Dirt-bike racers prepare for cross-country series

Wainuiomata’s Jake Whitaker (KTM No.166) grabs the holeshot at the start of the senior race at Ohakuri last season. Close behind him is Takanini’s James Sutton (Kawasaki No.64). Photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com

It’s go time for New Zealand’s best dirt bike racers, with the second round of three in this season’s Forestland Cross-country Series set for Ohakuri this coming weekend.

The twisting forestry course, about halfway between Taupo and Tokoroa, will host this pivotal event on Saturday – with a trail ride set for the same venue the following day – and a slew of champion and potential champion riders are expected to make the journey to compete at the popular event.

This series could also be the perfect build-up for the Kiwi internationals who intend to head overseas to race at the big annual International Six Days Enduro in Spain this October,

Round one of the Forestland Cross-country Series was staged at Tar Hill, just south of Tokoroa last month and it was a couple of those riders intending to tackle the ISDE who dominated proceedings on that occasion, Oparau’s James Scott and Taupo’s Brad Groombridge, two men who are also currently leading the way in the parallel-but-separate 2024 New Zealand Enduro Championships.

Scott was the national cross-country champion in 2022 and he is also the current national MX2 (250cc) motocross champion, while Groombridge was three years consecutively the national cross-country champion (in 2016, 2017 and 2018) and twice the national enduro champion (in 2016 and again in 2018), which renders either of them favourites to win the Forestland series this year.

Taupo’s national cross-country champion from 2023, Wil Yeoman, and the just-crowned national cross-country champion for 2024, Rotorua’s Callum Dudson, along with Kiwi international Ryan Hayward, from Papakura, were all at the forefront in the two-hour senior race at round one of the Forestland series last month, and they too could be expected to shine out again this Saturday.

Dudson won the senior grade in the Forestland Cross-country Series last season.

Wainuiomata’s Jake Whitaker had been expected to feature at round one at Tar Hill, but an uncharacteristic crash put paid to that.

He is a multi-time former national trials champion as well as being a dominant force in hard enduros over recent years, so he should not be counted out to make a challenge at Ohakuri on Saturday.

Best of the Intermediate grade riders at round one was Havelock North’s Luke McBeth, who finished an impressive 29th overall in the 57-rider senior field, and he may be ready to step up again this weekend too.

A 90-minute Junior grade race is scheduled as a curtain raiser for the main event, with riders such as Whangaparoa’s Nathan Refoy, Ngaruawahia’s Bailey Babington, Rotorua’s Hadlee Fowler, Matamata’s Levi Rodgers, Mangakino’s Grace Harcourt and Te Awamutu’s Jai Gibson likely to again be among the leading riders.

Series organiser Sean Clarke says he's impressed with the large number of riders who showed for round one and commented that this Saturday’s event would feature an even longer track to test the riders and give them “more bang for their buck”.

The third and final round of the series will also be held at Ohakuri, on July 13, with a separate trail ride again planned at the same venue for the following day.

The Forestland Cross-country Series is supported by Forbes and Davies, Kiwi Rider magazine, Forest Trail Events, Satco Logging Equipment, O'Neal apparel, Ogio bags, Arai helmets, Metzeler tyres, Muc-Off by Motomuck, USWE, Maxi Grip, Maxima Oils, Blur and Husqvarna motorcycles.

2024 Forestland Cross-country Series calendar:

Round 1, Tar Hill, 12km south of Tokoroa, Saturday, May 25 (followed by a vinduro – a vintage bike enduro – and trail ride on May 26);

Round 2, Ohakuri, between Taupo and Tokoroa, Saturday, June 15 (followed by trail ride on June 16);

Round 3, Ohakuri, Saturday, July 13 (followed by trail ride on July 14).

Additional trail ride set for Ohakuri on August 18.


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