Pahiatua’s Paul Whibley is going to need to call on all his reserves of courage, skill and determination.
The Kiwi international needs a perfect run now if he is to reclaim the American crown he last held in 2009 after another setback at the weekend, this time at the penultimate round of the Grand National Cross-country Championships (GNCC) in the United States.
He incurred a time penalty after running out of fuel at the race in Crawfordsville, Indiana, enough to drop him out of the championship lead for just the second time this season.
From four points in front to one point behind after the weekend’s racing, Whibley knows the pressure will really go on him now with the main prize in American cross-country dirt bike racing still tantalisingly close to his grasp despite this fresh setback.
The day started well for Whibley (Yamaha YZ450F) as he snatched the holeshot and the $250 prizemoney that went with it, but American Thad DuVall soon took over the lead, with Whibley, Yamaha’s Chris Bach and another American, Charlie Mullins all close behind.
Whibley’s main rival for the GNCC crown, American Kailub Russell, crashed several times and he was meanwhile playing catch-up.
The racing was intense, with Mullins taking the lead, which he held until the finish, with Whibley and DuVall battling behind, until it all turned sour for the Kiwi rider when he ran out of fuel.
Whibley received fuel from another rider on the course and eventually crossed the line in fourth spot, behind Mullins, DuVall and Russell.
However, a 15-second time penalty was imposed on Whibley for refueling outside the designated pit zone, relegating him one position on the track, to fifth, his worst result of the season.
“I led most of the first lap, although I lost a bunch of places when a fast line opened up after some tape had been knocked down. I came through scoring back in fifth at the end of the lap, but still within sight of the leaders,” said Whibley.
“I’m not sure why I ran out of gas. Lucky for me that (American rider) Jimmy Jarrett had problems and was right there where I rolled to a stop. He found and old beer can and we started ferrying fuel over to my bike. A couple of spectators arrived and lent a hand and I was soon back in the race.
In crossing the line fourth, Whibley thought he’d done enough to salvage the day and retain his series lead.
“As we were ready to leave the track, we were called into the promoter’s truck and told a protest had been lodged and that a time penalty was being issued and I was also being docked a position.
“Now the points lead lies in Kailub’s hands going into the last round. It will be an exciting race.”
Two other Kiwis in the race, Wellington’s Rory Mead and Mokau’s Adrian Smith, managed seventh and ninth overall respectively.
Mead had raced a Yamaha YZ450F to win the 2011 New Zealand Enduro Championships before heading off to the US, while Smith clinched both the 2012 national cross-country and enduro crowns – riding a Yamaha YZ250F – before making his American debut just a few weeks ago.
The refuelling disaster may ultimately cost Whibley the GNCC title, but, with one major American title in the bag already for 2012 – the Off-road Motorcycles and ATV (OMA) Championship – the 34-year-old former Manawatu forestry worker, affectionately dubbed “The Axeman” on the US motorcycling scene, is still hoping he can make it two championship wins in the United States this season.
The 13th and final round of the series is set for Loretta Lynn’s Hurricane Mills, Tennessee, on November 3-4.
Whibley is supported by Monster Energy, Sargent Yamaha in Masterton, MotoSR suspension, BikesportNZ.com, Graphic MX Creation and Yamaha New Zealand.
XC1 Pro Results:
1. Charlie Mullins (KTM)
2. Thad DuVall (HON)
3. Kailub Russell (KTM)
4. Chris Bach (YAM)
5. Paul Whibley (YAM)
6. Jordan Ashburn (YAM)
7. Rory Mead (KTM)
8. Takeshi Koikeda (KTM)
9. Adrian Smith (YAM)
10. Jimmy Jarrett (HON)
XC1 Pro Standings:
1. Kailub Russell (291/5 wins)
2. Paul Whibley (290/3 wins)
3. Rory Mead (219/2 wins)
4. Thad DuVall (211/1 win)
5. Charlie Mullins (198/1 win)
6. Jordan Ashburn (175)
7. Chris Bach (157)
8. Garrett Edmisten (145)
9. Nathan Kanney (143)
10. Takeshi Koikeda (139)
© Words and photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com