The 29-year-old father-of-one took his 2020-model KTM EXC300tpi two-stroke bike to a solid runner-up result at the second round of four in the series near Whangamata on Saturday, crossing the finish line just 34 seconds behind Cambridge’s Dylan Yearbury (Husqvarna TE300).
Helensville’s Tom Buxton (KTM EXC300), New Plymouth’s Tony Parker (KTM XCW300) and Thames rider Jason Davis (Husqvarna TC300) rounded out the top five in the elite Gold Grade on Saturday.
That outcome, coupled with his outright win at the series opener near Porirua two weeks ago, puts Whitaker alone at the top of the 2020 Extreme Off-Road Championships points table, the series now at the halfway stage with just two double-header events to come in the Yamaha-sponsored series, in late October and mid November.
However, with riders to discard their worst result from the three North Island rounds of the series and the South Island finale therefore really a must-do event, the title chase is still wide open.
Injury prevented Yearbury from contesting the series opener near Porirua but that matters only slightly because this will simply become his “discard” event, although the pressure will be on him to perform well at the other rounds.
“I had a good day out on Saturday, but I couldn’t quite get the job done, coming home in second, behind Dylan Yearbury,” said Whitaker.
“I felt great on the bike and enjoyed the track with a good variety of fast sections and some technical stuff thrown in. I had a small lead after the first technical lap. Yearbury caught me on the second, faster loop and pulled a small gap on me. I pulled him back in on the third and final technical lap, but got a stick jammed in my rear wheel and, when I stopped to remove it, he pulled away again.
“The pressure is on Dylan (Yearbury) and on me as well, because we both have to keep performing well if we want to win this. There is plenty of stiff competition this year with Tommy (Buxton), Tony (Parker) and Jason (Davis) going very fast too. Any one of us would win the title really.
“The race on Saturday was stopped at the three-hour mark, but I would have loved another lap. However, I am happy with how I’m riding and looking forward to the final two rounds.
“I know what I have to do (to win) and just need to go out now and do it.”
Round three of the series is to be a two-dayer in Hawke’s Bay on October 31 and November 1, with the competition again wrapping up with another double-header weekend, at the Nut Buster hard enduro at Oxford, near Christchurch, on November 14-15.
“I sliced my hand open with a razor knife a few weeks ago and so, sidelined and not having ridden for five weeks, it means I’m surprised I did so well,” said Yearbury on Saturday.
Motorcycling New Zealand enduro commissioner Justin Stevenson said: “It was a great event, with conditions perfect for the riders”.
“It wasn’t too wet and so perhaps not as challenging for the riders as they might have been expecting. With Jake finishing second it means he still retains the series lead overall, but there’s still plenty of racing to be had and he can’t relax yet. Yearbury is definitely in contention to take the title.
“We enjoyed a great turnout of riders, with 84 entered on Saturday, a lot more than we saw at round one, and we are now looking forward to rounds three and four.”
The 2020 NZ Extreme Off-Road Championship calendar:
Round one: September 13, Moonshine Extreme, Bulls Run Rd, Porirua.
Round two: September 26, Taungatara Forest, Whangamata.
Round three: October 31-November 1, Over The Top, Hawke’s Bay.
Round four: November 14-15, Nut Buster, Oxford, Christchurch.
© Words and photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com
Find BikesportNZ.com on FACEBOOK here