Everything is falling into place for New Zealand’s Paul Whibley, national cross-country champion in the United States.
The former Manawatu forestry worker, known affectionately as The Axeman in motorcycle racing circles, is preparing for the start of the Grand National Cross-country Championships in the United States and the defence of his American title.
That involves pitting himself against some of the best off-road bike racers in the business as he continues to tune in to his new Yamaha WR450 bike in readiness for the start of the GNCC series in Florida in just over a week.
“With the development of the Yamaha WR450 coming along nicely and the opening GNCC in Florida just over a week away, my wife Katherine and I packed up the van and headed south in search of sun and sand,” said Whibley.
Destination for the Kiwi battlers at the weekend was Gatorback Park, where Whibley would tackle the latest round of the Florida Trail Riders race series.
“I was lining up at the start with my former team-mates, Jimmy Jarrett and Scotty Watkins, as well as all the top local Florida riders who are pretty quick in the sand,” Whibley explained.
“But a poor start again left me with some work to do. The track was a fun mix of sand whoops in the trees and some hard pack sections around the quarry that the track looped around.
“I worked my way forward slowly and by the fuel stop was battling for the lead with Jimmy and Chris Bach on his new KTM.
“After the gas stop, I moved into the lead and put my head down. It was tough to make a break for it with a lot of lappers and some narrow sections of track where all you could do was just follow and allow the lead you had just built evaporate.
“I eventually gained enough of a lead that I could work my way through any hold ups and not be caught by the second or third-placed riders. With the chequered flag out, I took my first win on the Yamaha in the United States.
“We now have just over a week to do any final preparation to the bike before the first GNCC kicks of on Tuesday. So it’s riding sand and thawing out after the unseasonably cold weather we have had in South Carolina.”
1. Paul Whibley (Yamaha)
2. Chris Bach (KTM)
3. Jimmy Jarrett (Kawasaki)
© Words and photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com