Woodville The ‘Field Of Dreams’ For Motocross
JANUARY 24, 2023: Perhaps New Zealand has its own Field Of Dreams and from the Hollywood film of that name came the phrase: “Build it and they will come”.
And that's just what Palmerston North's Tim Gibbes did more than 60 years ago when he organised the first New Zealand Motocross Grand Prix at Woodville.
So come they did ... leading riders from New Zealand, Japan, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, England, Scotland, the United States, Australia, New Caledonia and Indonesia have raced on the rolling grass farmland circuit, at the eastern end of the Manawatu Gorge, over the past six decades.
The biggest dirt bike race in the Southern Hemisphere – the annual New Zealand Motocross Grand Prix at Woodville – will celebrate its 61st anniversary on Saturday and Sunday (January 27-28) with what is expected to be another scorching two days of intense race action.
Since the stand-alone event was first staged in 1961, the Woodville event has grown to become the jewel in the crown for New Zealand motocross and many hundreds of riders will battle over the weekend, including minis, juniors, seniors, women and veterans.
With more than 600 riders again booked for this weekend's 61st edition of racing, the dirt-biking extravaganza continues to rank as the country's No.1 dirt bike event.
And this big Honda-sponsored event is set to be another massive ‘superstar showdown’, especially with the four-round national championships series poised to kick off near Rotorua just a week later.
With such a jam-packed racing calendar ahead, competitors know they'd better already be performing at their peak at Woodville this weekend.
The iconic event celebrated its 60th birthday in January 2021, but then the pandemic raised its ugly head and forced almost every major sporting competition nationwide, actually worldwide too, to be shut down.
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 was then completely inundated, forcing another cancellation.
However, despite skipping two years, in 2022 and again in 2023, or perhaps even because of this, this coming weekend’s return to action is sure to be red hot.
This year’s event will, significantly, also include the inaugural FIM Oceania Women's MX Cup in the programme, an event-within-an-event that will throw an extra spotlight on the elite females of the sport.
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 he was "very excited to see it will be all back to normal for the event".
"It is always a very special occasion for everyone. It always starts the year off on a high.
"It was an absolute heartbreak not being able to run this event these past two years, but it seems to have picked back up to a new high level.
“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.”
The outright senior winner when Woodville was last run 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.
An impressive array of Kiwi internationals are among the entries, experienced campaigners such as multi-time former New Zealand motocross champion (and current national MX2 champion) and many time Woodville winner Cody Cooper, of Papamoa, Westgate's multi-time former national champion (and current national 125cc champion) Hamish Harwood, Te Puke's Tyler Steiner, Balclutha’s Madison Latta, Otautau’s Jack Treloar, Taupo’s Wil Yeoman, Palmerston North’s Toby Winiata, Dunedin’s Sam Cuthbertson and Ashhurst’s Luka Freemantle, to name a few, in the glamour MX1 class.
A handful of Australian stars are also entered this weekend, including Jed Beaton, Caleb Ward, Kobe Drew and Jack Deveson.
Only 10 riders have won the main trophy at Woodville more than once in the past, with just six riders having won it three times or more, including Taranaki's Shayne King (an incredible 9-time Woodville winner), his elder brother Darryll King (a 5-time winner), Motueka's Josh Coppins (a 5-time winner), Cooper (3), Tauranga's Peter Ploen (3) and Pahiatua's Ken Cleghorn (3). Cooper is the only multi-time winner still actively competing.
All ages and levels of ability are catered for at 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 by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com