Inducted into MNZ Hall of Fame: 2017
At the age of just 16, Josh Coppins lined up for his first international race meeting. It was 1993 at the Australian round of the 125cc World Motocross Championship at Manjimup.
The previous year Coppins had won the 1992 New Zealand 14-15 year old 80cc Junior Motocross Championship and would go on to win numerous national Motocross and Supercross events and championships.
As one of a group of promising new blood on the scene in the early 1990s, it was international Motocross stage he really had his sights set on, and he joined fellow countrymen Darryll King, Shayne King and Daryl Atkins on the world stage.
After winning the New Zealand Supercross Championship in 1995, he headed for Europe for his first full season in the FIM 250cc Motocross World Championship. Riding a private Suzuki he would finish the year in 41st after scoring two points in the series.
The following year, after winning the New Zealand Grand Prix in Woodville in both the 125cc and 250cc classes, he once again moved to Europe. It was a struggle, going it alone on the continent, but he improved his result and finished 23rd in the 250cc World Series. This year saw his compatriot Shayne King crowned 500cc Motocross World Champion.
Back in New Zealand in the off-season, he would win the 1997 Supercross Championship and also the 250cc and 350cc 4-stroke Motocross Championship. Returning to Europe, he placed 17th at the end of the their season.
The next year, Coppins took out the 1998 New Zealand 125cc and 250cc Motocross Championship, the 125cc and 250cc Supercross Championship and the 250cc New Zealand Motocross Grand Prix at Woodville, before heading back to Europe to finish 13th in the World Championship. The top ten beckoned.
The pattern continued in 1999. Coppins would take the NZ Supercross and the NZ Motocross Grand Prix doubles, winning in both the 125cc and 250cc classes in both events. Back in Europe, this was the year he turned a few heads. Still riding in a private team, he would finish the year in seventh, a result which saw the factory Suzuki team offer him a ride for the 2000 season. After years of trying, he had finally landed a factory ride and didn’t disappoint. He would take several podium places and wind up fourth in the World Championship title chase.
2001 was the season that both he and Suzuki were out for the top spot. However, it was team mate Mickael Pichon who took the title. Coppins ended up in sixth.
A change of team and bike took place for 2002. Riding for Honda, he was no longer a rookie, he was an experienced campaigner. Often on the podium that year, he would finish second to Pichon in the championship.
Another change of team but still riding Honda for the CAS Honda team, 2003 didn’t start well, with Coppins having a bad crash in the off-season in the USA, breaking his back and both legs. Despite the injuries he would ride to 11th overall.
In 2004 new classes were established for the World Championship. They would now be called MX1 and MX2. This was the breakthrough year for Coppins, taking his first Grand Prix win in Great Britain and winning two heats, one in South Africa and one in Great Britain, along the way. In what was considered a rebuilding year, he would finish third in the championship behind Stefan Everts and Pichon. Again, he would have to watch another Kiwi become a World Champion, as Ben Townley won the 2004 MX2 Motocross World Championship.
Ten years after his first full season of World Championship racing, in 2005 Coppins would battle all season with Everts and Townley. He dominated the Swedish and South African Grand Prix and was constantly pushing the Belgian Everts all season. Once again Everts won the championship and once again Coppins was runner-up.
Circumstances once again hindered him in 2006. A shoulder injury before the start of the season delayed the start to his campaign. He would not resume racing until round eight, but was on the podium straight away.
Such was the dominance of Everts, it was only Coppins who stopped his winning streak. The two were the only Grand Prix winners in the entire 2006 season. The kiwi won the Northern Ireland Grand Prix and finished on the podium at every round until the last Grand Prix in France where he finished fifth. However the year finished on a high when he stood on the podium at the Motocross des Nations event, riding for Team New Zealand which finished third overall.
He moved to works Yamaha in 2007, replacing Stefan Everts. With a new team and bike, he was the clear favourite to take the title. The chase started strong with eight straight podiums in a row and winning five Grand Prix. Building a 107 point lead in the championship, it was looking good until the Czech round. Coppins crashed and injured his shoulder so badly that he would not recover enough to keep the lead in the Championship. He finished in third again.
Still disappointed about the result from the previous season, 2008 would be a tough season and he finish fifth in the Championship. However three podiums and one Grand Prix victory were enough to keep his seat with the Yamaha factory team.
His final year with Yamaha in 2009 was another struggle, finishing sixth in the Championship, taking a Grand Prix win in Bulgaria and another two podium places.
The 2010 season was his last in the Grand Prix paddock, 17 years after his first World Championship. Another new team and a new challenge, Coppins finished his career racing for the Italian Aprilia factory, riding a twin cylinder machine. He annouced his retirement at the second to last Grand Prix of the year, while holding 11th in the championship.
In his professional career, Josh had 13 World Championship Grand Prix wins, was twice runner up in the World Motocross Championship, won two British Championships, one Belgian Championship, one Italian Championship and two Australian Championships, not to mention 21 New Zealand and Island Championships.
Josh still occasionally races when time permits and deserves the recognition of his peers, being part of a golden era of New Zealand Motocross, a time when New Zealand riders performed outstandingly on the world stage.
Racing is a fickle business and had it not been for that fickle finger of fate, New Zealand could have easily had another World Champion.
Josh continues to educate, train and pass on his racing knowledge to a new generation. Still considered one of the best in the Motocross world, he maintains links to many of the companies and organisations around the world, so continues to be at the forefront of all aspects of the sport.
In 2014 he started the Altherm JCR Yamaha race team. To date the team has won seven New Zealand titles with various riders. JCR had two riders competing in Europe in 2017 – Courtney Duncan in the FIM Women’s World MX Championship and Dylan Walsh in the European MX250 class.
Written for MNZ Copyright © 2017 Ian Dawson Fast Kiwi Media