The heat goes on in more ways than one this weekend as Woodville hosts the first major event of the 2021 motocross season.
With the weather tipped to break thermometers and entries in excess of 600 riders, the obvious popularity and continued growth of the annual New Zealand Motocross Grand Prix at Woodville should ensure another bumper weekend of race action.
Racing over the two days will attract thousands of spectators to the Tararua and Manawatu regions, filling motel rooms and camping grounds to the point of overflowing, the Honda-sponsored event at Woodville again proving to be a must-see spectacle.
It is the 60th anniversary of the event, at the eastern end of the Manawatu Gorge, and it will be twice as important because this 2021 edition is also being recognised as the opening round of the senior New Zealand Motocross Championships.
Motorcycling New Zealand motocross commissioner Ray Broad said Woodville would signify the start of a thrilling four-round series.
After the Woodville opener, New Zealand Motocross Championship rounds follow at Rotorua on February 21, with round three at Pukekohe on March 20 (with a junior and mini open event on March 21) and the fourth and final round at Taupō on March 28.
"The Woodville GP has always been New Zealand's biggest motocross event, but now that it's incorporating the New Zealand Motocross Championships, with all of the nation's top riders attending, it's going to be even more impressive," Broad said.
"We have so many riders entered in the MX2 (250cc) class that we will need to hold qualifying races – it's going to be extremely tough just to make the start line – and we were coming close to that in the MX1 class as well, with 37 riders set to line up on Sunday.
"There are 160 riders entered in the mini grade, our sport's nursery ground, which indicates that the sport is in a very healthy state at the moment.
"Only a few months ago we were looking at trimming things back because of the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, but we're in a much more positive mood now."
There will be plenty of close battles to watch out for over the weekend.
In addition to his annual Woodville GP title bid, Mount Maunganui's Cody Cooper will be focused on recapturing the national MX1 title at the three rounds of the nationals that follow Woodville.
Multi-national MX1 champion Cooper is a three-time former winner at Woodville – the top man there in 2007, 2014 and again in 2019 – and he'd like nothing better than to win it again.
He has also won the New Zealand MX1 title seven times in the past and will be among the favourites to win again, although rivals such as west Auckland-based former Takaka rider Hamish Harwood – the national MX1 No 3 who won the Woodville crown last year – Hamilton's Kayne Lamont, Waitakere's Ethan Martens, Porangahau's Rhys Carter, Brighton's Campbell King and Taupō duo Brad Groombridge and Wyatt Chase will also fancy their chances.
Former Kiwi international Josiah Natzke, from Mount Maunganui, will also be a feature in this class. He finished runner-up in the MX2 class at the nationals last year and is entered for Woodville in both the MX1 and MX2 categories.
In the MX2 class Natzke, Mangakino's defending national champion Maximus Purvis and Oparau's James Scott have already proven to be the form riders in recent weeks.
With Tauranga's rising star Brodie Connolly also racing in the MX2 class, as well as the MX125 class, this young man will certainly be one to watch.
The MX125 class has Connolly defending his national title from 2020, but Manukau's Cobie Bourke, Tauranga's Madoc Dixon, Invercargill's Jack Symon, New Plymouth's Rian King, Rongotea's Toby Winiata and Silverdale-based former Taihape rider Hayden Smith should be looking to push him this year.
"There is no doubt, this year's championships are shaping up to be the best yet and with Woodville in the mix, it will be the year that no one will want to miss," Broad said.
He said the 2021 Honda New Zealand Motocross Grand Prix at Woodville, and all of the other rounds of the nationals too, would be livestreamed on the Sky Sport Next programme.
The New Zealand Motocross Championships are supported by Aon Insurance, Kawasaki New Zealand, Pirelli tyres and Fox apparel.
2021 NZ Motocross Champs calendar
Round One: January 30-31, 2021 (in conjunction with the NZMX Grand Prix at Woodville). Manawatu-Orion MCC. MX1 (& 2T Cup), MX2 (& under-19), MX125 & round one of the Women's Cup.
Round Two: Sunday, February 21, 2021. Rotorua Motorcycle Club. MX1 (& 2T Cup), MX2 (& under-19), MX125 & MX3.
Round Three: Saturday, March 20. Pukekohe Motorcycle Club. MX1 (& 2T Cup), MX2 (& under-19), MX125 & MX3 (followed by Junior and Mini open at Pukekohe on Sunday, March 21).
Round Four: Sunday, March 28. Taupo Motorcycle Club. MX1 (& 2T Cup), MX2 (& under-19), MX125, MX3 & round two of the Women's Cup. Prize giving is arranged for that evening.