West Auckland’s Hamish Harwood was the undisputed king of the track at the first round of four in the 2023 senior New Zealand Motocross Championships in Southland on Sunday.

The Royal Heights-based former Takaka man, who races for the high-profile CML Makita KTM Racing Team, won five of the six races he started in two separate classes at the Riverside Reserve Motocross Track in Balclutha, ending his weekend on top in both the 125cc class and the premier MX1 class as well.

The multi-time former champion – and actually the current national MX1 champion – showed up with two versions of his favoured Austrian-built KTM bikes at the Balclutha track and turned his scintillating form into solid championship points.

He raced a KTM SXF450 in the MX1 class and a KTM SX125 in the 125cc class.

The opening round of the Aon Insurance, Pirelli tyres and Fox apparel-sponsored series on Sunday was the first big opportunity for top-class racing since the season-opening stand-alone MXFest event in Taupo in October, so everyone was keyed up for the start gates to drop.

The motocross nationals did not go ahead at all last season because of restrictions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, a factor that also contributed to the high anticipation.

The 27-year-old Harwood won all three 125cc races, finishing ahead of Dairy Flats’ rising young star Cole Davies, with Kerikeri’s Logan Denize rounding out the 125cc class podium on Sunday.

Harwood also won the premier MX1 class, winning the first two races of the day, but then forced to accept runner-up position, behind Mangakino’s Maximus Purvis in the final race of the weekend.

With his 1-1-2 score-line for the MX1 class, however, it means Harwood left Balclutha and headed to the North Island with a solid five-point advantage over Purvis.

“It was sort of a smart move on my part, I feel, not to push too hard to win that third MX1 race,” said Harwood.

“I felt like I had the speed and probably the fitness too, even after double-classing. But the dust meant I couldn’t see the edgy bumps and, when I got close (to Purvis’ rear wheel), I made some mistakes and I wasn’t really happy with the risk factor to try and make the pass.

“I said to myself ‘okay, I’ll settle for second’, but then I’d get close again and try to have another go at him.

“All in all, I’m happy with my day and the bikes were really good.

The dual-class ironman refused to use the back-to-back nature of his races as any kind of excuse.

“Instead of having two 20-minute races, I just treated it like I was doing one long 40-minute race (like we sometimes do overseas). It was tough, for sure. It would be one of the toughest tracks I’ve ridden in ages.

“I’ve been training in sand and this was nothing like that. But I don’t have a preference for any type of tracks,” he said, perhaps giving a clue as to why he has been a champion over so many seasons.

The next round in the series is set for two weeks’ time on the outskirts of Rotorua (on February 26), followed by racing at Fernhill, near Hastings, on March 19 and, finally, at Taupo, on March 26.

The 2023 senior women's motocross nationals will share the programme for the North Island rounds, enhancing even more the scale and importance of the racing this season.

It will be the first time that the senior women’s nationals will run in tandem with the corresponding men's competition.

2023 New Zealand Motocross Championships:

Round one: February 12 – South Otago (at Balclutha);

Round two: February 26 – Rotorua (including women's nationals);

Round three: March 19 – Hastings (including women's nationals);

Round four: March 26 – Taupo (including women's nationals).

Credit: Words and photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com