Expect the country’s most talented motocross riders to put aside their traditional rivalries and brand allegiances when they next compete under provincial colours this weekend.
They will flock to Taupo for the eighth annual Battle of the Clubs motocross, a fundraiser to help send a three-rider New Zealand team to contest the big annual Motocross of Nations (MXoN) – the Olympic Games of motocross – this year to be held at Matterley Basin, near Winchester, in south-west England.
The format used for racing at the BOTC in Taupo is similar to what the Team New Zealand trio can expect as they line up in England against three-rider teams from all around the world on October 1.
The New Zealanders have faced exceptionally strong teams, from nearly 40 countries, every time they’ve raced at the MXoN and yet they have typically also managed to punch above their weight.
Team New Zealand finished a respectable eighth overall when the MXoN was staged in France in 2015, Bay of Plenty riders Ben Townley, Cody Cooper and Kayne Lamont impressive at the event near Rennes, not far from the World War Two D-Day landing beaches in Normandy.
A different trio – Cooper, Takaka’s Hamish Harwood and Hamilton’s Josiah Natzke – were chosen to go into battle when the MXoN was held in Italy last September and again they finished in the top half of the field, 17th overall.
Team France won the 2016 event overall, the third consecutive time they have won the MXoN, but it was tight and came down to the final race of the weekend, with the Netherlands and the United States of America also potential winners.
These motocross "powerhouse" countries, perhaps also along with Belgium and Italy, are favoured again this year, although the venue this time around may offer extra hope to the Kiwis – it was at Matterley Basin in 2006 where Team New Zealand finished third overall, with Cooper, Townley and the now-retired Josh Coppins then flying the Kiwi flag.
But the 2017 team, which is yet to be named, first has to get there and it can be very expensive to send a team of three riders, their bikes, mechanics and everything else they need to compete, to the other side of the world.
It was with this in mind that the Taupo Motorcycle Club came up with the BOTC, a domestic equivalent of the MXoN.
The Taupo club’s annual fundraiser initiative has provided a significant financial boost to the Team New Zealand campaign each year since the inaugural BOTC was held in 2010.
The club-based teams each comprise six riders – three junior and three senior riders – who will compete on 85cc, 125cc, 250cc and 450cc machines.
For the first time this year, mini riders will also be catered for, with clubs nominating riders for each of four separate bike classes.
The entry fee from each of the clubs, plus donations from the hundreds of spectators expected to flood the circuit, and the proceeds from raffle ticket sales, will be a welcome boost for the Motorcycling New Zealand coffers.
An assortment of former Team New Zealand MXoN riders are expected to line up to race for their respective clubs in Taupo on Saturday, with riders such as Cooper and Harwood also likely to be on the selection short-list for this year’s MXoN campaign.
Several former MXoN riders such as Brad Groombridge, Kieran Scheele, Daryl Hurley and Darryll King are also entered to race on Saturday.
Saturday’s racing at Taupo’s Digger McEwen Motocross Park kicks off at about 10am.