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Scott Puts Honda On Top Step Of Cross-country Podium

Oparau's James Scott (Honda CRF450X), on his way to winning the opening round of this year's Dirt Guide Cross-country Series on Saturday. Photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com

It's almost as if Oparau's James Scott has been unshackled.

Already a proven top performing motocross rider in New Zealand, Australia and Europe too, the Honda man has gone from prying open an entry into the enduro racing world to actually kicking the whole door down.

And now he's doing the same thing in the parallel and similar cross-country dirt bike racing environment.

The 19-year-old fencer has had no previous experience racing the powerful Honda CRF450X model bike prior to the start of this year's New Zealand Enduro Championships and he very nearly finished that five-round series among the top three overall, settling instead for fourth overall after disaster struck for him late in his campaign – a rock bent his disc brake rotor and he scored a non-finish.

He's now riding exactly the same bike in the faster but less-technical cross-country arena and, perhaps not surprisingly, he feeling right at home there too.

"It's not too different from motocross really. Your opposition is right there on the track with you from the start, not like enduros where riders get set off at minute intervals, making it hard to gauge just how good you're going. In cross-country racing, if you're passing the riders around you, you know you're going okay," he explained.

With more than 130 elite riders lining up to race the opening round of the popular Dirt Guide Cross-country Series, in forestry at Ohakuri on Saturday, about halfway between Tokoroa and Taupo, Scott knew that getting a good start was vital if he was going to avoid being stuck in traffic.

Among the leading bunch after a shotgun blast signalled the start, Scott was third at the end of the short road section before the riders turned sharp left and into the forestry slash and Scott wasted no time and was in the lead just 200 metres later as the riders then snaked up a steep hillside.

After the first of what would eventually be five laps around the forestry land, Scott had built an impressive 40-second lead over the man in second, Helensville's Tom Buxton. After two laps, Scott's advantage was up to 75 seconds over his pursuers.

However, although he eventually won the two-hour race, it was only by a scant 11-second margin over runner-up Hadleigh Knight, of Taupo.

"One of the foot-pegs on my bike worked loose and was hanging down. I had to race the last lap with just one foot to hold me up," Scott commented.

"It was difficult but I wasn't too worried. I had build up a sizeable lead and knew I just needed to nurse it to the finish. The Honda was great, an extremely versatile bike and ideal for both enduro and cross-country racing. Some of my rivals' bikes had fitted larger after-market fuel tanks and so I lost a bit of time in having to pit more frequently, but I was not too bothered by that."

Third overall on Saturday was Buxton, finishing just three seconds further back, with Palmerston North's Paul Whibley and Whitianga's Blake Wilkins rounding out the top five.

Several Dirt Guide senior heroes from the past, riders such as Manawatu's Whibley, Howick's Liam Draper, Titirangi's Callan May and Te Awamutu's Rachael Archer, to name a few individuals, have all raced internationally in recent times, or currently do so, and they can each trace their beginnings to dirt bike competitions such as this one.

Perhaps it's just a matter of time before an international motocross, cross-country or enduro team comes calling for Scott to join them in Europe, the United Kingdom or the United States.

Round two for the series is set for the same course on July 24, and the third and final round of the series is on August 21, also at the popular Ohakuri venue.

Credit: Words and photos by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com

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