Riding solo in a four-hour endurance race is a challenge that can sap both energy and spirit and is not to be undertaken lightly.
The annual Raglan Rocx is certainly no normal off-road motorcycle race, but Pahiatua’s Paul Whibley (Yamaha) is no normal man.
“I had done four-hour races before, but this was the first time I’ve had a crack at The Raglan Rocx in the ironman class. It would be a good measure of how the pre-season training is progressing,” said the 33-year-old Whibley, who finished No.2 on the United States cross-country scene last season.
“KC Entertainment put up $500 for the rider who won the holeshot, probably the biggest pay out ever for a holeshot in New Zealand cross-country racing history.
“I’m not sure if it was the holeshot money or if it was an off weekend for the country’s top motocross riders, but quite a few of them turned up to race, namely Bay of Plenty riders Ben Townley (the former MX2 world champion) and Cody Cooper (the national MX1 motocross and supercross champion) and visiting British MX1 rider Jake Nicholls.
“Because I was a little late to the line, it meant a far outside gate pick … not ideal but I was still confident of a reasonable start,” said Whibley.
“I was expecting some carnage in the first turn, with some guys having dollar signs in their eyes, but the time I had spent during the week practicing the New Zealand style of dead-engine starting paid off, with the Yamaha YZ450F firing quickly and launching towards turn one, earning me the holeshot money and the immediate race lead.
“But then I soon discovered a problem with my (back-pack) drink system. The bladder must have burst as I could feel all the fluid running down my back. I sucked hard on the mouth piece, trying to get as much fluid in before it was gone. It was going to be a tough day with little drink.
“Fortunately I had prepped a spare drink system before the start and, at one of the fuel stops (my wife) Katherine and my fuel dump can operator Mark Pollard strapped it on.”
Yamaha was well represented in the ironman class with Mokau’s Adrian Smith and Taupo’s Rory Mead both looking to take advantage of the conditioning benefits to be derived from four hours in the saddle and it was Mead who put Whibley under the most pressure early on.
“Rory Mead had been chasing me for the first half of the event and a little tip over in a rut resulted in a busted peak on my helmet and the lead falling into Rory’s hands.
“I struggled with the peak, having to slow to remove it as the high speed nature of the track resulted in the peak sticking straight up and the wind trying to tear my head off. Once I had reverted to bullet-man style, I was back up to speed. I reeled Rory in and retook the lead with an hour to go.”
Mead then struck problems, crashing off the track and out of the race.
“I clipped something on the side of the track and lost my rear brakes,” explained Mead, the national enduro champion on a Yamaha YZ450F identical to Whibley’s.
“I was about 15 seconds behind Paul (Whibley) when I crashed,” said Mead, who now concentrates on preparing to defend his national enduro title with the New Zealand Enduro Championships set to kick off at Oparau, near Kawhia, on February 4.
With Mead out of the Raglan Rocx, it was eventually a cruise to the finish for Whibley, the Kiwi international finishing nearly three minutes ahead of Townley and his co-rider from Otorohanga, Jaden Gray (Honda CRF450).
1. Paul Whibley (Pahiatua)
2. Ben Townley (Taupo)/Jayden Gray (Otorohanga)
3. Jason Dickey (Ohope)/Brandon Given (Raglan)
4. Adrian Smith (Mokau)
5. Mark Penny (Pirongia)
6. Jake Nicholls (Britain).
© Words and photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com