The best quad bikers in New Zealand will head south for Labour Weekend with fingers crossed that the weather will co-operate.
The 2016 New Zealand ATV (all terrain vehicle) Motocross Championships will be held near Amberley on October 22-23, and organisers are hoping to avoid the unpleasant racing conditions that struck the nationals last year in Taranaki, when the weather forced the event to be cut short.
Riders were enveloped in choking dust on day one of the competition last year, then had to contend with clinging mud on day two, although this helped sort the men from the boys.
“The nationals are always exciting, always a big challenge for the riders. They always put on a great show down there and it’ll be a fantastic weekend,” said Motorcycling New Zealand ATV commissioner Jono Keegan, the Taranaki man well aware that his sons, Scott and Camo, will be expected to take centre stage regardless of what the conditions are like.
The Keegan brothers finished first and second overall last season, but they’re aware they can taking nothing for granted this time around.
Several local riders are expected to be among the many leading title contenders at Amberley, not least of all multi-time national champion Ian Ffitch.
The national champion in 2014, Ffitch had been favoured to win again last year until bad luck intervened — with the then 45-year-old suffering a succession of mechanical problems — and the Keegan siblings also came on strong, leaving the Canterbury man to settle for an uncharacteristic eighth overall.
His mood contrasted sharply with that of the Taranaki camp, where champagne corks were popping as 24-year-old Lepperton bricklayer Scott Keegan tasted national championship victory for the first time and his 26-year-old brother Camo claimed the No.2 spot overall.
Goldstone a threat
Third overall in the premier class last year was 21-year-old Tauranga rider Mark Goldstone and he should also again be a threat. Ffitch said he was determined to rise back up the ranks.
“I’ll certainly be having another crack at winning,” said Ffitch, who has won nearly 40 national ATV titles in a racing career spanning 30 years.
“I’ll be on home turf this year and that’s got to be worth something,” he said, laughing.
“Our tracks have different features down here. We set things up more on hard-packed soil with green grass and not so many built-up berms, which means a rider can’t just heave the bike into a corner and expect it will hold him. Obviously, the track at Amberley is what I’m used to.
“In saying that, though, I’m not as fit as I used to be. I don’t go pounding the pavement to keep fit these days, but I’ll be fit enough to give the competition a nudge.”
While much of the focus at the nationals will go on the premier grade, the open class, racing is also expected to be intense in the other categories, with races scheduled also for the juniors, women and mini quad riders.
Kaiwaka 17-year-old Cullen Curtis dominated the 450cc production class last year, scoring four wins on day one.
All it needed was a conservative approach in the treacherous slop in day two’s solitary 450cc class race for him to take the crown.
He settled for a runner-up finish in that race, comfortably enough to earn him the 2015 title.
Cullen finished the championship 23 points ahead of Christchurch’s Sam George, with New Plymouth’s Cory Whitelock taking the third step on the podium, and these riders should again be top title contenders this time.
Other riders to shine in the contrasting conditions last season were Christchurch’s Greg Graham, Napier’s Wade Taylor and Christchurch’s Gary Doig, who finished 1-2-3 respectively in the veterans’ class, while Christchurch’s Abby Holliday, Stratford’s Nicola Reid and Auckland’s Nina Kristensen were the leading female racers.
The venue is on Lawcocks Road, Amberley, and will be signposted from the main road.
Spectator entry is free and racing both days begins about 10am.