With a huge international event coming up on his horizon, Wellington’s Jake Whitaker was looking for a difficult task at which to test himself and they don’t come much tougher than the weekend’s Mount Damper Hard Enduro.
The Husqvarna rider from Wainuiomata faced up to the best riders in the off-road motorcycle racing business – the domestic elite, Kiwi internationals, a sprinkling of overseas riders – as well as tackling some of the most rugged terrain in New Zealand, and he came away with a huge grin and a trophy to match.
The 24-year-old multi-time national moto trials champion had made it look surprising easy when he won the WaimiHard Enduro in January, taking his Husqvarna TE250 to lead Glen Eden’s multi-time national enduro champion Chris Birch to the top of the podium.
It was almost a carbon copy of that result for moto trials expert Whitaker at Mt Damper Falls in Taranaki on Saturday and Sunday as he again edged out Birch and Manawatu’s national cross-country champion Paul Whibley for the No.1 podium position.
Whitaker finished third overall in the ‘warm-up’ prologue event on Saturday, a shorter race to determine start positions for Sunday’s gut-buster, and third was still enough to earn him a front row spot for Sunday.
“It was pretty tough going, to be honest, but it was supposed to be wasn’t it?” said Whitaker.
“It was very steep terrain with lots of tree roots. We had to go down a creek bed too and that was very slippery. The bike was awesome , but I made a few mistakes. Nothing major, thankfully.
“I was able to start on the front row and just followed the prologue winners (Christchurch brothers Angus and Hamish Macdonald) for the first 15 minutes or so, until I managed to sneak in front just before the first big uphill. That was a good thing because you don’t want to be behind anyone on that. You want to get a clear run at the big hills.”
Now also a familiar face on the national enduro scene, Whitaker was using the weekend’s Mt Damper Hard Enduro event to continue his build-up to compete at the four-day Romaniacs event – a hugely-popular international extreme enduro staged in the rugged Carpathian Mountains of Romania each July – and it was perhaps those moto trials skills that gave him the edge.
“It was fantastic to be able to compete with, and even better to beat, someone of the international calibre of Chris Birch and I’d have to say I’m very pleased with how my preparation is going for Romania.”
The enduro took Whitaker two hours and 36 minutes to complete, with Birch finishing about five minutes behind and Whibley another 11 minutes further back.
The next big event for Whitaker is the opening round of the New Zealand Enduro Championships, which kick off near Christchurch in less than two weeks’ time, on March 26.
© Words and photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com
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