Hosted by the Bush riders Motorcycle Club in Marton, the event was held on Rangitikei farmland and saw Tommy Watts prove he is as handy on a YZ450F over a three-hour race, as he is in the short, sharp motocross events that he excelled at over the past few months. A Yamaha employee at Motoland in Napier, he won the Senior competition overall and finished first in class (4 Stroke Over).
Yamaha Motor New Zealand’s Motorsport Manager Josh Coppins says it was “great to see Tommy transition across from some really good motocross form this summer, to winning outright on Sunday. He is a real asset to the brand.”
After a tough start, seasoned cross country legend and 2015 national champion Paul Whibley, of Taikorea, who was riding a smaller capacity Yamaha (YZ250FX) chased after Watts over the course, which included a gorge, open farmland, tight native bush, plus gorse and pine trees.
“The race got off to a bad start with the bike not firing on the dead engine Le Mans style start. Being at the back of the pack on an extremely dusty track was not ideal. I had a few dodgy moments in the dust but forcing some passes early on got me mid-pack, then as the riders spread out, I worked my way forward,” Whibley, who is also the PWR Yamaha Team Manager, says.
“The new mount did really well despite some of the fast sections suiting the 450 bikes. Full credit to MotoSR for getting the bike dialled in - allowing me to hit stuff hard and hold it on that little bit longer.”
Whibley pushed resolutely over the three-hour Senior race, moving forward and making passes when he could in the dusty conditions, to finish second overall and first in the 4-Stroke Under class by the time the finish flag came out.
“I'm pretty happy with that and am sitting in a good position for the series,” Whibley says.
Whanganui-based PWR team rider Seth Reardon has stepped up to ride a YZ450FX this year and found the 4 Stroke Over class “a lot more competitive.” He rode his Yamaha to fourth in class and fifth overall.
“I found the bike really good. I’m pretty happy with how I rode but need to work on my starts before the next round in two weeks' time.”
The 5-metre run to the bikes at the start line caught Reardon out and he exited mid-pack amongst about 100 motorbikes before reeling in his rivals over the approximately 90-kilometre race.
The PWR team’s youngster Wil Yeoman (15), of Taupo, kicked his national campaign off in the best possible way, with victory in the 90-minute Junior race.
“I had a great start, getting the hole shot, which was helpful to be ahead of the dust. After a couple of laps I was able to get into a groove and put in some good lap times.
I am pleased to get a win to start the championship and look forward to racing again in round two in a couple of week’s time,” Yeoman says.
Yamaha brand ambassador Charlotte Russ, of Auckland, won the women's class on her YZ125 and finished 29th overall. She "really enjoyed the track and the physical challenge of three-plus hours on the bike," she says.
After Covid-19 caused the cancellation of last year’s New Zealand cross-country championships a week after it started, the organisers will be closely monitoring the country’s currently fluctuating Alert Levels.
If the championship is able to progress, points from the best three results out of the four rounds will count towards the championship titles, with riders able to discard their worst result.
Coppins hopes that for the organisers’ and riders’ sakes the championship can continue, adding that the cross country market is one that the brand is “really passionate about.”
“We had really solid representation across the board from Yamaha riders, including the official PWR Yamaha team, our bLU cRU ambassadors and our customers. It was great to see such high blue numbers across all classes,” he concludes.
Round One (Marton) Class Overall – Senior
1st Tommy Watts (YZ450F) – 1st in class (4 Stroke Over)
2nd Paul Whibley (YZ250FX) – 1st in class (4 Stroke Under)
3rd Reece Lister
4th Brandon Given
5th Seth Reardon (YZ450FX) – 4th in class (4 Stroke Over)
29th Charlotte Russ (YZ125) – 1st in class (Women’s)
Round One (Marton) Class Overall – Junior
1st Wil Yeoman (YZ250FX) – 1st in class (4 Stroke Over)
2nd Luke Brown
3rd Charlie Free
2021 NEW ZEALAND CROSS COUNTRY CHAMPIONSHIP
Round 1 – Bush riders Motorcycle Club – Sunday 28th February – Marton
Round 2 – Central Hawkes Bay Motorcycle Club – Sunday 14th March – Flemington
Round 3 – Gore & Districts Motorcycle Club – Saturday 17th April – TBC
Round 4 – Mosgiel District Motorcycle Club – Sunday 18th April – TBC (including prizegiving)
2021 NEW ZEALAND ENDURO CHAMPIONSHIP
Round 1 – 11th April (Tokoroa)
Round 2 – 24th & 25th April – hosted by Kapi Mana Motorcycle Club
Round 3 – 5th, 6th & 7th June (race days TBC) – hosted by Kapi Mana Motorcycle Club
Round 4 – 12th June (Masterton) & 13th June (Martinborough)