Cooper scoops fifth NZ MX1 title
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With four consecutive New Zealand Motocross Championship MX1 class crowns to his name, it would have been a foolish person to bet against Mt Maunganui Honda hero Cody Cooper.
But, in fact, all bets were off at the fourth and final round of the 2017 New Zealand Motocross Championships in Taupo just over a week ago, with virtually nothing to separate Cooper from his main title threat in the premier MX1 class.
The Honda Racing Team star had led the national series from the start in Timaru in February and embellished his position at the top with another solid performance at round two near Rotorua a fortnight later.
Cooper lost his series lead for the first time at round three near Palmerston North two weeks before Taupo - slipping from 13 points in front to one point behind 2016 Australian MX1 champion Dean Ferris (Altherm JCR Yamaha Racing Team YZ450F).
However, he was back to his scintillating best at Taupo, scoring a hat trick of wins to dominate the day, re-taking the lead from Ferris and clinching the championship title at the same time.
It was Cooper's fifth consecutive national MX1 title win and his sixth in total, adding to the two MX2 (250cc) titles he won in previous seasons, and has reinforced the 33-year-old's status again as the New Zealand's best motocross racer.
Ferris was forced to withdraw from the final MX1 class race of the day at Taupo because of an electrical problem. This gave a huge points advantage to Cooper. But, by then, the damage had already been done, with Cooper having won the first two races of the day to give himself a seven-point buffer even before the start gate had dropped on that final race.
A third placing or better in the final race would have been enough to hand the title to Cooper and his victory in that race, while Ferris failed to finish, was merely icing on the cake for the Kiwi hero.
Cody Cooper (centre) ahead of Dean Ferris (left) and Rhys Carter. Photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com
"I guess I offered Dean (Ferris) a chance to win the title when I gave up my 13-point advantage at (round three in) Palmerston North. But I won all three races today and that was that," said Cooper.
"I knew I had to win the second race to give myself an edge for the final race and that meant riding outside my comfort zone. But, if I was riding outside my comfort zone, I knew Dean had to be, too."
Third overall for the series was fellow Mt Maunganui rider Rhys Carter (3Twenty3 Kawasaki Racing Team KX450F), a surprising result since he had started the day at Taupo only fifth in the championship chase.
But Carter also showed his liking for the sandy Taupo circuit, finishing third overall on the day and rocketing past Australian professionals Todd Waters (Honda) and Luke Styke (KTM).
Close friends as well as on-track rivals, Cooper and Carter will head to California next month to tackle the first two rounds of the American nationals, at Hangtown and then Glen Helen.
In the MX2 (250cc) title chase, it was just a matter of defending champion Hamish Harwood staying cool at the final round to retain the crown.
The Takaka-raised, Takapuna-based Harwood took his CML KTM Racing Team bike to post a 2-1-1 score-card at Taupo, easily enough for him to keep Christchurch's Dylan Walsh (Altherm JCR Yamaha YZ250F) at bay. Walsh finished 1-2-3 at Taupo and ended the series 16 points behind Harwood, with Waitakere's Ethan Martens (Altherm JCR Yamaha YZ250F) third overall, a massive 57 points further back.
The 125cc class was also virtually only a two-rider battle, with Taihape's Hayden Smith (CML KTM) finishing behind his main rival at Taupo, Karaka's Kurtis Lilly (HLR Husqvarna), but that was enough to win the title.
Mangakino's Maximus Purvis (Yamaha) won the day in the 125cc class at Taupo - notching up 1-3-1 results - but this was his only appearance in the series, because of injury, and so he had no chance of winning the title.
MX1 class: 1. Cody Cooper (Mt Maunganui, Honda) 270 points; 2. Dean Ferris (Australia, Yamaha) 238; 3. Rhys Carter (Mt Maunganui, Kawasaki) 210.
MX2 class: 1. Hamish Harwood (Takapuna, KTM) 280 points; 2. Dylan Walsh (Christchurch, Yamaha) 264; 3. Ethan Martens (Waitakere, Yamaha) 207.
125cc class: 1. Hayden Smith (Taihape, KTM) 277 points; 2. Kurtis Lilly (Karaka, Husqvarna) 272; 3. Hayden Wilkinson (Nelson, Yamaha) 201.