Future champions on show in Taranaki
The future stars of New Zealand and perhaps even world motocross will reveal themselves in Taranaki this coming weekend.
The annual New Zealand Junior Motocross Championships are scheduled for the Taranaki Motorcycle Club's popular Barrett Road circuit, on the outskirts of New Plymouth, this Saturday and Sunday, with hundreds of young riders from all over the country expected to flood into the region.
The event will feature the cream of motocross talent aged between eight and 16 years and the elder riders, in particular, will be keen to clinch a national title before they turn 17 and are obliged to join the senior ranks, where racing and winning gets that much tougher.
A traditional 'nursery ground' for the sport, the junior nationals should again offer a few clues as to where the senior champions of the future will come from and, if several notable past examples are taken into account, it could also hint at which individuals might even go on to become world champions in the years to come.
World class riders such as Taranaki brothers Darryll, Shayne and Damien King, Motueka's Josh Coppins, Bay of Plenty's Ben Townley, Hamilton's Josiah Natzke, Takaka's Hamish Harwood and Otago's Courtney Duncan, to name just a few, can all trace their beginnings back to their junior motocross days in New Zealand.
So plenty could be at stake for the future racing careers of young championship hopefuls this weekend.
Taupo's Wyatt Chase took command in the two premier classes at the junior nationals last season – ruling in both the 14-16 years' 250cc class and the 15-16 years' 125cc division as well – and had looked to be the most dominant rider of the weekend across all the categories.
But luck played a huge part on the final day of racing, handing the 250cc title instead to Ohaupo's Trent Collins.
Chase won 12 of 14 races at the event – winning five of the seven races in the 250cc class – but his one no-points race, when he fried the clutch on his bike and did not finish, was extremely costly and he had to give up the 250cc championship crown to Collins, who proved that consistency counts most when he won just one race but finished runner-up on six occasions and was able to take the title by 12 points from the luckless Chase.
Chase now has bigger fish to fry and is racing overseas this season, leaving Collins as the firm favourite to win this year.
Collins also won the junior 125/250 Champion of Champions trophy at the big annual Woodville Motocross GP in January, further enhancing his status as this year's main title favourite, although he'll still have his hands full in dealing with Taihape's Hayden Smith.
The 16-year-old Smith has just wrapped up the senior national 125cc title and, as rules allow for riders aged younger than 17, he can slip back into the junior ranks and compete there too.
Smith will race in both the 14-16 years' 250cc class and the 15-16 years' 125cc class.
Meanwhile, Chase was unbeatable in the 15-16 years' 125cc class at the junior nationals last season, winning all seven races, and taking the title by a convincing 25 points from Mangakino's Maximus Purvis.
Purvis lines up again this year and, again with Chase now overseas, Purvis too should be among the title favourites in this premier 125cc class. Purvis will also line up in the 14-16 years' 250cc class this year and so perhaps apply a little extra pressure on Collins there too.
Others to watch out for include Bulls rider Riley Campbell, who won the 15-16 years' 125cc class at Woodville, and he will be hard to beat in Taranaki, the same track on which he also won the junior King of the Mountain trophy in January.
Dunedin rider Grason Veitch was also impressive at the King of the Mountain event in Taranaki and, as defending national champion in the 12-14 years' 125cc class, he would be fancied to take that title again this coming weekend.
The champion last year in the 13-16 years' 85cc class, Oparau's James Scott steps up this season to tackle the 15-16 years' 125cc class and, with his European racing experience last year, he will be expected to feature strongly in Taranaki too.
Other champions from last season likely to shine again this year include Matamata's Brodie Connolly and Tokanui's Mitchell Weir, while Taranaki will be well represented by riders such as Leroy Gwynn, Kasey Corbett, Nikk Rangi, Kade Kopitini-Black, Josh Varney, Cameron Bond, brothers Rian and Curtis King, Sam Harris, Davi Jordan, Blake Lusk, Logan Kerrisk, Brock Cameron, Cameron Hunger, John Grayling, Michael George, Ben Ekdahl, Sam Megaw, Zak Hetherington, Lucas Feek, Luke Berquist, and Hamish Oliver.