World awaits Kiwi motocross champions
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Future stars of New Zealand and, perhaps, even world motocross will reveal themselves in Taranaki this weekend.
The annual NZ Junior Motocross Championships are scheduled for the Taranaki Motorcycle Club's Barrett Road circuit, on the outskirts of New Plymouth.
This Un4seen Decal Company-sponsored event will feature the cream of motocross talent aged from 8-16, and the older riders in particular will be keen to clinch a national title before they turn 17 and join the senior ranks.
A traditional "nursery ground" for the sport, the junior nationals should again offer a few clues as to who will be future senior champions - and, if several notable past examples are taken into account, could also hint at which individuals might go on to become world champions.
World-class riders such as Taranaki's Darryll, Shayne and Damien King, Motueka's Josh Coppins, Bay of Plenty's Ben Townley, Hamilton's Josiah Natzke, Takaka's Hamish Harwood and Otago's Courtney Duncan can all trace their beginnings to junior motocross in New Zealand.
Taupo's Wyatt Chase took command in the two premier classes at the junior nationals last season - strongest in the 14-16 years' 250cc class and the 15-16 years' 125cc division - and had looked to be the most dominant rider of the weekend across all the categories. But luck played a huge part on the final day of racing, handing the 250cc title instead to Ohaupo's Trent Collins.
Chase won 12 of 14 races at the event - winning five of the seven races in the 250cc class - but his one no-points race, when he fried the clutch on his bike and did not finish, was costly.
He had to give up the 250cc championship crown to Collins, who proved consistency counts most, winning just one race but finishing runner-up on six occasions and taking the title by 12 points from Chase.
Chase now has bigger fish to fry and is racing overseas this season, leaving Collins as the firm favourite to win this year.
Collins won the junior 125/250 Champion of Champions trophy at the annual Woodville Motocross GP in January, further enhancing his status as this year's main title favourite. He'll still have his hands full dealing with Taihape's Hayden Smith.
Smith is likely to be among the frontrunners this weekend. Picture / Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com
The 16-year-old Smith has just wrapped up the senior national 125cc title and can still slip back into the junior ranks and compete there, too. Smith will race in the 14-16 250cc class as well as the 15-16 125cc classes.
Meanwhile, Chase was unbeatable in the 15-16 125cc class at the junior nationals last season, winning all seven races, and taking the title by a convincing 25 points from Mangakino's Maximus Purvis.
Purvis lines up again this year and should be among the title favourites in this premier 125cc class. Purvis will also line up in the 14-16 250cc class this year and perhaps apply a little extra pressure on Collins.
Others to watch for include Bulls rider Riley Campbell, who won the 15-16 125cc class at Woodville. He will be hard to beat in Taranaki, on the track where he won the junior King of the Mountain trophy in January.
Dunedin rider Grason Veitch was also impressive at the King of the Mountain and, as defending national champion in the 12-14 125cc class, would be fancied to take that title this weekend.
The champion last year in the 13-16 85cc class, Oparau's James Scott steps up this season to tackle the 15-16 125cc class. With his European racing experience last year will be expected to feature strongly at Taranaki.