Southern woman achieves childhood dream of racing in world series
If there are any motocross fans outside New Zealand who haven't yet heard of Courtney Duncan, they're probably in for a shock in the coming weeks.
The 19-year-old racer from remote Palmerston, near Dunedin, has already created a few waves.
The Yamaha star finished sixth against the world's elite young men at the Junior World Motocross Championships when the annual event was staged in New Zealand in 2009, but has not done a lot internationally for the past couple of seasons.
The Altherm JCR Yamaha Racing Team rider's mentor and coach, two-time 250cc world championship runner-up Josh Coppins, reckons she's got what it takes to be among the world's elite.
That's why he and Yamaha NZ are getting behind her Women's World Championship bid this year.
She dominated the women's class at the recent King of the Mountain annual motocross in Taranaki and pushed her team-mate, former national MX2 (250cc) champion Kayne Lamont, right to the brink in that class before settling for runner-up.
It was a 1-2 finish for the Altherm, Lamont posting a 2-1-1 scoreline in the MX2 class and Duncan finishing 1-2-2.
She was mightily impressive in Taranaki, posting the third fastest lap across all the classes, bettered only by national MX1 (450cc) champion Cody Cooper and Lamont, and ahead of other Kiwi internationals and MX1 class riders Scott Columb and Brad Groombridge.
It certainly signalled she was approaching peak form and her preparation was on track for the start of the Women's World Championships in Qatar on February 27-28.
"I had been planning to race at two GP events in Europe last year, but, unfortunately I injured myself -- passing around a basketball during a gym session -- and that put me out for six months.
"I've been working very closely with Josh and we've improved a lot of things. It's top-secret stuff and I can't tell you what or how," she laughed.
"You could say it's a childhood dream to be given the opportunity to race the world champs. I'll definitely be doing everything I can to make it work and my confidence is very high at the moment.
"The racing in Taranaki was my first big event since I raced at the final round of the New Zealand Motocross Championships at Pukekohe last March.
"I don't know anything really about the women I'll be racing against in Qatar.
"I don't even know anything about Kiara Fontanesi (the 21-year-old Italian who won the women's world championships last season). I do know that she, and the others too (such as French rider Livia Lancelot and Dutchwoman Nancy Van De Ven, the world No 2 and No 3), will be extremely fast.
"But I figure they won't know much about me either. Some of the riders may remember racing against me in the United States in 2013, but that was a long time ago."
Duncan won the Women's Triple Crown at the AMA Pro Nationals round at Hangtown, California, in 2013, before suffering concussion following a huge crash in her US campaign.
With sensational wins and frustrating injuries alternating as bullet points on her career over the past two seasons, Duncan has struggled to find the spotlight.
But now she's 100 per cent healthy and ready again to go full-throttle.