Annual Summercross showdown attracts the big guns, writes Andy McGechan
The big annual post-Christmas Whakatane Summercross just got bigger. As one of the last major motocross events on the calendar before the 2013 national championship season gets underway, the country's elite riders are again flocking to the Bay of Plenty region in huge numbers and will line up for battle in just 10 days' time.
The Honda-sponsored Summercross is set for the weekend of December 29 and 30, with juniors on Saturday and seniors on Sunday, and this season it will celebrate its 41st birthday as one of New Zealand's premier stand-alone motocross events.
While the list of potential winners is as long as it is illustrious, most will be picking national MX1 champion Ben Townley, of Tauranga, to again put his Carlton Dry Honda CRF450 on top of the podium.
Kiwi international Townley won the five races from five starts in the premier grade at last year's Summercross.
More than 500 riders have signed up to race and, with more than 40 races on the two-day programme, there will be plenty to catch the eye.
The anticipated showdown between Townley and other heavy-hitters - such as fellow Kiwi international Cody Cooper (Moto City Suzuki RM-Z450), of Mount Maunganui, Whakatane's Mitchell Rees (Tony Rees Motorcycles Honda CRF450), Taupo's Brad Groombridge (Huka Honda CRF450) and former Summercross champion Michael Phillips (Rowlinson Honda CRF450), of Rotorua - is likely to be the main attraction for race fans.
British rider Alex Snow (JCR Yamaha racing team) adds an international flavour to the event and his Grand Prix motocross experience should place him among the leaders.
Event race director Tony Rees, of Whakatane, said the course had undergone an extensive redesign, and now "a super-jump will sort out the men from the boys".
"Not everybody will be able to clear the jump, only the brave," Rees said.
"But, in saying that, it's not there to catch anyone out and it's still a safe jump.
"Ben Townley has helped us with the track design and it's stepped it up to another level."
The Honda Summercross boasts a galaxy of stars right across the various categories, with Hamilton's national MX2 champion Darryll King (Yamaha), Queenstown's No.2 Scott Columb (Yamaha), Mount Maunganui's No3 Rhys Carter (Suzuki), Tauranga's No.4 Peter Broxholme (Honda), Kiwi international Kieran Scheele (Honda), of Elsthorpe, Waitakere's Ethan Martens (Yamaha), Taupo's Cam Dillon (Honda) and BikesportNZ.com star Kayne Lamont (KTM), of Mangakino, all expected to challenge for the MX2 (250cc) class trophy. "The youth MX class is proving very popular with a lot of 125cc riders entered there," said Rees.
"We are again running a back-to-back format for the MX1 and MX2 classes, something that will really test to stamina and strength of the riders, as well as longer races for them later in the afternoon. In all, there will be five races each for both the MX1 and MX2 glamour classes."