Taikorea’s Paul Whibley created the NZXC cross-country racing series three years ago and he celebrated its incredible growth with an outright win at the final round of the 2017 edition of the series on Sunday.
The 39-year-old, a two-time former Grand National Cross-country Championships (GNCC) winner in the United States (in 2009 and 2012) and a record six-time winner of the parallel Off-Road Motorcycle and ATV (OMA) series, was keen to put something back into the sport he loves so much.
Hence the NZXC series was formed by the Yamaha star in 2015, designed as a contest that would help to prepare intrepid Kiwis for their own overseas racing missions.
Howick’s Liam Draper (Husqvarna) is one such young New Zealand rider who has benefited from the NZXC series and he’ll shortly be heading to the US, where he hopes he can follow in the wheel-tracks laid down by Whibley a few years ago in the GNCC competition there.
Also the New Zealand cross-country champion in 2015, Whibley (Yamaha YZ450FX) was probably always going to be among those favoured to win the NZXC series this year.
Whibley won the inaugural running on the NZXC series “by accident” in 2015, despite him not racing the final round – the rider who had been expected to wrap up the series crashed out of the points that day, leaving the trophy in Whibley’s hands.
Whibley again did not contest all the NZXC rounds last season and this time it was Coatesville’s Sam Greenslade (KTM) who took the main trophy.
This year Yamaha stalwart Whibley just dived right in and, with five wins and two runner-up finishes in the seven starts, including his victory at Sunday’s final round near Pahiatua, he couldn’t be touched.
Riders were to count just six of the seven rounds, discarding their one worst result, and, even then, Whibley had wrapped it up with a round to spare.
Draper was the only rider to beat Whibley in the NZXC this year, the Aucklander winning round five at Matata and round six in the Woodhill Forest, but these were the only races he attempted and so he had no chance of winning outright.
“Callan May (of Titirangi, Yamaha) was the rider most likely to challenge me for the outright win, but he didn’t show up at Pahiatua,” said Whibley.
“I didn’t know what the points situation was before racing on Sunday, but I thought I’d done enough to win with my consistency throughout the series anyway.”
Meanwhile, Cambridge’s Callum Paterson (Yamaha YZ125) easily won the junior grade in the NZXC Series this season.
His 3-2-1-1-1-1 results in the first six rounds of the series meant he didn’t even need to show up at the final round near Pahiatua.
Taupo’s Josh Yeoman (Kawasaki KX85) recovered from a disappointing start to the series, when he crossed the finish line 23rd at round one, to dominate the rest of the series and comprehensively win the mini grade.
In the meantime, Whibley is hoping to entice a handful of leading Yamaha factory team riders to come over from the United States in the New Year, to come under his wing and prepare for their own 2018 GNCC campaigns.
“It will be exciting for everyone. It will be great for them to have training here in a different environment and for the Kiwis too who might get to race against them while they’re here.
“I’ll run a training camp in Rotorua and Taupo, as well as training them here in the Manawatu.
“They will be here for three weeks and hopefully they’ll get to race a proper New Zealand event too.”
© Words and photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com
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