Hadleigh Knight off to take on the best in Japan
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New Zealand's Hadleigh Knight made such an impact when he raced motocross in Japan last season he was invited back again this year, or an even longer stay..
The 20-year-old farmhand from Reporoa has just wrapped up his New Zealand Motocross Championship campaign, finishing a respectable fourth overall in the MX2 (250cc) class.
This was despite failing to score after crashing in the second of three races at round two of the series at Rotorua, then not being able to start the final race of the day. To finish fourth overall, with only 10 of the series' 12 races to his credit, is a remarkable feat.
But there was little time to celebrate that achievement, with the HLR Husqvarna Racing Team rider packing his bags for a flight to Japan soon afterwards.
"I'll be riding for the Uzushio KTM Racing Team again," said Knight.
"I rode for them at just the final round last year and they were obviously pleased with me because they got back in touch with me and now I'll be doing the entire series in Japan."
It is almost impossible for foreigners to gain entry into the Japanese nationals, but he crew at Uzushio were able to pull a few strings for the likeable Kiwi.
"I finished about 13th or 14th in my two races in Japan last October and definitely felt I could have done much better. My lap times were good enough to be among the top four or five riders there, but I just wasn't fit enough and got bad starts both times."
There should be no question about his fitness now, his performance at Taupo at the weekend was impressive, coming at the end of a busy season in New Zealand.
"I will fly back and forth from Japan for each of the rounds. It's hard to gauge where I will finish but I'm aiming for a top five."
He will be racing in the IA2 class, "which is the same as our MX2. Everything is provided for me".
Knight was part of a successful HLR Husqvarna Racing Team outfit in New Zealand this season. In addition to Knight clinching the national No.4 ranking in the MX2 class, his team-mate from Karaka, Kurtis Lilly, finished a close runner-up to CML KTM Racing Team rider Hayden Smith, of Taihape, in the national 125cc class.
Knight is not the only Kiwi racing overseas this season, with 2017 national MX1 champion Cody Cooper and MX1 No.3 Rhys Carter, both from Mt Maunganui, heading to the United States to race in the opening two rounds of the national motocross series there in May.
Just re-crowned national MX2 champion Hamish Harwood, of Takaka, and Ngatea's national MX2 No.8 Ben Broad have just kicked off their bids for national motocross honours in Australia.
Harwood finished the day seventh overall in the MX2 class at the series opener at Wonthaggi, in Victoria, just over a week ago, while Broad managed fifth overall in the Motocross Development (MXD) class, for riders aged under-19.
Round two is set for Appin in New South Wales on April 23.
Meanwhile, New Zealanders are waving the Silver Fern high in Europe this season with Christchurch's Dylan Walsh, Hamilton's Josiah Natzke and Taupo brothers Cohen and Wyatt Chase involved in the European Motocross Championships.
The EMX125 and EMX250 championships kick off in Italy this weekend. Otago's Courtney Duncan will race at the same event in Italy, continuing her bid to become the 2017 women's motocross world champion. She is leading the WMX series after round one in Indonesia last month.