The four-round Yamaha-sponsored series for 2020 roared into life at Moonshine, in the Akatarawa Forest, halfway between Porirua and the Hutt Valley, on Sunday with defending 2019 champion Whitaker (KTM EXC300tpi) top of the podium in the elite Gold Grade.
Helensville’s Tommy Buxton (KTM EXC300) finished runner-up in this gruelling dirt bike series last season and he was again forced to accept the No.2 spot on Sunday, although there was nothing really to separate these two athletes, even after more than four hours of high-intensity racing.
Lower Hutt rider Ryan Scullion (KTM EXC300) finished third on Sunday, while New Plymouth’s Tony Parker (KTM XCW300) and Rotorua’s Bradley Lauder (Husqvarna TX300) rounded out the top five in the Gold Grade.
Top riders in the Silver Grade were Taranaki father and son Dougy Herbert (Husqvarna TE300) and Daniel Herbert (KTM 250 EXCtpi) with Otaki’s Matt Lauder (KTM XC250) finishing third overall. Best of the Bronze Grade riders were Rerewhakaaitu’s Zach Sefuiva (KTM EXC 250tpi), Whangamata’s Ethan Jameson (Husqvarna TE150) and Rotorua’s Harrison McClintock (KTM XC150).
“Tommy had the lead on me through the first short lap, but I managed to find a way past him during the long second section,” said the 29-year-old Whitaker afterwards.
“We were neck-and-neck after that, until I managed to break free and establish a bit of an advantage. But then I made a couple of mistakes and, at one stage, I was trapped under my bike and wedged against a tree and that cost me a lot of time. I lost my lead and the battle between us was all on again.
“I was able to stick close to him down a fast gravel road section near the end of the race and it all came down to the last hill climb. He made a small mistake and I found a way past on the steep hill,” said Whitaker, a record eight-time former national trials champion.
“My trials experience came in handy and I was able to take a different line and edge past Tommy.
“I’ve been working really hard in my build-up for this series and winning on Sunday has given my confidence a huge boost.”
In the end, after five laps and more than four hours of torture, there was just 49 seconds to separate Whitaker from runner-up Buxton.
Motorcycling New Zealand enduro commissioner Justin Stevenson agreed it was a challenging course and this was to be expected with the word “extreme” being a key part of the series title.
“It was great to see newbie Ryan Scullion perform so well. He is normally one of our event crew, but he was convinced to compete this year and whammo, there he was, among the leaders.
“The wet weather leading up to this event and concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic probably accounted for there being fewer entries than we’d have liked, but conditions were perfect on the day.
“We re-arrowed the tracks during the course of the day, to send riders back over the same ridges and hills, but in the opposite directions for the second half of the event and that provided quite a twist to the racing.”
Round two of the series now follows in the Taungatara Forest, not far from Whangamata, in just two weeks’ time, on September 26.
A two-dayer in Hawke’s Bay will push riders to breaking point at round three on October 31 and November 1, with the competition again wrapping up with another double-header weekend, at the Nut Buster hard enduro at Oxford, near Christchurch, on November 14-15.
Only the bold, brave and superbly talented should expect to win an event as tough as this, but that should not deter any accomplished dirt bike rider from giving it a crack.
Only two of the three North Island rounds of the championship are counted towards the final tally, with riders to discard their one worst score, while the sole South Island round, the Nut Buster near Christchurch, is obviously a ‘must do’ for any title hopefuls.
The 2020 Yamaha NZ Extreme Off-Road Championships are supported by Mitas tyres, Macaulay Metals, Best Build Construction, Silver-bullet and Kiwi Rider magazine.
The 2020 NZ Extreme Off-Road Championship calendar:
Round one: September 13, Moonshine Extreme, Bulls Run Rd, Porirua.
Round two: September 26, Taungatara Forest, Whangamata.
Round three: October 31-November 1, Over The Top, Hawke’s Bay.
Round four: November 14-15, Nut Buster, Oxford, Christchurch.
© Words and photos by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ
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