New Zealand is back among the top 20 nations in the motocross world after a brave and inspiring performance in north-western France at the weekend.
This season’s 76th annual Motocross of Nations was packed with drama throughout the two days of qualification and points race action at the circuit at Ernee, near Reenes, but the three-rider team from New Zealand battled through to finish up 14th out of the 37 countries represented.
Papamoa’s Cody Cooper was Team NZ's designated MXGP class rider and he took his 450cc GasGas bike to finish 26th and 32nd in his two outings.
Auckland-based former Takaka man Hamish Harwood, the team's Open Class rider, chimed in with 23rd and 26th results on his 450cc KTM machine, while Oparau’s James Scott took his 250cc Yamaha to finish 32nd and 34th in his two races as the team’s MX2 (250cc) class rider.
With each nation required to drop their one worst score, Scott’s 34th placing was the discard result for Team New Zealand.
Every year, the MXoN lives up to its billing as the ultimate dirt bike spectacle and the famous teams' racing event again produced plenty of drama and intrigue.
The host team from France dominated from the outset and, no doubt spurred on by the mostly French fans among the 100,000-plus crowd on the packed hillside, they delivered all that they had promised.
France’s Open Class rider Maxime Renaux finished 1-3 in his two outings; their MXGP rider Romain Febvre finished 1-7 and their MX2 rider Tom Vialle managed 2-8 results (with his 8th placing the team’s result to discard).
Australia (brothers Jett and Hunter Lawrence, with just-crowned national 450cc champion Dean Ferris) scored runner-up honours and the trio from Italy (Andrea Bonacorsi, Andrea Adamo and Alberto Ferato) claimed the third podium spot.
The team from the United States of America – the defending champion nation from 2022, when the MXoN was staged on what was home turf for them in Michigan – struggled in France and had to settle for eighth overall.
"Every year it's the toughest motocross event in the world," says Team New Zealand manager Shayne King, the 1996 500cc motocross world champion, who also raced for New Zealand at the MXoN on 12 occasions and who was twice instrumental in putting Team New Zealand on the podium (in 1998 and in 2001).
“This was the most amazing event I think we have been to. The crowd was just incredible,” says King.
“Both (co-manager) Beval Weal and myself are proud of our whole team for digging deep and finishing 14th. The track was incredibly technical and demanding and it was a hot day also.
“It was fantastic to have the team finish where they did and we want to thank the motocross community/family in New Zealand for all the support.”
The MXoN, also commonly referred to as "The Olympic Games of Motocross", is a one-weekend affair that brings together the world's elite like no other motocross event.
The racers put aside the past season's bitter rivalries from domestic or world championship competitions and unite instead along different battle lines, with three-rider teams formed up to fly the flags of their respective homelands.
The MXoN will next year be held in England, at Matterley Basin, near Winchester.
-By Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com