Two motocross riders from Taupō shone at the New Zealand Junior Motocross Championships held over Waitangi weekend in Tauranga.
Declan Connors, 11, won the 8 - 11 year 85cc/150cc class open class while Mikayla Griffiths, 11, won the 8 - 11 years 85cc/150cc class women's class.
The three-day event for riders aged 8 to 16 years is the pinnacle of the motocross season and was well supported after the 2020 championships were cancelled due to the coronavirus.
Motorcycling New Zealand motocross commissioner Ray Broad said the meet revealed the future stars of New Zealand motocross.
"It was a fantastic weekend. The host club here couldn't have hoped for better weather or better crowd numbers.
"It has been a typical junior champs, which has thrown up riders that were perhaps not previously been in the mix for consideration. These riders have really shone through."
Riding his KTM 85cc SX motocross bike to the No 1 spot in New Zealand for his class was Declan Connors. Riding since he was 4 years old, Declan said his dad Darryl Connors got him into it. He practices on the track at home and comes down to Digger McEwen Motocross Park on wet days, or on "watered days" in summer.
"I like it when the track is rough. The clay is stickier at the TECT Park [where the championships were held in Tauranga] and gets more traction and more ruts."
In the lead-up to the championships, Declan cleaned up at Woodville MX Grand Prix in January, the Taupō MX Fest in October and came second at the Summer Cross MX in Awakaponga in December.
"Mum and Dad have been driving me around the North Island to events since I was 5 or 6 years old," said Declan.
The championships involve five races in three days, with each race a physically demanding 10 minutes plus one lap. It gets hot, so Declan's sponsors supplied him with his own drum of water so he could cool off after a race. There is also a lot of waiting around, but Declan says he is never nervous,
"I just want to race."
Declan said he knew he was riding quickly and hoped he would win the championship. He said he was "happy as" when he found out he won. He says he couldn't have done it without his parents, his coach Rhys Carter and his sponsors.
Mikayla Griffiths, 11, had just earned her No 1 bib and was determined to keep it when she won the 8 to 11 years 85cc/150cc women's class at the championship. Riding her 85cc Yamaha Y285, Mikayla has been riding from the age of 3 1/2 years to 4 years old.
Father Matt Griffiths said he and his wife Sarah never thought Mikayla or son Cody, 14, would ever get this far with their motocross.
"We bought them a bike so they could hoon around the farm. Then we went to an event and the rest is history."
Matt sold his own bike a few years ago "because it's more fun helping the kids" and built the kids a track at home.
"We've got pretty good farm owners, they're real nice."
Cody managed a sixth place at the championships, on his 125cc Yamaha Y285.
"I was mainly battling with the top three to five people [throughout the season]."
Mikayla and Cody attend a clinic with coach Rhys Carter before most events. His advice to Mikayla before the championship was to ride smart and Mikayla says she just thought about retaining the No 1 title she earned in Gore in November.
"This was my first time riding with the No 1 plate so I wanted to keep it."
She says motocross is a physically demanding sport and she does fitness work every day after school, going to the gym, playing hockey or doing muay thai.
"If you really want it, you train for it."
Both Mikayla and Cody want to carry on with motocross after they leave school. Cody is keen to go to the United States, while Mikayla says she would like to compete "as far as I can drive", adding Gore was a long drive.
Matt said he and Sarah were pretty emotional when Mikayla won the championship, while Cody said his sister earned it and she deserved the win.
Both Mikayla and Connor are looking forward to club days at Digger McEwen Motocross Park over the winter, and to going up a class next season.