3TWENTY3 KAWASAKI RACING MAKES A BIG IMPRESSION ON DEBUT
The 2017 New Zealand Motocross Championships could be something of a scorcher, especially if the early indications from Taupo's first major event of the season are a reliable forecast.
A motocross lull over the country in winter turned into a high of epic proportions at the big annual MX Fest at Taupo over Labour Weekend, the two-day spectacle traditionally considered the start to the Kiwi season.
This is where the new model bikes are aired, new teams present themselves and riders use the occasion to find out where they stand before the serious business of the national championships in February and March.
The Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki squads all had a fresh look about them, KTM had a few new faces on its bikes and, making its debut, a brand new Kawasaki team showed up in force.
When the dust had cleared at the end of racing on Sunday, everyone realised the new green team, 3Twenty3 Kawasaki Racing, deserved some respect, with team's MX1 rider, Mt Maunganui's Rhys Carter, claiming the top trophy and the MX2 class rider, Tauranga's Josh Tredinnick, also impressing, finishing seventh overall in his class.
When the 27-year-old Carter sensationally won the first of the MX1 races, the pits were abuzz, and he showed it was no fluke when he also won race two.
He finished third in race three and was top of the MX1 class standings with just the shoot-out series of feature races still to come.
By the end of the day, the new green team's impact was complete, with Carter finishing runner-up to the national MX1 champion, Mt Maunganui's Cody Cooper (Honda Racing Team), in the final shoot-out race. It was enough for him to claim overall honours, six points clear of Cooper, with Motueka's former world championship hero Josh Coppins (Altherm JCR Yamaha) six points further back in third.
A crash in each of the weekend's first two MX1 races cost Cooper dearly and, though he proved the fastest rider on the track to fight back and finish fourth in those two races, and won every race after that -- six wins from eight starts -- it wasn't enough to win overall.
Carter was thrilled with his first major ride on the KX450F. "I've not raced at the MX Fest for the past two seasons as I'd been sidelined with injury. But I'm feeling good right now and knew I had the speed to win," he said.
"When I saw Cody crash in the first race, I knew I had a chance. I didn't have a great start myself and was about third from last at the start, but I put the hammer down and got the win. It was all about not following, but being creative with line selection."
Riding for the Whyteline Kawasaki Team, Ngatea's Ben Broad showed he'd taken a liking to his new green bike, finishing fifth overall in the MX2 class on his first serious ride on the Sunday.
National 125cc champion Broad was also the last of the MX2 riders to survive the all-capacities shoot-out feature, finishing that segment of the programme fifth overall.
"This was my first major outing on the Kawasaki and there's still a little bit of sorting to do with setting up the suspension and I knew it was going to be tough today, but it turned out to be a great start to the season," said the 17-year-old Broad, a year 13 pupil at Hauraki Plains College.
MX2 class outright winner was Taupo rider Wyatt Chase (Yamaha), with another local, Mangakino's Maximus Purvis (Yamaha) winning the senior 125cc class. Best of the open class two-stroke rider was Waitakere's Shaun Fogarty (KTM), while the veterans' ranks were dominated by Rotorua's Cam Negus (Yamaha, 35-44 years) and Hamilton's Darryll King (Yamaha, over 45). The top woman was Opunake's Taylar Rampton (Husqvarna).
Best of the juniors to emerge during Saturday's programme were Cambridge's Trent Collins (Honda, 14-16 years 250cc class); Purvis (15-16 years 125cc class); Matamata's Brodie Connolly (KTM, 12-14 years 125cc class and 12-16 years 85cc class); Palmerston North's Rhys Jillings (KTM, 8-11 years 85cc class).