Indeed, the finish line was dominated by the distinctive orange-coloured motorcycles as Thames rider Chris Birch rode to victory on his KTM 300EXC, leading KTM 1-2-3-4 past the chequered flag.
Runner-up, finishing nearly three minutes behind Birch, was Hellensville’s Tom Buxton (KTM 300EXC), with Wainuiomata’s Jake Whitaker (KTM 300EXC) completing the podium, while New Plymouth’s Tony Parker (KTM 300EXC) crossed the line in fourth, actually missing out on a podium placement by a whopping 25 minutes.
This was the fourth annual running of the event, again attracting the country’s elite dirt bike riders to the Central North Island venue, and it featured three days of gruelling race action, starting with a prologue event in the SATCO logging attachments yard in Tokoroa on Friday afternoon.
Here riders were challenged by a man-made obstacle course, the results from this preliminary tussle determining the starting order for the racing in nearby forestry land the following day.
Birch won the prologue, although he said he “was very lucky to do so”.
“I nearly went over the handlebars at the first obstacle,” said the 39-year-old father-of-one.
“I made my way through the course and ended up beating Jake (Whitaker) by just a wheel width at the end.”
Bronze, silver and gold level courses were offered, designed to cater for all the various skill levels, and Kiwi international Birch was in his element as he led the 18-rider gold level contingent into action on Saturday.
The Kiwi international – who has remarkably recorded major wins in dozens of different countries over the past few years, including at the notorious Romaniacs Hard Enduro in Romania – ended day two with a massive 16-minute lead over runner-up Buxton and the rest of the chasing pack.
“Day two went really well. It was a big day, with probably 170 kilometres of riding, and fortunately I didn’t make any mistakes,” said Birch.
“But then I stuffed up day three,” he laughed.
“My plan for day three was just to take it easy and ride along with the other guys. I got to the top of a big hill-climb and then chose the wrong track, got lost and ended up circling around to end up back at the bottom of the hill.
“I had to go pretty crazy after that to catch up again.
“Then I had a stick go through my radiator and I could feel my boot getting really wet with hot water. I used some cable ties to stem the leak and I thankfully made it to the finish.”
Birch ended up winning by two minutes 40 seconds over Buxton, an uncomfortably tight margin after racing for more than 12 hours.
“I was really impressed with the KTM 300EXC. It has different suspension and chassis to the previous model and it really suited the tough conditions.”
Resilience and reliability was key and all but one of the gold grade riders were on either KTM or Husqvarna motorcycles, testimony to the trust that riders place in these bikes.
Rotorua’s Bradley Lauder (Husqvarna TE300) rounded out the top five in the gold grade.
The top three riders in the silver grade were Te Puke’s Paul Singleton, followed by Reporoa’s Brad Kilgour and Tokoroa’s Warwick Batley. In the bronze grade, the top three were Auckland’s Claude Sabatier, Okere Falls’ Lance Roozendaal and Christchurch’s Luke Corson.
© Words and photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ
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