The 27-year-old Kawasaki rider from Palmerston, near Dunedin, won the first of her two Women’s Motocross World Championship (WMX) races at the final round in Turkey on Saturday and with that stretched her points lead to such a margin that she had almost an entire race up her sleeve, with just the final race in the series remaining the following day.
Duncan finished runner-up in Sunday’s vital final race, behind Dutch rider Lynn Valk, and therefore comfortably added the 2023 world crown to her previous world championship titles, won three years consecutively in 2019, 2020 and 2021.
“Honestly I was not too stressed today; I knew what I needed to do, and I know how to ride mud,’’ Duncan said.
“Anything can happen in these conditions but I got a good start and just stayed upright. The conditions were difficult and slippery but it was the same for everyone and I ran it home in second; that was enough for the overall victory and the championship.”
Duncan said it had been “a really good season with four GP wins, and we were really consistent”.
“For sure it’s a challenge when there are such long breaks between some races after you have started to build momentum, but we kept our focus.
“I feel like we definitely stepped it up this year and my Kawasaki never missed a beat.”
She said her fourth title “means so much to me”.
“The first one in 2019 was a sigh of relief, getting the monkey off my back, but I got knocked down last year with my injury and I really wanted to raise the bar this year. It took a lot of hard work but my mum’s here this weekend for the first time and to experience one with her is very special so first we’ll enjoy this one and then we’ll start to work for the next one!”
Sadly, she had missed out on making it four in a row last year because of injury, but Duncan more than made up for that disappointment by dominating the series on her comeback this year.
Duncan started her weekend at the Turkish GP a solid 16 points clear at the top of the 2023 WMX standings – ahead of Spanish GasGas rider Daniela Guillen – and Duncan’s first-race success at the Afyonkarahisar circuit meant she had boosted her advantage to 21 points over Guillen, her only real threat for the crown.
With 25 points available for a win, the mathematics was simple and, counting that Guillen might win that final race, just 17th or better in the final race would have easily been enough for Duncan to “get the job done”.
Guillen managed only eighth in her final outing and ended 2023 as overall runner-up, while just-turned 16-year-old Dutch rider Lotte Van Drunen (Kawasaki) completed the series podium.
In all, Duncan won six of the 12 races in the championship (two races being held at each of the series’ six rounds), while Van Drunen won four races this season, Guillen only one and, for the race two winner in Turkey on Sunday, Dutch rider Valk (Fantic), that was her one and only race win of the season.
Destined never to race a GP on home soil and, in fact, she has always had to travel the farthest to compete on this world stage, Duncan endured three frustrating seasons of “so close, but yet so far” before her breakthrough success, winning her first world title in 2019.
But she proved again that Kiwis can fly, following in the wheel tracks of fellow New Zealand motocross riders who became world champions – New Plymouth’s Shayne King (500cc motocross world champion in 1996), Taupo’s Ben Townley (MX2 world champion in 2004), Pukekohe’s Katherine Prumm (women’s world cup champion in 2006 and 2007), Pukekohe’s Tony Cooksley (veterans’ world champion in 2007) and Hawera’s Daryl Hurley (veterans’ world champion in 2018).
Like her male counterparts, Duncan has always had to fight “behind enemy lines”, so to speak, most of her rivals much more familiar with the predominantly European tracks, terrain that was often alien to the Kiwi.
Her talented rivals have also enjoyed the luxury of basking in the warmth of many thousands of home fans screaming their support, while Duncan might generally have only half a dozen Kiwis on hand to offer encouragement.
So, while winning a world championship title is always difficult, to say it’s been especially tough on Duncan is a massive understatement.
However, like any Kiwi sportsperson confronting incredible odds, Duncan had faith in her ability, simply gritted her teeth, put her head down and charged ahead.
It will no doubt be a similar case when she attempts to defend her world title in Europe in 2024, but in the meantime she will celebrate.
© Words and photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ
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RESULTS & FINAL STANDINGS:
WMX – Race 1 – Top 10 Classification:
1. Courtney Duncan (NZL, Kawasaki), 25:41.482; 2. Larissa Papenmeier (GER, Yamaha), +0:10.062; 3. Daniela Guillen (ESP, GASGAS), +0:12.561; 4. Lynn Valk (NED, Fantic), +0:14.110; 5. Lotte Van Drunen (NED, Kawasaki), +0:14.856; 6. Charli Cannon (AUS, Yamaha), +0:41.945; 7. Sara Andersen (DEN, KTM), +0:49.249; 8. Shana van der Vlist (NED, Yamaha), +1:09.330; 9. Gabriela Seisdedos (ESP, GASGAS), +1:15.227; 10. Mathea Seleboe (NOR, Yamaha), +1:18.306.
WMX – Race 2 – Top 10 Classification:
1. Lynn Valk (NED, Fantic), 26:02.829; 2. Courtney Duncan (NZL, Kawasaki), +1:15.192; 3. Sara Andersen (DEN, KTM), +1:19.612; 4. Larissa Papenmeier (GER, Yamaha), +2:29.881; 5. Shana van der Vlist (NED, Yamaha), +2:56.633; 6. Gabriela Seisdedos (ESP, GASGAS), +3:00.906; 7. Lotte Van Drunen (NED, Kawasaki), -1 lap(s); 8. Daniela Guillen (ESP, GASGAS), -1 lap(s); 9. Britt Jans-Beken (NED, Yamaha), -1 lap(s); 10. Jamie Astudillo (USA, KTM), -1 lap(s).
WMX – Overall GP Top 10 Classification:
1. Courtney Duncan (NZL, KAW), 47 points; 2. Lynn Valk (NED, FAN), 43 p.; 3. Larissa Papenmeier (GER, YAM), 40 p.; 4. Sara Andersen (DEN, KTM), 34 p.; 5. Daniela Guillen (ESP, GAS), 33 p.; 6. Lotte Van Drunen (NED, KAW), 30 p.; 7. Shana van der Vlist (NED, YAM), 29 p.; 8. Gabriela Seisdedos (ESP, GAS), 27 p.; 9. Britt Jans-Beken (NED, YAM), 21 p.; 10. Jamie Astudillo (USA, KTM), 19 p.
WMX – Championship Top 10 Classification:
1. Courtney Duncan (NZL, KAW), 270 points; 2. Daniela Guillen (ESP, GAS), 240 p.; 3. Lotte Van Drunen (NED, KAW), 230 p.; 4. Lynn Valk (NED, FAN), 211 p.; 5. Sara Andersen (DEN, KTM), 166 p.; 6. Kiara Fontanesi (ITA, GAS), 157 p.; 7. Larissa Papenmeier (GER, YAM), 145 p.; 8. Britt Jans-Beken (NED, YAM), 130 p.; 9. Charli Cannon (AUS, YAM), 106 p.; 10. Shana van der Vlist (NED, YAM), 98 p.
2023 WMX calendar:
Rnd 1: Sardegna (Italy) – Riola Sardo, 25-26 Mar
Rnd 2: Switzerland – Frauenfeld, 8-10 Apr
Rnd 3: Spain – intu Xanadú – Arroyomolinos, 6-7 May
Rnd 4: France – Villars sous Ecot, 20-21 May
Rnd 5: Netherlands – Arnhem, 19-20 Aug
Rnd 6: Turkey – Afyonkarahisar, 2-3 Sep