Pahiatua’s Paul Whibley tasted success on his debut ride for Yamaha at the weekend.
Now riding the distinctive blue and white of Yamaha, the former Manawatu forestry worker nicknamed “The Axeman” sliced his way to a convincing win at the third round of the Bush Riders Cross Country series on Sunday.
“I only picked up the Yamaha the day before and it had only five minutes run-in time on it,” declared Whibley.
“I wasn’t really prepared for the race, with a lack of time to set up the bike, but I was excited to be back at the track after a long time off.”
His last big race was in the United States over a month ago.
“A mid-pack start set me up with some work to do but I felt comfortable on the new YZF450 and quickly pushed to the front.
“The trail was slippery with slick clay on a lot of the tracks and some of the hills were quite choppy. As the lap worn on, I opened up a gap over the pack.
“Rain was threatening all day but luckily held off otherwise the track would have been pretty tough.
“By the fuel stop I had a minute lead. One gully that weaved up through some scrub began to cut up and bikes were getting stuck in some deep ruts. This section was chopped out for the last two laps, I’m sure to the relief of many riders.
“The bike was running great and, by the end of the race, I had about a two-minute lead over second.
“It was a good start to a new season with a new bike and team,” he said.
Despite becoming the winner of the Grand National Cross-country Championships in the United States this year, Whibley could not secure himself a repeat ride with Kawasaki and so, for the third time in as many seasons, the former forestry worker from the Manawatu was forced to look elsewhere for a ride. And that’s when Yamaha stepped in.
“Taking the GNCC title was the biggest win of my career. It has always been a dream of mine to race in the US, even when I first went to Europe to race enduros. To finally get to the top in the US and win there is amazing.”
He also won the back to back No.1 plates in the parallel OMA (Off-road Motorcycles and ATV) series in the US in 2008 and 2009.
And now, in a bid to continue stacking up the silverware, he will return to the US in 2010 to defend his GNCC and OMA crowns, this time on yet another bike brand, the blue of a Yamaha YZF450.
“Kawasaki simply said: ‘We don’t have anything to offer’ for 2010.
“And, I guess with the recent downturn in the economy, it’s even tighter now than before.”
But what is Kawasaki’s loss is Yamaha’s gain and, with his first outing at the weekend an overwhelming success, there’s no reason to doubt that Whibley will again fly high in the US in 2010.
Words and photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com