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Kiwis To Again Tackle The World's Elite


JANUARY 13, 2016: It is going to be an exciting year for Kiwi motocross fans, scanning the internet, web sites and social media or, hopefully, watching the action on television, as New Zealand riders again tackle the world championships.


It has been a couple of seasons now since New Zealanders have featured on the main stage of world motocross, but, starting in Qatar on February 27, Bay of Plenty's Ben Townley and Otago's Courtney Duncan will be flying one version or another of the Kiwi flag when they tackle the Motocross World Championships.


Former Taupo man Townley will race for the factory Suzuki team in the MX1 class and Duncan, from Palmerston, near Dunedin, will race a privateer Yamaha in the women's category.


Neither are strangers to racing at this ultimate level, with Townley having previously won the MX2 world championship outright in 2004 and Duncan  having finished sixth overall in the 85cc class at the Junior Motocross World Championships in Taupo in 2009.


Adding to the thrills for Kiwi race fans this year is the fact that Hamilton's Josiah Natzke will also be racing against some of the best young riders in the world as he tackles the European 250cc Championships (EMX250) on behalf of the KTM factory.


The 31-year-old Townley spearheaded Team New Zealand's campaign at the Motocross of nations in France in September, the three-rider squad finishing eighth out of the more than 35 nations entered, with Townley ending the day as the No.3 individual in the MX1 class, and this brought the factory teams knocking on his door.


For Duncan, it's the realisation of a lifelong dream to race the world championships she has dominated the women's branch of the sport, and beaten most of the young men too, in New Zealand, Australia and the United States.


A full season is not guaranteed for Duncan and she needs to impress at Qatar to ensure continued backing, perhaps even at full factory level.


She has the backing anyway of New Zealand's two-time former world No.2 Josh Coppins, of Motueka, the head of the Altherm JCR Yamaha Racing Team, and she has been training regularly with him as she builds towards her world campaign.


For most of last year she was in recovery mode, regaining her strength after tearing her ACL ligament in her left knee - in a freak basketball accident, totally unrelated to motocross.


She is now back to full fitness and her coach and mentor, Coppins, is quietly confident that she will impress in Qatar.


"Courtney is only officially confirmed for Qatar at this stage," he said. "It's quite an expensive undertaking to do a full campaign and she's not got a factory ride. She needs to show what she's made of at Qatar and we can go on from there.


"We in New Zealand know how good she is, but you're only as good as your last ride and nobody has seen her overseas for a while."


A 21-year-old Italian rider, Kiara Fontanesi, was the 2015 women's world champion and she will no doubt be the one to beat again in 2016, unless a Kiwi girl called Courtney Duncan can upset the form book.


Credit: Words and photo by Andy McGechan,