This is where we ask a few of motorcycle sport’s big guns just what was their most memorable race.
Today we’re chatting with Taikorea’s Paul Whibley, a former globe-trotting Kiwi dirt bike racer who has enjoyed an international career that was nothing short of sensational.
Whibley’s most notable accomplishments are his twice winning the coveted Grand National Cross-country Championships (GNCC) crown in the United States, in 2009 and again in 2012.
But the now 41-year-old former Manawatu forestry worker, affectionately dubbed “The Axeman” on the motorcycling scene, actually made his international debut racing in the enduro world championships (WEC) in Europe in 2003, finishing that season eighth overall, and he backed that up by finishing sixth overall in the WEC the following year.
“The team struck financial difficulties and I was forced to skip the final few rounds that year,” Whibley explained.
He shifted to the United States in 2006 to race the GNCC series and, riding a Honda, he finished that debut season an impressive fifth overall.
He wound up sixth the following year and then runner-up on a Suzuki in 2008, before finally breaking through to win the title outright (on a Kawasaki) in 2009.
He switched to Yamaha in 2010, finishing third that year, and ended the 2011 season in the overall runner-up position, before winning outright again in 2012 (with fellow Kiwi Rory Mead claiming third overall that season).
Whibley’s nine years in the US also saw him becoming a record six-time winner of the parallel-but-separate Off-road Motorcycle and ATV (OMA) series.
Whibley was named New Zealand’s Off-road Rider of the Year in 2008.
Whibley returned home permanently to New Zealand at the end of the 2014 GNCC season and then won the New Zealand Cross-country Championships the following year.
Today he tells us about his “best race ever”.
“It was during the 2012 GNCC series and I was locked in an intense battle with American Kailub Russell. I had won the championship back in 2009 and I desperately wanted it back,” said Whibley.
“I had battled with Josh Strang and Charlie Mullins over the previous two years and they had each won the championship (Strang in 2010 and Mullins in 2011). But I had my eye on Kailub because I knew he was going to be a champion in the future.
“I had started strong and had been consistent. The race was the John Penton GNCC, mid-season. The track had a motocross track which favoured Kailub. It was stinking hot and super humid, which I felt favoured my fitness.
“I holeshot the race and led for a bit. I battled with a few riders during the race but was always near the leaders. Kailub was one of those riders.
“Coming down to the last lap, I made a push and got to the lead and opened a small gap. Usually this would seal the deal, but a couple of mistakes and Kailub had latched back on.
“I had a game plan pre race that I needed to be in front coming onto the motocross track section for the final time because Strang and Kailub where better motocross riders than me.
“When Kailub made a pass on me with a couple of miles to go, I was in trouble. I pushed so hard to find somewhere to retake the lead in the woods but couldn’t do it. We burst out onto the motocross track which led to the finish. Kailub led and wanted it bad. So did I.
“I pushed but couldn’t make any time on the motocross track. We came to the last jump. It was a triple jump, but we were running it backwards maybe so everyone was singling then doubling out, then immediately turning off into the scoring chicane.
“I had walked this section of the track and wondered about different rhythms through it. When we came up to it, Kailub slowed to single the first one … I didn’t.
“I hit it and jumped past him into the lead. The crowd went nuts as I rolled into the scoring zone to take the win. No one had seen that move coming and definitely didn’t expect it from me.
“It was so sweet because I had been kind of written off as average on the moto track and to jump over Kailub for the win was so cool.
“The GNCC championship would go down to the wire. At the last round there were only two points separating us. I holeshot and won the race and the championship.”
Kailub Russell won the GNCC series outright for the first time the following year (in 2013), starting a win streak that has so far stretched seven years, right up to and including 2019.
The Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has prevented any GNCC racing beyond the first three rounds in 2020. However, after those three rounds, KTM’s Russell is unbeaten and leads the series by 23 points from Kawasaki rider Strang.
© Words and photos by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com
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