CAPTION: Oparau’s James Scott (bike No.108) is off to a great start after the shotgun blast that signalled the beginning of the senior race on Sunday. Scott is flanked here by Taupo’s Wil Yeoman (No.96) and Te Awamutu’s Jack Carmichael (No.400). Photo by Andy McGechan,

FEBRUARY 28, 2022: There were fresh faces on the top of both the junior and senior podiums at round one of the 2022 New Zealand Cross-country Championships near Marton at the weekend.

A larger-than-normal turnout of riders ensured it was always going to be a frantic battle for honours and it was a high calibre field of riders who turned up on farmland for this first of four rounds in the Yamaha-sponsored series.

Oparau’s James Scott (Honda) led virtually from start to finish to win the three-hour senior race on Sunday, taking the chequered flag just over a minute ahead of Wairoa’s defending national champion Tommy Watt (Yamaha) and two minutes ahead of third-placed rider Wil Yeoman (Yamaha), of Taupo.

In the 90-minute junior race staged earlier in the day, Cambridge’s Jared Hannon led a Kawasaki 1-2 to the top of the podium, edging out Pukekawa’s national junior 250cc motocross champion Tyler Brown, with New Plymouth’s Josh Houghton (Husqvarna) completing the podium.

Both senior winner Scott and junior winner Hannon are only rarely observed on the cross-country scene, these riders more at home on a motocross track, but such is the versatility of these riders and their bikes, that the transition was virtually seamless.

With the very nature of cross-country racing, where wide open spaces are the norm and mass gatherings of spectators typically not an issue, COVID-19 pandemic health regulations were able to be enforced, making this event the first and possibly one of the only national championship motorcycling events able to be considered viable this season.

The sport’s governing body here, Motorcycling New Zealand, had earlier already been forced to cancel several major championship events for 2022, including the New Zealand Superbike Championships and the New Zealand Motocross Championships, and because this cross-country event then was a rare opportunity for the nation’s elite dirt bike racers to compete, they were eager to respond, riders arriving from across the country, although just two – Rangiora’s Ben Dando and Greymouth’s Molly Williams – from the South Island.

MNZ cross-country commissioner Chris Smyth said (excuse the pun) that he was “delighted to be able to get the event off the ground”.

“It was certainly good to have the Bush Riders Motorcycle Club and Kiwi international cross-country legend Paul Whibley step up to make this happen. Having gotten this underway has helped to pull the other clubs along and help out too.

“We’ve got some good venue lined up for the other rounds too. There’s a fresh venue near Pahiatua for the second round, so that will be exciting too.

“We had really good numbers turn up here today, so that’s great too. I guess the riders just want to get out on their bikes again. This may be the only championship that MNZ is doing this year. Social distancing is so easy to do with this sporting code. We broke the juniors and seniors into two separate bubbles and that made things work well.”

The next two rounds follow closely together, with round two set for farmland near Pahiatua on Saturday, April 16, and round three near Dannevirke just two days later, on Easter Monday, April 18. The venue for the fourth and final round on May 14 is yet to be confirmed.

Points from only the best three results from the four rounds will be counted towards the championship titles, with riders to discard their worst result, ensuring the contest will go down to the wire.

2022 NZ Cross-Country Champs

Round One – Sunday, February 27 – Bush Riders MCC, Marton

Round Two – Saturday, April 16 – Bush Riders MCC, Pahiatua

Round Three – Monday, April 18 – Central Hawke’s Bay MCC, Dannevirke

Round Four – Saturday, May 14 – Host club and venue to be decided.

Credit: Words and photo by Andy McGechan,