CAPTION: New Zealand’s Courtney Duncan (Kawasaki), in almost total control of the world championships in 2023. Photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com
She’s done it again and, in the end, she did it easily … New Zealand’s Courtney Duncan is world champion once more.
The 27-year-old Kawasaki rider from Palmerston, near Dunedin, won the first of her two Women’s Motocross World Championship (WMX) races at the final round in Turkey on Saturday and with that stretched her points lead to such a margin that she had almost an entire race up her sleeve, with just the final race in the series remaining the following day.
Duncan finished runner-up in Sunday’s vital final race, behind Dutch rider Lynn Valk, and therefore comfortably added the 2023 world crown to her previous world championship titles, won three years consecutively in 2019, 2020 and 2021.
Sadly, she had missed out on making it four in a row last year because of injury, but Duncan more than made up for that disappointment by dominating the series on her comeback this year.
Duncan started her weekend at the Turkish GP a solid 16 points clear at the top of the 2023 WMX standings – ahead of Spanish GasGas rider Daniela Guillen – and Duncan’s first-race success at the Afyonkarahisar circuit meant she had boosted her advantage to 21 points over Guillen, her only real threat for the crown.
With 25 points available for a win, the mathematics was simple and, counting that Guillen might win that final race, just 17th or better in the final race would have easily been enough for Duncan to “get the job done”.
Guillen managed only eighth in her final outing and ended 2023 as overall runner-up, while just-turned 16-year-old Dutch rider Lotte Van Drunen (Kawasaki) completed the series podium.
In all, Duncan won six of the 12 races in the championship (two races being held at each of the series’ six rounds), while Van Drunen won four races this season, Guillen only one and, for the race two winner in Turkey on Sunday, Dutch rider Valk (Fantic), that was her one and only race win of the season.
Destined never to race a GP on home soil and, in fact, she has always had to travel the farthest to compete on this world stage, Duncan endured three frustrating seasons of “so close, but yet so far” before her breakthrough success, winning her first world title in 2019.
But she proved again that Kiwis can fly, following in the wheel tracks of fellow New Zealand motocross riders who became world champions – New Plymouth’s Shayne King (500cc motocross world champion in 1996), Taupo’s Ben Townley (MX2 world champion in 2004), Pukekohe’s Katherine Prumm (women’s world cup champion in 2006 and 2007), Pukekohe’s Tony Cooksley (veterans’ world champion in 2007) and Hawera’s Daryl Hurley (veterans’ world champion in 2018).
Like her male counterparts, Duncan has always had to fight “behind enemy lines”, so to speak, most of her rivals much more familiar with the predominantly European tracks, terrain that was often alien to the Kiwi.
Her talented rivals have also enjoyed the luxury of basking in the warmth of many thousands of home fans screaming their support, while Duncan might generally have only half a dozen Kiwis on hand to offer encouragement.
So, while winning a world championship title is always difficult, to say it’s been especially tough on Duncan is a massive understatement.
However, like any Kiwi sportsperson confronting incredible odds, Duncan had faith in her ability, simply gritted her teeth, put her head down and charged ahead.
It will no doubt be a similar case when she attempts to defend her world title in Europe in 2024, but in the meantime she will celebrate.
Rnd 1: Sardegna (ITA) – Riola Sardo, 25-26 Mar
Rnd 2: Switzerland – Frauenfeld, 8-10 Apr
Rnd 3: Spain – intu Xanadú – Arroyomolinos, 6-7 May
Rnd 4: France – Villars sous Ecot, 20-21 May
Rnd 5: Netherlands – Arnhem, 19-20 Aug
Rnd 6: Turkey – Afyonkarahisar, 2-3 Sep
Credit: Words and photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com