South Islander Ethan Bruce could have a big future ahead of him on the national cross-country motorcycle scene.
In just his second season as a senior, the Yamaha rider stunned the established stars when he won the opening round of the New Zealand cross-country Championship in Taranaki in February.
Although he had luck abandoned him a couple of times later in the four-round series, he still pushed the eventually successful three-time defending champion, Mokau’s Adrian Smith (Yamaha YZ250), to the brink before being forced to settle for the overall runner-up spot.
It takes a special sort of person to race full-throttle for three hours across untamed and unfamiliar countryside on a fire-breathing dirt bike, but this young man from Maruia, in the Lewis Pass, near Nelson, has shown he is one of those special people who can.
It’s probably just a matter of time before Bruce claims another national cross-country title – he won the junior title in 2012 – and the good news is that, at the tender age of 18, Bruce has time on his side.
Perhaps the bad news for Bruce is that 28-year-old fellow Yamaha star Smith plans on sticking around for quite a while longer.
Prepped for him by Altherm JCR Yamaha Race Team mechanic Adam Lithgow, Bruce’s YZ250 two-stroke bike never missed a beat throughout the series and, if he’d had a quick-fill fuel container waiting for him in the pits at the final round at Ward, near Blenheim, last weekend, he might well have won the day and upset Smith’s title defence plans.
Instead he finished second to Smith last Saturday and had to be content with the No.2 ranking for 2014.
But there’s always the 2015 season and Bruce, an engineer by trade, already has his sights set on taking the fight to Smith again next year.
“I’ll definitely be getting myself a fast re-fuel tin for next season,” laughed Bruce.
“Adrian is a smart guy and he knew he only needed to finish fourth or better at Ward. There was really no way I could beat him unless he had a bike problem or something. He’s a clever rider and you don’t win titles like this unless you are clever.
“But I’m surprised I was able to stick with him this year. I was right on his tail at Ward and even passed him at one stage, until I over-shot a corner and slipped back behind him again.
“It was tough for me to be giving up 10 to 15 seconds at each of my two fuel stops. Once he had a break on me it was hard to catch up.
“My goal is to come back and win it next year … or at least keep Adrian honest again. My fitness was good this year but I’d like to work a bit more on upper body strength.”
It could be another Yamaha 1-2 overall in the championships next season but, if Bruce gets his way, the finishing order will be reversed.
© Words and photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com
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