MOTOCROSS: AUS: Round one Wonthaggi preview

Anderson out to spoil the King size party Strengthened by the return of marquee riders from overseas duty, the 2005 Maxxis Australian Motocross Championship will commence at the Victorian township of Wonthaggi on Sunday, March 20. With...

Anderson out to spoil the King size party

Strengthened by the return of marquee riders from overseas duty, the 2005 Maxxis Australian Motocross Championship will commence at the Victorian township of Wonthaggi on Sunday, March 20.

With redoubtable New Zealand duo Darryll King (Pro Open) and Cody Cooper (Pro Lites) returning to defend title honour, the championship is again shaping up as a battle royal between the top-shelf trans-Tasman rivals, with the Pro Lites class, in particular, shaping up as a tipster's nightmare.

In Pro Open, the tireless Darryll King (CDR Nokia Yamaha YZ450F), who won the 2004 instalment by a whopping 48pts, is shooting for an amazing fourth championship in five years, with his opposition set to include seven of last year's top 10 -- although it will be six at Wonthaggi with the current indisposition of his teammate Cheyne Boyd.

Darryll, whose imperious 2004 form saw him finish every race on the podium, will be joined on the 40-strong grid at Wonthaggi -- selected, for the first time, via a seeding system -- by sibling and reigning number two Shayne King (Moto Honda CRF450R); Shift Motul Suzuki teammates Danny Ham (RM-Z450) and Daryl Hurley (RM-Z450); Lee Ellis (Motorex KTM 450SXR); Shane Metcalfe (Kawasaki Racing Team KX250); and 2002 champion Craig Anderson (No Fear Honda CRF450R).

Without a doubt, Anderson's return from a two-year sojourn in America -- which brought him a race win in the ultra-competitive 125cc national title - is inciting the most attention, with the 27-year-old determined to extinguish the King duopoly.

Anderson, during a rare break in the American calendar, made a cameo in round four of last year's championship, and finished the day just 2pts behind Darryll - a portent of what lay ahead in 2005.

"It's definitely going to be tough, and I'm sure the King boys will again be hard to beat," said Anderson, who has completed five days of testing in the past few weeks. "I'm ready to go -- as a lot of other riders probably are.

"Winning championships is all about the doing the right things beforehand, and putting the right package together on race day. That can all change from round to round, so it all adds up to an exciting year."

Anderson, who was defeated by Darryll King in 2001 before making the accession to champion the following year, has only raced twice since last September -- single outings in America and Australia -- but he remains sanguine about his Wonthaggi prospects.

"I probably would have raced more in Australia earlier this year, but I get really nervous about competing in the smaller events -- there is a greater chance of getting hurt. Despite that, I'm fit and raring to go, and I can't wait to race at Wonthaggi for the first time since 2002."

Meanwhile, Metcalfe is more akin to a championship 'rookie' in 2005 after an injury-ravaged 2004 saw him sit out proceedings. The redoubtable 22-year-old is now well and truly back to the fore, and has defected from Honda to lead the Kawasaki Racing Team offensive on the two-stroke KX250.

Metcalfe, on the strength of his third place in 2003, is one of only six riders to have finished in the top three of a Pro Open title since 2001 -- the others including the Kings, Anderson, Cameron Taylor and Jay Marmont. The latter, who was third last year, has now switched his allegiances to race in the American 125cc scene.

Of the other Pro Open riders, 26-year-old Ham will appreciate jettisoning his long-serving RM250 for the all-new RM-Z450 four-stroke, while teammate Hurley, also back from America, will be primed to surpass his best result in an Australian motocross title -- a second behind Andrew McFarlane in the 2000 250cc championship.

Additionally, 27-year-old Ellis has finally joined the factory ranks in 2005 after a long-serving privateer career, and will appreciate being under the all-conquering Motorex KTM umbrella, which is a multi-time motocross and supercross national champion -- most of its success due to erstwhile incumbent, Anderson.

Finally, after finishing third in 2002 and second in 2003, Shayne King's 'path' to Pro Open champion was kept in check by Darryll in 2004, but the 1996 500cc world champion's lead-up form has been immaculate, including a victory in the talent-filled Auckland Motocross Championship last weekend.

After practice and qualifying, the Pro Open protagonists will be put through two, 30-minute (plus a lap) races on March 20 -- the same program as the 40 Pro Lites runners.

As mentioned, the form guide in the 2005 Pro Lites battle is one of the most open on record, notwithstanding that 21-year-old Cooper was last year's standout performer. Cooper (CRF250R) will remain with the No Fear Honda collaboration for his championship defence, against eight of his fellow top 10 riders from 2004 - and 2003 champion Troy Carroll (CDR Nokia Yamaha YZ250F), who is returning to the class where he was once beyond reproach.

Carroll, the reigning Australian Pro Open supercross champion, motored to 14 wins out of 15 races in the 2003 Pro Lites motocross battle, although he will be hard pressed to produce such 'antics' this time around.

That's because, in addition to Cooper, there are upwards of 10 riders who are capable of winning races in 2005 -- if not the championship proper.

Perennial contenders -- and long-time adversaries - Taylor (Serco Yamaha YZ250F) and Troy Dorron (No Fear Honda CRF250R), will again be at the pointy end of proceedings, while others shooting for championship glory will include Daniel McCoy (Motorex KTM) an the all-new 250SXF, 19-year-old Daniel Reardon (Whales Kawasaki KX250F), Mitch Hoad (Chris Watson Motorcycles YZ250F) and highly rated New Zealander Luke Burkhart (Shift Motul Suzuki RM-Z250).

Dorron, who turns 33 on March 13, hasn't finished outside the Pro Lites (nee 125cc) top three since 2000, with his dossier including two championship victories in 2000 and 2002. Meanwhile, his contemporary, Taylor, is the reigning Australian Pro Lites supercross champion, and finished a close second behind Cooper in the motocross title.

Furthermore, and in what may be a positive omen for round one, Taylor and Cooper dominated last year's final round at Wonthaggi, which was played out on the circuit's traditional sandy terrain.

Among the other fancied competitors at Wonthaggi will be Toby Price (Kawasaki Racing Team KX250F), Ryan Marmont (Motorex KTM 250SXF), Wade Thompson (Bills Motorcycles CRF250R), and fellow teenagers Matt Moss (Smooth Hard & Fast YZ250F), Jake Moss (Smooth Hard & Fast YZ250F), Danny Anderson (CRF250R), Justin Carafa (YZ250F) and Bronte Holland (B & S Holland Suzuki RM-Z250).

Price, who was injured for most of 2004, defeated Carafa and Holland to win the blue ribbon title at the 2003 Australian Junior Motocross Championship -- the 15 years 125cc class.

The support program at Wonthaggi will be headlined by the fledgling National Cup, which has been devised to allow riders to develop skills and confidence on a national stage -- without the thrust and parry of the official championship classes.

After practice begins at 9.00am on March 20, the opening National Cup race will be held at 10:50am. Entry is $20 for adults, $10 for children (5-15 years) and $50 for a family. Programs will be $5.00, with the pit area will be open free to the public.

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Series General
Drivers Andrew McFarlane , Toby Price