CAPTION: The senior podium at round three of the national cross-country championships at the weekend comprised (from left) Taupo’s Wil Yeoman (third), Oparau’s James Scott (first) and Napier-based former Wairoa man Tommy Watts (runner-up). Photo by Andy McGechan,

The second and third rounds of four in this season’s New Zealand Cross-country Championships over the long Easter Weekend were both thrilling and disappointing in equal doses.

They were thrilling because off-road motorcycle racing at full throttle is about as much of an adrenaline rush as anybody, riders and spectators alike, can typically handle, but they were also slightly disappointing because, the way the results panned out, the upcoming fourth and final round is now a “dead rubber”, although the final overall rankings in several of the various classes are still to be determined.

It had been two months since the Yamaha-sponsored 2022 cross-country nationals had kicked into gear near Marton in February, but it reignited with back-to-back rounds near Pahiatua/Masterton on Saturday and near Dannevirke on Easter Monday, certainly stoking a blaze under the competition.

In the senior ranks, it was the same podium that formed up at the end of racing on both days, Oparau’s James Scott (Honda) winning both the three-hour races ahead of defending senior champion Tommy Watts (Yamaha), of Napier, with Taupo’s Wil Yeoman (Yamaha) crossing the line in third position both times.

With only three of the four rounds to be counted, it means that Scott’s win at round one, followed by his pair of wins over the weekend, put him in an unassailable position and the national cross-country champs first-timer therefore wrapped up the title with a round to spare.

It was a must-win situation for Watts at round three on Monday, with a race win needed from him to keep alive his hopes of a successful title defence. If Watts could have won on Monday and then again at the final round, he would have taken the title by virtue of the count-back rule.

It didn’t work out that way, with Scott leading Monday’s race from start to finish. After a poor start, Watts did manage to close in on Scott near the end of the race, but it was never enough.

It was a similar story in the junior grade, with Cambridge’s Jared Hannon (Kawasaki) making it three wins in a row when he followed on from his win at Marton, by also winning the 90-minute junior races at Pahiatua/Masterton on Saturday and at Dannevirke on Monday.

Hannon’s 1-1-1 score-card for the series also earned him the national title win with a round to spare.

Runner-up to Hannon on Saturday was Te Awamutu’s Nixon Parkes (KTM), with New Plymouth’s Josh Houghton (Husqvarna) claiming third place, while runner-up to Hannon on Monday was again the fast-improving Parkes, with New Plymouth’s Blake Lusk (Yamaha) finishing third on that occasion.

The fourth and final round is to be held in Central Hawke’s Bay on May 15.

There are positions still to be finalised in the various engine capacity classes, so there is still plenty to race for at round four.

MNZ cross-country commissioner Chris Smyth said he was encouraged by the “sizeable turn-out” of riders at all rounds so far.

“I’m happy with the numbers showing up, particularly considering that the pandemic had a negative effect on things early on,” he said.

“It was a bit unlucky for Tommy today (Monday), with his bad start. If Tommy had won today, the series would have gone down to the wire.

“It’s been close racing between the top three in particular throughout the series. I think Tommy would have burnt up a fair bit of energy fighting through the pack today.

“We had a lot of quality riders out on the track. They’re world class riders, many of them. Just look at how many Kiwis have gone from racing this series in the past to now be racing internationally and doing so well … individuals like Liam Draper, Dylan Yearbury, Tommy Buxton and Rachael Archer. And even James Scott too, when he raced in world enduro championship events last year.

“This competition in New Zealand can be a stepping stone to the top levels overseas, so we must be doing something right.”

2022 NZ Cross-Country Champs

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

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

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

Round Four – Sunday, May 15 – Central Hawke’s Bay MCC.

Credit: Words and photo by Andy McGechan,