New Zealand’s Paul Whibley is on the way up in the United States.
Just a week ago he raced his Yamaha to victory and wrap up the popular Off-Road Motorcycle and ATV (OMA) series in Erie, Illinois, for the fourth consecutive season, winning the title with two rounds to spare.
Now the man from Pahiatua was making an impact in the closing stages of the parallel Grand National Cross-Country (GNCC) series, clawing back his points deficit and put himself in an ideal spot to challenge for the GNCC title he last won outright in 2009.
The weekend’s ninth round of the GNCC round at Somerset, Pennsylvania, featured more of the same tough and rocky terrain the riders in this high-profile series have come to expect and Whibley came prepared with extra bash plates welded to the undercarriage of his machine.
Whibley (Yamaha YZ450F) snatched the holeshot at the start and led the way until defending champion Josh Strang (Suzuki), of Australia, moved past on a fast section.
“We hit the first mud hole in the woods and bikes were going everywhere as the quads (who race d earlier in the weekend) had made lines in every direction,” said Whibley.
“The order got a big shuffle and I’m not sure what position I came out in or who was leading anymore.
“I think it was on the second lap I ate it when the front hit an unseen rock. Picking the bike up, Nate Kanney (KTM) went by and I latched onto him for most of the race.
“He was a little faster than me in the rock gardens, but I was able to match his speed by mirroring his lines. I seemed a little quicker in the open fields but struggled to make a pass in the fast section before we were back into the rocks.
“I got pit boards from (my wife) Katherine and (mechanic) Scotty Brooker as the race wound down that I was in fifth. I had tried a few unsuccessful moves on Nate during the race and it was coming down to the last lap to make something stick, going through scoring on the last lap right on his tail.
“As we exited the pits for the last time, I got a pit board from Katherine, if I could pass Nate I would be third. It seems Strang had brake problems and had to pit. Josh left the pits right behind me and we both hounded Nate, hungry for the final podium position.
“With about five miles to go, we caught Kailub Russell who was running second but a crash had slowed his pace. We gobbled him up, now the battle was for second. Half a mile before the finish line I slid up the inside of Nate in a do-or-die effort to get past.
“It worked but I could tell Nate wasn’t too happy about it. On the last turns before the finish Nate came in hot and tried to go round the outside. He went down into the banners. I had second and Josh inherited third with Nate picking his KTM up for fourth overall.”
Meanwhile, fellow Kiwi Rory Mead, Yamaha’s 2011 New Zealand Enduro Champion, enjoying a stint of GNCC action during the final phase of this competition only, finished seventh at Somerset.
“It was a tough weekend for me,” said Mead.
“I took a bad line to get around some lappers and bent my chain guide, it took me a while to get it fixed as I was running around the forest trying to find the right stick to bend it back in place.
“Just before the pit stop I also realised I was losing coolant, so we had to get that filled up. After the pit stop, I found myself running outside the top 20. I put my head down and put in a solid second half of the race and worked up to 12th overall, 7th in the XC1 class.”
Just three rounds remain in the 2011 GNCC series and Whibley remains third overall, but he is now well within striking range of the two men ahead of him, while Mead is 14th overall despite contesting just five of the nine rounds so far.
1. Charlie Mullins
2. Paul Whibley (New Zealand)
3. Josh Strang
4. Nate Kanney
5. Kailub Russell
6. Mike Lafferty
7. Rory Mead (New Zealand)
8. Jedediah Haines
9. Jesse Robinson
10. Eric Bailey
© Words and photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com