With two wins from two starts in the elite Gold Grade at the first couple of rounds of the Yamaha-sponsored 2022 New Zealand Extreme Off-Road Championship series, the 31-year-old Whitaker showed up at the third round of four in the South Island at the weekend well and truly in control of the situation.
He didn’t have everything go his way at the unique two-day event in Canterbury – a stadium-style Enduro X Prologue event inside the Christchurch A&P Showgrounds on Friday evening, followed by the renowned Nut Buster hard enduro at Mt Selfe, Hawerden, just outside Christchurch, the following day – but he did just what was required.
Whitaker took his distinctive orange two-stroke KTM 300 EXC bike to finish runner-up at Friday’s prologue and then repeated with another second place finish at the Nut Buster enduro on Saturday.
Canterbury rider Ben Dando had won the Enduro X Prologue, ahead of Whitaker, while Omihi’s Ethan McBreen and Queenstown’s Scott Columb rounded out the top four.
Whitecliffs rider Luke Corson won Saturday’s Nut Buster ahead of Whitaker, with Columb finishing third and New Plymouth’s Tony Parker completing the top four.
Columb therefore registered 4-3 results over the two days, while Corson recorded a 7-1 score-card and Dando chimed in with his 1-8 results.
And so that was that. With a 2-2 scorecard for the weekend, Whitaker had outshone all his rivals in the 21-rider Gold Grade line-up.
With scores combined, Whitaker was therefore declared overall winner for the weekend, making it an astounding and unbeatable three wins from three rounds in the championship series and, with only three rounds of the four to be counted as riders discard their worst score any of the three North Island rounds of the series, Whitaker was therefore also able to claim the 2022 crown a full two weeks before the final round is even due to start.
The final round is set for what might anyway be regarded as “home turf” for Whitaker, on steep forestry land in Moonshine Valley, near Judgeford and Porirua, on November 27.
“I got caught in a bit of a tangle of bikes in the Enduro X final on Friday and struggled to get through the traffic after that,” Whitaker explained.
“It was a fun track to ride (at the A&P Showgrounds), but I couldn’t quite catch Ben Dando.
“The Nut Buster enduro on Saturday was at a new venue … alpine high country, with steep hills, rocks and tussock to deal with. Rocks were hiding in the long grass and that made things treacherous.
“Luke Corson knew the terrain pretty well and he pulled the win out of the bag, so good on him. It’s good to see young guys doing well like that. This is the future of our sport.
“But I got the job done and that’s what mattered for me in the end.
“My bike was perfect, a 300cc fuel-injected two-stroke KTM, and it worked well in the high country.”
Whitaker won this series overall in 2019 and again last year and his credentials as a record eight-time former New Zealand trial champion – a parallel motorcycling code where the emphasis is on balance and throttle control rather than pure speed – meant he was clearly installed as favourite to win again this season.
Now as a record three-time winner of the New Zealand Extreme Off-Road Championships which he has now won three times since it was first created in 2018, Whitaker will no doubt be tipped as title favourite at the start of next season too.
2022 NZ Extreme Off-Road Championship calendar:
Round one: September 13, Moonshine Extreme, Bulls Run Rd, Porirua;
Round two: September 25, Taungatara Forest, Whangamata;
Round three: November 11-12, Enduro X & Nut Buster, Christchurch;
Round four: November 27, Moonshine Extreme, Bulls Run Rd, Porirua.
© Words by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com
Photo by Kat Gunson, www.BikesportNZ.com
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