The five-round series kicks off near Christchurch this Easter Saturday (March 26) with Auckland’s defending champion Chris Birch probably still the man most favoured to win.
However, the Kiwi international from Glen Eden must know there are a plethora of riding stars in the sport at the moment and a challenge to his reign could come from anywhere and, with round two set for Mosgiel just two days later, on Easter Monday, there will be no time to rest or dwell on the round one efforts before the riders have to go bush once again.
Wellington’s Jake Whitaker is a record eight-time national moto trails champion, and the current No.1 in that finely-balance parallel motorcycling code, and the 24-year-old has made it his business over the past couple of seasons to transfer those skills to enduro riding. Whitaker has tasted plenty of success on the enduro scene in the past six months and could possibly be expected to threaten the 35-year-old Birch.
Taikorea’s two-time former American cross-country champion Paul Whibley is now settled back home in New Zealand and along with fellow cross-country international Callan May, from Titirangi, they could give the sport here a real shake-up.
There are no clashes of dates with the cross-country or motocross scene this season and so, in addition to freeing Whibley and May to tackle the enduro series, motocross hero Brad Groombridge, from Taupo, will be able to contend.
Birch and the others can also expect tough opposition again from riders such as former national enduro champion and current national cross-country champion Adrian Smith, of Mokau, fellow Kiwi international Sean Clarke, from Tokoroa, Christchurch bothers Angus and Hamish Macdonald (pictured here), Morrinsville’s Simon Lansdaal, Auckland trio Liam Draper, Freddie Milford-Cottam and Chris Power, Tauranga’s Reece Burgess, Northland’s Mitchell Nield and possibly also from Taupo’s rising young star Greg De Lautour, to name just a few.
“Hopefully we will see the continual rise in the number of female competitors, perhaps able to eventually challenge Natasha Cairns’ dominance in the women’s grade,” said Motorcycling New Zealand enduro commissioner Phil Skinner.
“It will also be interesting to see is the young brigade – Macdonald, Draper and Whitaker – will be able to topple New Zealand’s only professional enduro rider, Chris Birch.”
Venue for round one on Saturday is Greta Valley, North Canterbury, a new venue for the championship. Racing will start at the earlier time of 9am and riders are reminded that fire extinguishers and spark arrestors are required because of the drought conditions.
The second round on Monday (March 26) is at Berwick Forest, Mosgiel.
Following racing in the South Island this Easter Weekend, which is being held in conjunction with the Beta NZ South Island series, the national series continues with round three near Wellington on April 9, round four at Waimiha on June 4 and, finally, it all wraps up near Tokoroa on June 5.
© Words and photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com
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