FEBRUARY 20, 2022: With opportunities to ride typically closed off by COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, the extraordinary chance to race on Saturday was snatched at by many of New Zealand’s motocross elite.
And one rider who had more to gain from this rare moment of brightness on the racing calendar was Mount Maunganui’s Josiah Natzke, along with his fellow Bridgestone Kawasaki Racing Team mates.
One after another, the huge annual Whakatane Summercross, the big annual New Zealand Motocross at Woodville and then the 2022 New Zealand Motocross Championships series fell victim to virus control measures, although there were still signs that the twice-postponed annual Waikato Motocross Championships might still go ahead.
And so, when the green light was eventually given by the host North King Country Motorcycle Club that their event would still run, albeit carefully managed under health guidelines, racers and their support crews flocked to the Waikato Motocross Championships track just outside Te Kuiti on Saturday.
It was a Who’s Who of Kiwi motocross talent that arrived for the one-day spectacle on Saturday, all of them keen to get back to some serious racing.
The 23-year-old Natzke, who is next month due to head to the United States to compete in the nationals there, was especially keen to complete some “training” and test himself against fellow New Zealand championship-level riders, before he boards his flight on March 15.
And it could not have gone any better for the Kawasaki star.
Natzke recorded three wins from three starts in the MX2 (250cc) class on Saturday, finishing ahead of KTM’s multi-time former national MX2 champion Harwood and Tauranga’s Brodie Connolly (Yamaha).
“I’m really gelling with the bike. We’ve used the same settings from the year before and it feels great,” said Natzke.
“It has been hard for everyone to get motivated (because of the pandemic). I knew everyone would be here and, while not everyone is on their A game, but it’s been able to race with all the top guys again.
“I leave for America next month and I’ll be there for three or four months. I’ll race the first couple of rounds of the US outdoor nationals in the 250cc class, riding for Kawasaki. I just need to see where things take me. I have a place to stay, I have a bike and a vehicle and I’m heading across early, well before the series starts, just to get used to everything.
“There are a lot of unknowns, although I did race there once before, when I was aged about 10. Kawasaki New Zealand have been fantastic in supporting me and I’m looking forward to performing.”
Meanwhile, the men in green also had good reason to celebrate in the MX1 class on Saturday, with Kawasaki riders claiming four of the top seven spots, ably led by multi-time former MX1 champion and Kawasaki newcomer Cody Cooper.
The MX1 class was won by West Auckland’s Harwood, finishing the day ahead of Cooper and Mangakino’s Maximus Purvis (Yamaha), with Kawasaki pair Micah McGoldrick, from Tauranga, and Kaukapakapa’s Josh Jack rounding out the top five positions overall.
Mount Maunganui’s Cooper exclaimed that he was absolutely thrilled with his first competitive outing on the new Kawasaki KX450F, saying it was “the best bike I’ve ever ridden, stock standard and just straight out of the crate …”
Waitoku’s Cole Davies dominated the 125cc class on Saturday, while Cambridge’s Jared Hannon and Taranaki’s Rian King completed the 125cc podium.
Another Kawasaki rider, Te Puke’s Flynn Watts, won the handicap feature final, where riders were set off at intervals, determined by their fastest lap times throughout the day. Watts, aged just 15, remarkably finished that novelty race ahead of fellow 250cc rider Hannon and 450cc rider Cooper.