The defence of his American title has got off to a rocky start for Pahiatua’s Paul “The Axeman” Whibley.
The Yamaha ace struck problems at the opening round of the Grand National Cross-country Championships (GNCC) in Florida this week and considers himself lucky to have managed 10th in his class after running out of fuel one lap from the finish.
The result was a far cry from the storming run he had last year when he romped to his first GNCC title in the US and was promptly named New Zealand’s Off-road Rider of the Year at a black-tie function in Auckland.
But tuxedos and fancy dinner plates were far from the mind of the 31-year-old former Manawatu forestry worker as he tackled the race in sandy Florida.
“My Yamaha WR450 fired up quickly and I took the holeshot,” said Whibley.
“Jimmy Jarrett (Kawasaki) slipped past me a couple corners later but I was happy to have someone lead the way for a bit. I was comfortable in second until we hit some mud holes and that rearranged the order a little.
“I dropped back to fourth, I think, but was still in touch with the leaders. On the second lap Charlie Mullins (Yamaha) made a break for it and began to open up a lead.
“A tree branch had caught my goggle roll-offs and damaged the canister. With a trail of film flying behind me and increasingly distorted vision from the sand and a couple of mud holes, I lost touch with the front bunch.
“By the end of lap two, I came in for fuel because we elected not to push the gas mileage in the thick sand. With a fresh pair of Smith goggles restoring my vision I managed to catch back up to Australian Josh Strang who was running in third.
“Part way into that lap my vent hose for the tank came loose and began splashing fuel everywhere. I came into pit again at the end of the third lap to refuel and for a quick repair. I had lost some time and dropped well back.
“I pushed hard and regained some positions but had to pit again at the end of the fourth lap to make sure I had enough gas to finish the last two laps of the race.
“After working my way up to fourth I ran out of gas just under a mile from the finish. I ran out to the pits and borrowed some gas from the some guys who were pitting track side.
“By the time I made it to the finish I was down to 10th in the XC1 class and 15th overall.
“It was a very disappointing start to the year and one that leaves me with a lot of work to do.”
XC1 class results:
1. Josh Strang (Suz)
2. Chris Bach (KTM)
3. Charlie Mullins (Yam)
4. Jimmy Jarrett (Kaw)
5. Thad DuVall (Yam)
6. Glenn Kearney (Hus)
7. Barry Hawk Jr. (Yam)
8. Cory Buttrick (KTM)
9. Homero Diaz (KTM)
10. Paul Whibley (Yam)
© Words and photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com