This season’s Suzuki North Island Cross-country Championships are shaping into a real clash of the giants and, after round three at the weekend, the title could go in any direction.
Even after three hours of racing near Waiouru on Saturday, there was barely 11 minutes to separate first place from third and they were the only three riders to complete nine laps.
Huntly’s Michael Vining scored his second win of the series on Saturday, taking his KTM 450 EXC to finish the gruelling three-hour race just eight minutes ahead of Mokau’s Adrian Smith, racing a 250cc four-stroke Yamaha YZ250F.
Third overall was Te Awamutu Suzuki ace Mark Penny (RM-Z250), just three minutes behind Smith.
Napier’s John O’Dea (Suzuki RM-X450) and Maramarua’s Scott Bregman (Yamaha YZ250) filled out the top five.
But it is Smith who leads the championship standings, 10 points clear of Penny, with Vining four points further back.
With just two rounds remaining, Smith is handily-placed to push on and take the title, but he will also be aware that only four of the five rounds are counted – riders able to discard their worst score – and that puts the pressure right back on for Smith.
Round four of the North Island series is set for Waipukurau on April 16, this event doubling as round two of the New Zealand Cross-country Championships.
The 25-year-old Smith said he had a few problems on Saturday and, with the course favouring brute horsepower, he found it difficult to match the 450cc bike of Vining on the fast and open sections.
“I took it pretty easy on the first lap because it was quite dangerous in places, especially at those speeds,” said the Taranaki sheep and beef farmer.
“I am leading the series, which is good and it’s a positive position to be in as I build up for the nationals. This North Island series is definitely a good warm-up.”
Penny also lamented the course lay-out, which heavily favoured the big bikes.
“Basically it was a big open paddocks where you were hitting top gear as you entered the paddock and then just holding the bike wide open for about 1 kilometre, then sweeping around a corner still in top gear and back on the throttle and down another long straight paddock. They were linked by some good third-gear trails, but, on the whole, it was a crazy fast track especially on my 250 against the 450s.
“I got an average start, around 15th around the first corner, but I was able to make some early passes and was in eight spot as we disappeared out of sight from the pits.
“The first lap went really well, I passed Scott Bregman, Jono Kight (RM-Z450), Brandon Given (KTM300) and John O’Dea (RMX450) to end the first lap in fourth place.
“O’Dea passed me back down the 1.2km air strip. I chased him until I stopped to refuel at the end of the lap, being wound out on the 250 for that long was really sucking the gas and, not having an oversized fuel tank like most of my competitors, it meant I had to stop early and watch the bikes in front of me ride away and the ones I had passed pull back in front of me.
“I dropped some time on the leaders in the middle of the race trying to re-pass those riders and stopping for a total of four pit stops,w hile the other riders had only two.”
The North Island Cross-Country Championships wrap up in Taranaki on May 14.
© Words and photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com