It’s the dream of any true racer to be able to compete, and hopefully win, at the ultimate level of their sport and that’s what is about to be realised by Auckland’s Liam Draper.
The 21-year-old from Howick had intended to race at several cross-country motorcycling events in the United States early last year, but a tragic crash and the subsequent injury meant he had to put those plans on ice for 2017.
However, every cloud has a silver lining and now, 12 months on, and it’s an even fitter, stronger and faster Draper who is about to board an airplane for South Carolina.
“The delay was probably a good thing,” the young Husqvarna rider confirmed.
“It means I’ve been able to build up more speed and strength and, in addition, the team I was going to race for – the KR4 Husqvarna Race Team – has now increased its support for me. Instead of racing just a couple of rounds of the Grand National Cross-country Champs (GNCC), I will be doing a full season.”
The 13-round GNCC series kicks off in South Carolina on February 25 and runs through until the final round in Indiana on October 28.
Draper will race a Husqvarna FC250 in the XC2 class of the GNCC competition, the bike a four-stroke cross-country machine that he’s become very familiar with over the past few month and on which he has enjoyed some major success.
Draper won the big two-hour cross-country race at Matata in October, on that occasion beating Kiwi legend Paul Whibley to the finish line. He backed that up by winning the annual Dead Toad cross-country race in the Woodhill Forest, west of Auckland, in November, again crossing the finish line ahead of Whibley.
Then, in a bid to further sharpen his skills, he travelled to the Manawatu to spend several months training and riding with former Kiwi international Whibley at his Taikorea property.
Draper has had a good teacher – the 39-year-old Whibley was a two-time outright winner of the Grand National Cross-country Championships (GNCC) in the United States (in 2009 and 2012) and a record six-time winner of the parallel Off-Road Motorcycle and ATV (OMA) series as well.
On resettlement back home at the end of his final season in America in 2014, Whibley soon after became the 2015 New Zealand cross-country champion.
It is almost certain that Lessons learned from Whibley over the past few months will have set Draper up for a thrilling 2018 season in the US.
“I am very excited about my up-coming mission to the United States. I’m the fittest I’ve ever been and I’ve learned a lot from Paul (Whibley). The GNCC is the biggest cross-country series in the world and I have no real expectations about who well I will perform, but I’d like to target a top-10 finish. There are hundreds of riders at these events and so I know it won’t be easy.”
Draper is supported by Husqvarna New Zealand, Crown Kiwi Enterprises, Shayne King, Oakley, Steven Croad, Paul Whibley, Bell helmets, Young Contracting, Micheal Vining Contracting, BikesportNZ.com, Workshop Graphics, Pirelli tyres, Kiwi Rider magazine, Demack Engineering, KR4 and Ryno Power.
© Words and photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com
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