Motocross tight at the top
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Foundations have been laid for what is quickly building into another classic Kiwi versus Aussie battle at the top of this seasons' motocross nationals.
The four-round Mazda and DRD magazine-sponsored 2017 New Zealand Motocross Championships kicked off at Pleasant Point, Timaru, just over a week ago and there has been little time for riders and fans to catch their breath, with round two set for Rotorua this Sunday (February 19).
Mt Maunganui's Cody Cooper (Honda) fought off a determined challenge from Australian visitor Dean Ferris (Yamaha) at Timaru. The pair are separated at the top of the premier MX1 class by just five points as they head to Rotorua.
Also within strike range is Mt Maunganui motocross coach Rhys Carter, the Kawasaki man finishing inside the top three in all three MX1 races at Timaru to sensationally edge out Australian professionals Todd Waters (Honda), Jesse Dobson (Honda) and Luke Styke (KTM).
Cooper and Ferris finished first and second overall in the MX1 class last season, Ferris eventually missing out on the trophy by just two points.
That outcome could be traced back to his spectacular crash at the corresponding event in Rotorua last year.
Now well aware of the pitfalls on the hilly Rotorua circuit, it is unlikely Ferris will make the same mistake this time around.
In the MX2 (250cc) class it was a similar case of the defending champion leading the way, although Takaka's national MX2 No.1 Hamish Harwood (KTM) was even more comprehensive in winning his class at Timaru.
With three wins from three starts, Harwood, now based in Takapuna, was emphatic in demonstrating he wants to keep the MX2 crown.
Mangakino’s Kayne Lamont chases Mount Maunganui’s Cody Cooper at round one of the nationals at Timaru. Photo / Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com
Christchurch teenager Dylan Walsh (Yamaha) has just returned from two seasons of racing in the United States and was expected to keep Harwood honest at Timaru. He did that but after finishing third in the first race at Timaru, behind Reporoa's Hadleigh Knight (Husqvarna), then twice crossing the line as runner-up, he trails Harwood by 11 points at the start of this weekend.
Third best overall in this class is Knight, the 20-year-old just six points behind Walsh.
Apprentice builder Harwood is also racing a 300cc KTM in the MX1 class where he is is seventh overall, six points behind fulltime professional racer Styke.
The 125cc class is developing into a two-rider fight, with Taihape's Hayden Smith (KTM) and Karaka's Kurtis Lilly (Husqvarna) scrapping over the race wins at Timaru.
This battle is the tightest of the series, with just three points separating Smith from Lilly, with Nelson's Hayden Wilkinson (Yamaha) third, 14 points back.
"It was really hard to pass on the track (at Timaru)," Smith explained, hoping for a better run at Rotorua on Sunday.
"There was really only one good line in most places at Timaru. You'd have had to go nuts to make passes in some places and it simply wasn't worth the risk."
With the extreme elevation changes at Rotorua, riders in all three championship classes will need to be at their best in mixing throttle control with aggression -- it's a track that takes no prisoners.
When the engines are switched off late on Sunday afternoon, the series will have reached the halfway stage, so Rotorua's results could have a huge bearing on where the trophies end up this season.
After that, the competition heads to Palmerston North for round three on March 12, with the fourth and final round set for Taupo on March 25.