New Zealand's top riders will head to the eastern Bay of Plenty this weekend for the annual Whakatane Summercross, with Mount Maunganui's Cody Cooper a favourite to take the main trophy.
This popular post-Christmas blow-out, held at Awakaponga circuit, near Matata, on December 29-30, signals the start of the summer motocross season in New Zealand and it's heavily targeted by all the major teams.
It's expected to attract the country's elite riders acting as a springboard for riders heading into the busy part of the season that ends with the four-round New Zealand Motocross Championships in February and March.
A favourite in this weekend's event is Mount Maunganui's multi-time former national MX1 champion Cody Cooper, who is likely to take home the main trophy.
Honda's Cooper, who grew up in Opotiki before going on to became an international star, was the main winner at Summercross last year, as well as in 2016 and 2015 too.
If he wins again this time around, it will be four in a row and Cooper's fifth overall Summercross victory in total.
Cooper has been in top form this year, finishing a creditable 11th overall in the 450cc class in the national motocross championships in the United States, before racing for New Zealand at the Motocross of Nations in the US in October.
He also won the MX1 class at the Waikato Motocross Championships last month.
Riding for the Blue Wing Honda, the 35-year-old Kiwi international will be joined in the Honda enclosure by MX2 (250cc) class specialist Wyatt Chase, from Taupō.
Two riders from overseas are also entered, Australian Caleb Ward (KTM) in the MX1 class and Canadian Matthew Stokes in the junior 250cc class.
Meanwhile, Motueka's former Grand Prix motocross star Josh Coppins (Yamaha), who is also a two-time former Summercross winner, will line up in the MX1 class at Summercross on Sunday, along with Cooper's Motocross of Nations teammate Rhys Carter (Yamaha), Taupō's just-crowned national supercross champion Cohen Chase (Kawasaki) and Reporoa's Hadleigh Knight (Yamaha), who is just back from a season of racing in Japan.
All of these riders add even more depth to the racing and perhaps make picking a winner almost impossible.
The MX2 class is packed with talent too.
Takapuna's national MX2 champion Hamish Harwood (KTM) will face top riders including Mangakino's Maximus Purvis (Yamaha), Taupō's national MX2 No.2 Brad Groombridge, the Suzuki rider who is also current national cross-country and enduro champion and Rangiora's Micah McGoldrick (KTM).
Other talented riders to look for include Kotemaori's Reece Lister (KTM), Taihape's Hayden Smith (Husqvarna), Waitakere's Ethan Martens (Kawasaki), Tauranga's Brodie Connolly (Husqvarna), Oparau's James Scott (KTM), Wairoa's Tommy Watts (Husqvarna and Kawasaki) and Stratford brothers Scott and Camo Keegan (both Honda), these two men more often seen winning national titles on ATVs (four-wheeled all terrain vehicles).
It will also be worth watching out for local heroes such as Whakatane riders Charlotte Knight, Sophie Tierney, Brooklyn McGovern, Aaron Colville, Jordan Prosser, Troy Wilson, Alex Cloke, Jack Brady, Jak Purcell, Flynn Watts, Aydan Hall, Hadley Gibson, Brodie Hatcher and Colby Bain-Bakker.
The Honda Whakatane Summercross is a two-day affair, with minis and juniors racing on Saturday and the seniors, women and veterans racing on Sunday.
- Supplied content