But a never-say-die attitude saw the Tauranga teenager fight back and, not only did the dual-class ironman recover brilliantly from his accident to again challenge near the front in the close-fought MX125 class, but he also ended up on top of the podium in the battle-within-a-battle for Under-19 honours, a championship counted separately within the MX2 (250cc) class competition.
The 17-year-old LMC Husqvarna Racing Team rider had started the four-round series as defending 2020 champion in the 125cc class and he had looked well on target to win that title again in 2021.
He finished fourth in the opening MX2 class race at round two in Rotorua, but then a rare crash by Connolly in the second MX2 race of the day meant that he failed to finish and he therefore scored zero points.
Connolly also missed out further when he left straight away to head to hospital, making him a non-starter for the day’s last MX2 race at Rotorua.
This obviously also crippled his MX125 class bid and a fourth placing also in the 125cc class, early in the day at Rotorua, was his only involvement there.
But he had four weeks to recover before round three at Pukekohe, where he impressively bounced back with a 3-4-4 score-card in his three MX2 class races and a 2-3-3 score-card in his 125cc outings.
Roll on to Taupo’s final round at the weekend and the superbly-fit athlete was once again back to banking valuable points – finishing 5-5-4 in the MX2 class and 4-3-3 in the 125cc class – good enough to see him eventually finish the series fifth overall in the MX2 class and fourth overall in the 125cc division.
But, the unfortunate crash aside, it was still actually a glorious campaign for the Husqvarna hero.
Connolly dominated the Under-19 scoreboard within the MX2 class, the best-performed rider aged under 19 in every single race, except for the two he failed to score in at Rotorua.
“I had a sprained wrist after my crash at Rotorua and that cost me a lot really,” said Connolly, who works as a fencer during the week.
“It ruined my championship hopes. I wasn’t feeling the best at Taupo either, but I still managed back-to-back 20-minute races all day, so my fitness must be okay. But it was certainly tough work.
“I’ll be back next year to have another crack at the MX2 class and hopefully win the Under-19 title again as well.”
Runner-up to Connolly in terms of MX2 Under-19 honours was Te Aroha’s Luke van der Lee (Yamaha), while Christchurch’s Marshall Phillips (Yamaha) finished third overall.
Meanwhile, West Auckland’s Hamish Harwood (KTM) celebrated winning his first national championship title in the premier MX1 class on Sunday, while Mangakino’s Maximus Purvis (Yamaha) successfully defended his MX2 title from last season and Silverdale’s Hayden Smith (Gas Gas) won the MX125 title for a second time.
© Words and photos by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com
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