Courtney Duncan is putting it all on the line this weekend in an effort to win her second women's world motocross championship.
The 24-year-old is lining up in Pietramurata in Italy at the Trentino Grand Prix for the final round of the 2020 season. The Covid-19 pandemic interrupted her season after two rounds in March and last three rounds have all happened in five weeks.
"I have ridden this track a couple times in the past and I really like the place," Duncan told the Weekend Herald from Italy.
"It's a testing and tricky place and you have to keep your wits about you. The conditions are quite slippery and as it's in northern Italy there are quite a few rocks.
"This is my second year with the team [DTR Kawasaki] and everything is working well. The new bike is really good and I have only good things to say about it all.
"This weekend's a big one. I want to leave my best performance on the track and this one is a big moment. It's not every day you race with a championship on the line and being aware of that is a positive thing for me."
Luckily for Duncan during her enforced stay back in New Zealand she was able to stay match-fit, racing and practising in her own backyard.
On arriving back in Europe in September Duncan had 90 world championship points with German Larissa Papenmeier on 85 and six-time world champion Italian Kiara Fontanesi a further five points back.
The Kiwi was straight back in the groove, winning the first race at Lombardia but came unstuck in the second race after a huge crash. A few days later at Montova, Duncan was back in form with a win and a second place to haul herself back into title contention. Heading into this weekend's round, Duncan is just four points behind series leader Nancy van de Ven with Papenmeier two points further back.
"I'm confident going into this last round," said Duncan.
"As a kid growing up, I worked to be in this position I'm in today and give myself the opportunity to go for a championship.
"You can look at it as a threat or a challenge. I'm excited to be in this position and test myself and see how I handle the pressure. With that being said, I'm pleased to be able to still challenge for the title especially after the massive crash I had at the last round.
"When I got to the bike and saw the handlebars were gone, I thought that was the championship over and the year done. Back in the pits we worked out that if I won the next round, I would still be in with a chance to be champion, which I did.
"Now we just have to get it done this weekend."
On paper, Duncan is favourite to win her second world title after a superb 2019 where she dominated the field, winning nine of the 10 races.
Since first contesting the WMX in 2016 she has won 57 per cent or her races (24 GP wins), been on the podium 75 per cent of the time (18) and averages 42 points each race weekend.
If the fates hadn't intervened from her first tilt at a world title, Duncan would be going for her fifth instead of second. Duncan suffered so much disappointment in those first three years anyone else would have hung up their helmet. In 2016, a photographer thought she could stand in the middle of the track and take pictures when Duncan hit her, crashing heavily. A dodgy race official call in 2017 ended that title chase and a serious foot injury curtailed 2018's title race.
Duncan has some great motivation to win this weekend after the recent exploits of fellow Kiwis Scott Dixon and Scott McLaughlin who won their respective championships — Dixon nailing his sixth IndyCar title and McLaughlin his third Supercars championship.
"They are totally killing it at the moment and are motivating me to do well this weekend," said the rider from Palmerston in Otago.