A former world champ and one of the rising stars of the Kiwi dirt bike scene provide a Bay of Plenty connection to this weekend's World Junior Motocross Champs in Australia.

The 2004 MX2 world champion Ben Townley (Tauranga) is the manager of Motorcycling NZ's new Pathway to Podium high performance programme, lending his elite experience to a Kiwi squad for the junior worlds that sees James Scott (Oparau), Hayden Smith (Taihape) and Tauranga's Brodie Connolly riding in silver fern black jerseys in the 125cc (under-17) class.

It's the first time since the Junior Champs were raced at Taupo in 2009 that the title has been staged outside the northern hemisphere. About 120 riders representing 23 nations are chasing 65cc, 85cc and 125cc world titles at Horsham, Victoria.

Connolly, a Year 10 student at Tauranga Boys' College, will be one of the youngest riders contesting the 125cc class at age 14. He misses out by less than three months on being able to ride in the 85cc class but has performed strongly since stepping up to KTM 125 in December.


On Sunday he'll line-up in a 40-rider field with two 30-minute motos to decide the junior crown.

''The challenge will be staying focused in the longer races,'' Connolly said.

''I've been practising 30-minute motos for a couple of months and I've been feeling good at the end of the 30s I do.

''That's where working with Ben [Townley] has been cool. He's been a world champion and he's helped me a lot to prepare for the longer motos and to understand about my energy and stamina.

''I'm a little bit smaller than most of the other riders so that will be my challenge near the end of the race as the track gets rougher.

Tauranga's Brodie Connolly is ready for World Junior Motocross Championship action in Australia this weekend. Photo / Colin Smith
Tauranga's Brodie Connolly is ready for World Junior Motocross Championship action in Australia this weekend. Photo / Colin Smith

''But it will help me that I've raced in Australia quite a few times and I've ridden at the track [Horsham] before. I know the type of dirt and how the ruts form up.

''It's definitely going to be pretty cool representing my country at such a big event. I'll be happy if I ride as well as I can ride.''

Connolly had his final hit-out before the worlds at the annual Trident High School/BOP Motorcycle Club inter-school tournament at Awakaponga last Friday.

''Today I'm mainly working on generating the intensity in the first few laps that Ben has been teaching us,'' Connolly said.

He was the fastest rider at the Trident event doubled up with unbeaten sweep of both 125c and 250cc classes while leading the Tauranga Boys College MX team to victory in the inter-school competition ahead of Hamilton Boys High and Paeroa College. Oropi School won the primary school competition.

Townley says his role with the junior racers is a chance to put something back into his sport and help to create a ladder for another generation of Kiwi riders to climb on to the world stage.

''I got involved in January 2017,'' Townley says.

''We started with a wider squad last October. They got the summer to race and then we narrowed it down after the NZ Champs in April.

''We selected four riders. One [Wairoa's Tommy Watts] has recently been injured so three are going.''

Townley says the programme creates a structure for New Zealand's young riders to gain international experience.

''We had nothing like this and had to start somewhere,'' said Townley.

''I hope this is the base going forward for our sport to regenerate some success.

''That was the main goal personally. Obviously for these riders it's to achieve results this weekend but hopefully off the back of this we can create some momentum. That's where I'm trying to give back.''

Townley isn't singling any one of the three Kiwis as being a leading hope.

''All three are very equal on outright speed. James has got a lot of international experience in the last few months so you would tend to think he will come in with some good form.

''Hayden's strength is his strength. He's like a full-grown man and he rides with sheer strength and he has that on his side compared to many of his peers.

''Brodie is sheer talent. He's technically a very, very good rider but at this point in his career he lacks age and size.

''But the great thing about motocross is that it's the equal meeting point between man and machine and it doesn't matter how big or small you are, it's about riding a motorcycle.''

Townley says the opening moments of the two 30-minute championship motos will be critical to Kiwi hopes.

''The biggest factor is getting off the start line. All three of them have traditionally been pretty decent starters and if they can do that they'll be in the ball game.''