It may not have been the perfect way to farewell New Zealand before heading off-shore to start his fresh campaign for motorcycle cross-country glory in the United States, but Pahiatua’s Paul Whibley was impressive nonetheless at the weekend, winning his final race before catching his plane.
The Sargent Yamaha ace, currently No.2 in the American Grand Cross Country Championships (GNCC), was favoured to win the novel river race at the weekend’s 51st annual New Zealand Motocross Grand Prix at Woodville and that can sometimes apply unwelcome added pressure to a racer, even one as experienced as Whibley.
“Winning at Woodville is always nice, but not really essential in the big scheme of things,” said the 33-year-old.
Whibley’s farewell performance on Sunday was indeed a bit of a mixed bag.
His bike drowned while leading the first of two river races at Woodville, but he fought back to win the next and end the day third overall.
“It’s a race that’s tough on bikes,” Whibley explained. “It’s like hitting a water-blaster, with enough force to peel the graphics off the bikes.
“Tackling the annual river race at the Woodville Motocross cannot be taken lightly. The water’s effects on performance can be difficult to predict and test for,” said Whibley.
“With the revolutionary Yamaha YZ450F drawing air from up front, a different approach to keeping the air filter dry and the bike running was required. I had done some testing leading up to the event and the changes and preventative measures I had taken seemed to be working with the bike running strong.
“The shotgun blast signalled the start with a five-metre run to the bikes. I was away quickly taking the holeshot and leading the way around the track and into the river. I plunged in and forged upstream against the strong current. The first couple of crossings were fairly deep and the bike got a lung full of water. It spluttered its way upstream and climbed out of the final stretch of water.
“The brief section of dirt gave the bike time to clear a little but, diving back into the water on the second lap resulted in some more gurgling. On the second-to-last lap, the bike came to a stop, handing the lead over to Auckland’s Chris Power (Honda). After several kicks the bike restarted but the win was gone.
“The second race went a little better. I again grabbed the holeshot and, with some fine tuning between motos, the YZF was lapping up the water. I led most of the race but another lung full of water let Chris Power past on the last lap. I was able to take that position back and complete the last run up the river to take the win.
“That result added to my result from the first race dropped me to third overall for the event.”
1. Chris Power (Auckland)
2. Ben Exeter (Woodville)
3. Paul Whibley (Pahiatua)
4. Sam McPeak (Woodville)
5. Darryl August (Taupo)
© Words and photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com