It’s the off-season for Kiwi international Paul Whibley but the man the motorcycling community knows affectionately as “the Axeman” proved to be every bit as sharp as an axe at the opening round of the New Zealand Enduro Championships at Waimiha, in the King Country, on Saturday.
The former forestry worker from the Manawatu took command of the gruelling off-road race, staged on bushy farmland just 25-kilometres from Benneydale.
Several top riders struck problems, including multi-time national champion Chris Birch and perennial front-runner Chris Power, of Paeroa – both men crashing out of the race — but there was no denying the international class of 2009 United States cross-country champion Whibley (Yamaha YZ450F).
“I don’t usually race enduro events … cross-country racing is more my thing … but obviously I‘m happy with this result,” said Whibley.
“It was a bit of a surprise to win actually. The last time I raced an enduro was the International Six Days Enduro near Taupo in 2006, but this race was all good training anyway for my American cross-country racing season.
“I’m in my off-season at the moment, but it’s important for me to spend as much time as I can in the saddle. Winning here was simply a bonus for me.”
Runner-up was fellow Yamaha racer Rory Mead (YZ250F), the world-class Taupo rider making a comeback from injury.
Third outright was Auckland’s Karl Power (Honda CRF250), just back from a successful campaign at the International Six Days Enduro in Mexico.
Class winners were Hokianga’s Mitchell Nield (Gas Gas, under-200cc two-stroke class), Auckland’s Michael Skinner (KTM, over-201cc two-stroke class), Mead (Yamaha, under-300cc four-stroke class), Whibley (Yamaha, over-300cc four-stroke class) and New Plymouth’s Dougy Herbert (KTM, veterans).
Round two of the Yamaha-sponsored series is set for Oparau, near Kawhia, on January 29.
Meanwhile, just for good measure, Whibley stayed overnight at Waimiha so that he could ride, and win, the third round of the popular GNCC series the following day.
He won the GNCC event by more than seven minutes from Karl Power, with Tauranga’s Reece Burgess (Husaberg FE450) taking third spot. Karaka’s Caleb van Dragt (KTM 200 EXC) was fourth and Taupo’s Mark De Lautour (KTM 400 EXC) was fifth.
© Words and photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com