Mates versus mate for Motocross glory
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Expect the country's most talented motocross riders to put aside their traditional rivalries and brand allegiances when they next compete, instead banding together under provincial colours.
They will flock to Taupo this Saturday for the eighth annual Battle of the Clubs (BOTC). The event is a fundraiser to help send a three-rider New Zealand team to the annual Motocross of Nations (MXoN) -- the Olympic Games of motocross -- this year at Matterley Basin, near Winchester, in southwest England.
The format used for racing at the BOTC in Taupo is similar to what the Team New Zealand trio can expect as they line up in England against teams from all around the world at the MXoN, on October 1.
The New Zealanders have faced exceptionally strong teams, from nearly 40 countries, every time they've raced at the MXoN and yet they have typically also managed to punch above their weight.
Team New Zealand finished a respectable eighth overall when the MXoN was staged in France in 2015, Bay of Plenty riders Ben Townley, Cody Cooper and Kayne Lamont impressive at the event near Rennes, not far from the World War II D-Day landing beaches in Normandy.
A different trio -- Cooper, Takaka's Hamish Harwood and Hamilton's Josiah Natzke -- were chosen to go into battle when the MXoN was held in Italy last September and again they finished in the top half of the field, 17th overall.
Team France won the 2016 event overall, the third consecutive time it has won the MXoN, but it was tight and came down to the final race of the weekend, with the Netherlands and the US also potential winners.
These motocross "powerhouse"countries, perhaps also along with Belgium and Italy, are favoured again this year, although the venue this time around may offer extra hope to the Kiwis. It was at Matterley Basin in 2006 where Team New Zealand finished third overall, with Cooper, Townley and the now-retired Josh Coppins.
Motocross is huge in Europe, with 80,000 showing up to watch racing at the MXoN in Italy last year. Photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com
But the 2017 team, yet to be named, first has to get there and it can be expensive to send a team of three riders, their bikes, mechanics and everything else they need to compete to the other side of the world.
It was with this in mind that the Taupo Motorcycle Club came up with the BOTC, a domestic equivalent of the MXoN.
The annual fundraiser has provided a significant financial boost to the Team New Zealand campaign each year since the inaugural BOTC was held in 2010.
The club-based teams each have six riders -- three juniors and three seniors -- who will compete on 85cc, 125cc, 250cc and 450cc machines.
This year, for the first time, mini riders will be catered for, with clubs nominating riders for each of four bike classes.
The entry fee from each of the clubs, plus donations from the hundreds of spectators and the proceeds from raffle ticket sales, will be a welcome boost for the Motorcycling New Zealand coffers.
Riders such as Cooper and Harwood are likely to be on the short-list for this year's MXoN campaign.
Other former MXoN riders such as Townley, Brad Groombridge, Rhys Carter, Kayne Lamont, Kieran Scheele, Daryl Hurley and Darryll King are expected to race on Saturday.
The three riders (plus a reserve) who will eventually make the trip to England will be announced this weekend.
Saturday's racing at Taupo's Digger McEwen Motocross Park kicks off about 10am.