The big moto cross event at Taupo over Labour Weekend featured a number of sensational performances from young men who showed they are all ready to step up the grades.
Regarded as the Kiwi season-opening motocross event, all the race teams usually turn up to strut their stuff, while hopefully also ringing a few warning bells for their rivals, and that was exactly the case for a large contingent of extremely talented youngsters on both days of competition.
Matamata’s Brodie Connolly raced in two separate classes during junior action on Saturday and won them both in a display that left many speechless.
Riding the same 85cc KTM bike, the 13-year-old won the 12-14 years’ 125cc class and the 12-16 years’ 85cc class as well.
As his father, Gavin, explained, "Brodie is ready to move up to the bigger bike class, although he just has to do some growing yet before he’ll suit a proper-sized 125cc bike".
However, Connolly’s demolition of the 125cc class on the 85cc bike clearly demonstrated he already has the speed and strength to cope.
Taihape’s Hayden Smith (KTM 125 SX) was in spectacular form all weekend, winning two of his four races in the 15-16 years’ junior 125cc class and finishing runner-up to Mangakino’s Maximus Purvis in another.
However, a crash in the remaining race cost him dearly and, although he recovered to finish that race in 11th position, it wasn’t enough for Smith to win overall and he had to settle for finishing runner-up to Purvis, who scored 2-2-1-2 results in the four races, while Oparau’s James Scott rode his KTM to post a 3-1-3-10 score-card, claiming third place overall.
But the best was yet to come from the 15-year-old Smith when he then won the Trent Haywood Memorial junior champion-of-champions feature race at the end of the day, crossing the finish line ahead of Purvis (Yamaha), Tauranga’s Josh Tredinnick (Kawasaki), Kotemaori’s Reece Lister (KTM) and Dunedin’s Grason Veitch (KTM).
Smith, a year 11 pupil at Whanganui Collegiate, also finished runner-up to arch-rival Purvis in the senior 125cc class the following day, with Scott again settling for third overall.
Still on the comeback from injury, Scott’s performance at Taupo was also equally remarkable.
He hurt himself in two separate crashes while racing in Europe this season, forcing a premature end to his European 150cc Motocross Championships (EMX150) campaign.
"I learned so much this year from racing against some of the best riders in the world," he said.
"I will return to Europe next year too, to race in at least two rounds of the EMX125 championships. We have not decided yet which rounds I’ll do, but it’s all just to build up for a full season campaign that we are planning for Europe in 2018."
Another KTM rider, Palmerston North’s Rhys Jillings, won the youngest of the junior divisions, for 85cc riders aged between 8 and 11 years, while Cambridge’s national junior champion Trent Collins won the junior 14-16 years’ 250cc class.
And while these young men were kicking up a dust storm, so too was "retired" senior racer and current KTM team trainer Shaun Fogarty.
The 34-year-old Auckland-based former Gisborne man was assigned to riding duties to "keep the seat warm" for unavailable MX1 rider Hamish Harwood, who was injured while racing for Team New Zealand at the Motocross of Nations in Italy in September, and Fogarty certainly delivered.
Fogarty rode a 2017-model KTM 250 SX two-stroke in the MX1 class and, although up against the 450cc four-strokes of his rivals, Fogarty still managed to finish fourth overall in the shoot-out feature, behind Mount Maunganui’s national MX1 champion Cody Cooper, Mount Maunganui’s Rhys Carter and Motueka’s former Kiwi international Josh Coppins.