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The 2024 Honda New Zealand Motocross Grand Prix At Woodville

Woodville Motocross co-founder Tim Gibbes (centre), flanked by fellow ‘Woodville legends’ Ken Cleghorn (left), Gibbes’ brother-in-law and the winner of the first Woodville event in 1961, and Kevin Eagle at the 60th anniversary of the iconic event three years ago. Photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com

It is just a few weeks away now to the “greatest show on turf” – the biggest dirt bike race in the Southern Hemisphere – the annual New Zealand Motocross Grand Prix at Woodville.

And this year’s 61st running of the big Honda-sponsored event, on the weekend of January 27-28, 2024, is set to be another massive ‘superstar showdown’, as well as offering a special celebration in respect of the late Tim Gibbes, the man who founded the iconic race weekend back in 1961.

The popular event celebrated its 60th in birthday in January 2021, but then the pandemic reared its ugly head and forced almost every major sporting competition nationwide, actually worldwide too, to be shut down the following year.

Then, when the Auckland Anniversary Weekend storm drenched the whole country in January last year, the track at the eastern end of the Manawatu Gorge was flooded, the Manawatu River breaking its banks and most of the farmland circuit then completely inundated, forcing another cancellation.

However, despite skipping two years, in 2022 and again in 2023, or perhaps even because of this, the next running set for just over three weeks’ time is sure to be a cracker.

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In honour of Manawatu man Gibbes, who sadly passed away in October last year – just three days after he’d celebrated his 90th birthday – the event’s main trophy, for the premier senior MX1 GP title winner, has been re-branded the Tim Gibbes Memorial Trophy.

Host Manawatu-Orion Motorcycle Club president Brad Ritchie said: “From a club perspective, it’s going to be a bitter-sweet moment.

“It will be a bit hard to run this event this time without Tim, but, at the same time, the club is excited to be able to kick off the year with a bang and with a tribute to Tim Gibbes.

“We ran the 60th in 2021 and have been trying desperately hard the past two years to run our 61st. It’s an amazing Grand Prix-style circuit, with great spectator vantage points, and it is truly a premier motocross venue.

"It is a very special occasion for everyone. It always starts the year off on a high and we are expecting big numbers to attend, as racers and/or spectators.

"It was an absolute heartbreak not being able to run this event the past two seasons, but the club's committee is determined to do it bigger and better than before and we have had wonderful support from the land owner and they're really exciting to work with.

"All our main sponsors are back and we can't thank them enough either.

"This event sets the year up nicely because it all flows into the senior national motocross championships series in February and March.”

The outright winner of Woodville in 2021, Taupo’s Wyatt Chase, has now retired from racing, his Woodville win no doubt a career highlight, so picking a favourite this time around is anyone's guess.

Any overseas riders who do happen to show up for Woodville 2024 will regardless be up against an impressive array of Kiwi internationals, experienced campaigners such as multi-time former New Zealand motocross champion and many time Woodville winner Cody Cooper, of Papamoa, Auckland's former national MX1 champion Hamish Harwood, Te Puke's Tyler Steiner, Helensville's International Six Days' Enduro (ISDE) gold medallist Josh Jack and Hamilton's former national champion and former Woodville winner Kayne Lamont, among others, in the glamour MX1 class.

Since the stand-alone event was first staged over half a century ago, in 1961, the Woodville Motocross has grown to become the jewel in New Zealand's motocross crown and hundreds of riders will battle over the weekend, including minis, juniors, seniors, women and veterans.

The long and illustrious list of previous winners includes New Plymouth's 1996 500cc motocross world champion Shayne King, Taupo's 2004 MX2 world champion Ben Townley, Australian stars Craig Dack, Dave Armstrong, Brett Metcalfe, Kirk Gibbs, Todd Waters, Jed Beaton, Jay Wilson and Dean Ferris, Britain’s Jeff Smith, Dave Bickers, Greg Hanson, Perry Leask and Jake Nicholls, Americans Willie Surratt and Frankie Brundage and Sweden’s Gunnar Lindstrom, to name a few.

All ages and levels of ability are catered for by the Woodville GP event, with the novelty river race on Sunday also a major crowd-pleaser and perhaps appealing more to the enduro and cross-country racing brigade.

Racing over the two days attracts thousands of spectators to the Tararua region, filling motel rooms and camping grounds to the point of overflowing, the New Zealand Motocross Grand Prix at Woodville is a must-see spectacle for any motorsports enthusiast.

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

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