Battle for NZ MX Titles starts this weekend
The pre-season strutting is over and now the real fight for national motocross glory is set to begin.
Warm-up events around the country have ensured that preparations are now complete for the start of the four-round Fox-sponsored New Zealand Motocross Championships, set to kick off at Taranaki's popular Barrett Road Motorcycle Park facility, on the outskirts of New Plymouth, on Sunday, and all that has preceded this weekend is perhaps for bragging rights only.
Kirk Gibbs, from Australia, is keen to defend his New Zealand MX1 crown this season, although the 29-year-old rider from the Gold Coast knows it won't be easy as he lines up alongside an on-form Cody Cooper.
The six-time former New Zealand MX1 champion from Mount Maunganui finished runner-up to Gibbs last season, but, after winning the MX1 class at the annual Whakatane Summercross just after Christmas and then dominating again at last weekend's Woodville spectacular, Cooper probably feels confident he's got the pace to snatch the title back from Gibbs.
However, everyone starts with a clean slate in Taranaki on Sunday and riders such as Taupo's Cohen Chase, Hamilton's Kayne Lamont and Reporoa's Hadleigh Knight, to name a few, should not be overlooked as MX1 title contenders either.
"Cody Cooper is riding awesome at the moment, but I expected that from him," said Gibbs this week. "I certainly don't expect him to roll over.
"Before Woodville, I had not really raced since representing Australia at the Motocross of Nations event in the United States in October, so I have not had a lot of time on the bike and the conditions at Woodville meant it was really just a matter of survival and getting through that event uninjured. Hopefully I will be able to turn it on in Taranaki.
"I finished the day tied with Cooper at round one in Taranaki last year and I think I'll do well there again this Sunday."
West Aucklander Hamish Harwood will be aiming to make it a fourth consecutive MX2 (250cc) class title win this season and, always a glutton for punishment, he will also tackle the 125cc class this year.
The defending MX2 champion from Royal Heights will likely face stiff opposition in the mid-sized bike class from the likes of Taupo's national No.2 in the class, Brad Groombridge, Mangakino's Maximus Purvis, Taupo's Wyatt Chase, Tauranga's Micah McGoldrick and visiting current Australian MX2 champion Wilson Todd.
Harwood could also be favoured in the 125cc class, especially after his dominant performance on the small bike at Woodville last weekend, but riders such as Ngatea's 2016 national 125cc champion Ben Broad, Tauranga's Brodie Connolly, Wairoa's Tommy Watts and Rotorua's Josh Bourke-Palmer should also be well-placed.
There will be just a short two-week break before round two of the nationals, set for Rotorua on February 17, followed by round three at Pukekohe on February 24 and, finally, the nationals wrap up at Taupo on March 10.
Round one of the series is additionally supported by Mach 1 Yamaha, while Patterson O'Connor Motorcycles supports round two, Ebbett Pukekohe supports round three and Yamalube supports round four.