Motorcross: Transtasman clash in GP
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It's the "greatest show on turf" and Bay of Plenty's Cody Cooper wants to reclaim it for himself.
The past couple of years have been classic Aussie-versus-Kiwi battles, but Mt Maunganui's Cooper is determined to reclaim the top spot and win his third New Zealand Grand Prix motocross title this season.
Cooper, 33, has been the national MX1 motocross champion for four seasons, but has been beaten to the GP title in the past two years by Australian invaders.
He is again one of the favourites to win the Honda-sponsored standalone Woodville event when he arrives in the Manawatu this weekend (January 28-29), but the Aussies are back in force with last year's Woodville champion, New South Wales' Dean Ferris, leading the charge.
Cooper has won the GP title twice before at Woodville -- in 2007 and 2014 -- and would like nothing better than to become a rare three-time Woodville winner at this season's 56th running.
He was stopped in 2015 by Australian Kirk Gibbs and in 2016 it was Ferris who took the trophy in his debut appearance there.
Cooper lived up to his star billing when he again won the MX1 class at Woodville last year. That was a case of winning the battles but losing the war, with Ferris leading from start to finish in the gruelling Invitation Feature Race, becoming the 28th main event winner at Woodville since the inaugural running in 1961.
Cooper posted a 1-2-2 score-card to win the MX1 class at Woodville last year, finishing the day four points ahead of Ferris. Otago's Courtney Duncan stunned the testosterone-fuelled MX2 (250cc) class to snatch that class win with an outstanding 1-3-2 score-line. And Feilding's Tony Cvitanovich did enough in finishing 4-4-3 to be crowned 125cc class champion at Woodville last year.
Australian Dean Ferris (Yamaha YZ450F), who won on debut at Woodville last season. Photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com
Not only did 15-year-old Cvitanovich win the 125cc class, he was also rewarded with the Roddy Shirriffs Memorial Trophy as the highest-placed senior 125cc class rider under 22.
Palmerston North's Tim Gibbes, who founded the iconic event 56 years ago, has expressed enthusiasm that the Woodville motocross would live on forever.
"I'm not surprised it's still a major event," said the now 83-year-old former world championship rider.
"I remember back in the beginning when we had 5000 tickets printed but the call came back from the entrance gate at one o'clock in the afternoon that they'd sold out.
"The crowds just kept coming.
"I'm very proud of this event but it's not all about me ... there has been a lot of work done by a lot of people over the years to make this a continuing success."
Gibbes twice won his own Woodville event, in 1962 and 1964.
"When this first became an international event, nobody in New Zealand knew what motocross was."
They know all about it now and Cooper will again have some heavy-hitters lining up against him this year.
Only five riders have won at Woodville three times or more in the past -- Taranaki brothers Shayne and Darryll King ( nine- and five-time Woodville winners), Motueka's Josh Coppins (five-time winner), Tauranga's Peter Ploen (3) and Pahiatua's Ken Cleghorn (3).
Kirk Gibbs will not be back this year, but Ferris again crosses the Tasman and, with his recent Australian MX1 championship win, is expected to feature, along with fellow Australians Todd Waters, Jed Beaton, Luke Styke, Cody Dyce, Morgan Fogarty and Wilson Todd and brothers Adam and Noah Smerdon.
Kiwi internationals such as Tauranga's Ben Townley, Dylan Walsh (Christchurch), Kayne Lamont (Mangakino), Hamish Harwood (Takapuna), Brad Groombridge (Taupo), John Phillips (Rotorua), Micah McGoldrick (Rangiora), Ethan Martens (Waitakere), Josiah Natzke (Hamilton) and Mount Maunganui's Rhys Carter also have good reason to fancy their chances.
Racing over the two days at Woodville caters for minis, juniors, women, veterans and seniors, with the novelty river race on Sunday always a crowd-pleaser.