Scotty Columb has every reason to smile these days.
The Queenstown rider has the support and guidance of long-time friend Josh Coppins, the former world motocross No 2 and current Australian No 1 from Motueka who has now taken a management role for Yamaha in New Zealand, and Columb is also showing he has the pace to win the New Zealand Motocross Championships' MX2 class title this season.
The Yamaha ace is determined to swap the No 2 on his YZ250F for the best digit, the coveted No 1, and his performance at the weekend's 52nd annual New Zealand Motocross Grand Prix at Woodville indicates he's ready to step up.
Columb, 28, finished runner-up in the MX2 class at Woodville, beaten to the top step of the podium by MX2 world No 4 Jake Nicholls, of Britain, and, with that appearance in New Zealand by Nicholls a one-off, there is perhaps nobody to stand in the way of Columb when the nationals kick off near Timaru in less than two weeks.
However, national No 1 Darryll King, of Hamilton, took his Yamaha YZ250 to third overall in the MX2 class at Woodville and he will certainly be a rival to respect.
Even so, Columb could be justified in feeling confident. "Everything is going very well. I've only been on this bike from New Year's Day, so it's only a short time to get used to things."
Columb's pace is undeniable, the Yamaha man in a turn-one fracas in the final race of the day, but then zipping through from last place to battle his way to fifth position at the end.
"Overall it was not a bad day at all for the team," said Coppins afterwards.
"Jake Nicholls is the No 4 rider in the world . . . it's hard to win against that.
"Our MX1 rider, Alex Snow [of Britain], struggled today but I think he had other things on his mind. He was flying straight back to England after the racing."
Snow finished a creditable fifth overall in the MX1 class.
"I want to thank Alex for the wonderful job he's done for us and now we're looking forward to having Scotland's Billy Mackenzie with us to race the MX1 class through that national series."
The New Zealand Motocross Championships kick off near Timaru on February 10.
- The Southland Times