); Dunedin’s Richard Mason (under-200cc two stroke class); Auckland’s Charlotte Russ (women’s class); Waipukurau’s Stephen Sergeant (veterans’ 35 to 44 years); Stratford’s Karl Roberts (veterans’ over-45 years); Rooks (junior over-200cc four-stroke class); Loveridge (junior under-200cc two-stroke class) and New Plymouth’s Josh Houghton (junior 85cc class).
© Words and photos by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com
Find BikesportNZ.com on FACEBOOK here