Whakatane Summercross: Top guns will pass on pud
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Christmas celebrations aren't expected to last long for New Zealand's top motorcycle racers, at least not if they're serious about winning.
The mince pies will be pushed to the back of the fridge and the lids screwed back on the fizzy drinks as riders hasten to return to the vital business of racing at one of the biggest post-Christmas events on the motocross calendar -- the annual Whakatane Summercross.
It doesn't get much bigger than this, the upcoming Summercross is an iconic "must-do" on the Kiwi motocross schedule, with this year's edition looming as a clash of the titans like never before.
As one of the last major stand-alone motocross events on the calendar before the 2017 national championship series gets under way, the country's elite riders are again flocking to the Bay of Plenty in huge numbers for this popular post-Christmas blow-out.
The Honda-sponsored Summercross is traditionally run over the two days that follow Boxing Day -- December 27 and 28.
This season there is a to be a reversal of the traditional race programme. The event featuring seniors is on day one on the Tuesday and juniors on day two on the Wednesday as Summercross celebrates its 45th birthday as one of the premier NZ dirt bike events.
Although the list of potential winners is as long as it is illustrious, many observers will be anticipating former Opotiki man and current national MX1 champion Cody Cooper, now of Mt Maunganui, to face a heated battle with former national MX1 champion Ben Townley, of Tauranga, in the skirmish for top honours.
Cooper won the main prize at last year's Summercross, but Townley is also no stranger to winning there and, although they're friends off the track, there's not so much joking between them when the start gate drops.
Aerial view of the Whakatane Summercross circuit near Matata.Pictures / Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com
Fellow Kiwi international Josh Coppins, a world-class rider who has won the Summercross trophy several times in the past, retired from full-time racing in 2012, but he still may have a huge influence on who does the winning this time around and he will add an Aussie v Kiwi element.
Coppins manages one of the race teams that will be out to stop the likes of Townley and Cooper and he will arrive at the Awakaponga circuit, near Matata, with Australian MX1 champion Dean Ferris and former New Zealand MX2 champion Kayne Lamont, from Mangakino, ready to line up in the MX1 class.
The winner of the MX1 class at Taupo's recent MX Fest event, Mt Maunganui's Rhys Carter, and national cross-country and enduro champion Brad Groombridge, of Taupo, will add even more depth to the premier class and this makes picking a winner almost impossible.
All the major race teams are expected to arrive for Summercross with Otago's Courtney Duncan, Takapuna's Hamish Harwood, Reporoa's Hadleigh Knight, Waitakere's Ethan Martens, Hamilton's Josiah Natzke, Cambridge's Trent Collins, Waitakere's Shaun Fogarty, Taihape's Hayden Smith, Karaka's Kurtis Lilly, Ngatea's Ben Broad, Tauranga's Royden White, Mangakino's Maximus Purvis and Te Puke's Tyler Steiner and Oparau's James Scott, to name just a few.
It will also be worth watching out for hot local heroes, such as Whakatane riders Mitch Rees, Darren Capill, Sam and Amy Corston and junior riders Sam Middleton, Isaac Olsen, Dom Beal, Brandon Willis, Troy Gebert, Wesley Milsom, Brodie Hatcher, Flynn Watts and Aydan Hall.
"This event will be the first big hit-out of the season to feature all the major teams," host Bay of Plenty Motorcycle Club spokesman Tony Rees said.
"It is a great time of year for racing and, fingers crossed, the weather should be fine."
The track has been spruced up for the event, with fresh sawdust trucked in and a giant new "ski-jump" constructed to add to the excitement for riders and spectators.
Riders and fans will use the event as a form indicator before the Honda New Zealand Grand Prix at Woodville on January 28-29 and the four-round nationals near Timaru on February 5.