The MotoSR-sponsored NZ GNCC Series kicked into life for 2023 with the first round held at Burt’s Farm, near Matata, on September 16.
But rounds one and two of the series are now completed and what a cracker of a start to the series it has been. Round one at Burt’s Farm is always a popular one and the sight of a packed car park clearly supported that.
Junior riders were up first. The 10-second call had legs hovering over the kick starter and thumbs twitching on the start button. With the wave of the flag, engines roared into life and riders charged toward turn one then out onto the track. Up the hill and quickly gone from sight. Now it was the turn of the pit crews to nervously fidget before the riders return.
A blue bike appeared first, the No.77 of Sheldon Brown, and he held the lead followed closely by James Bates on his KTM. Luke McBeth checked into the scoring zone 20 seconds later in third.
Brown held a fast and consistent pace that would see him pull clear of Bates as the race wore on.
But, as it is with GNCC racing, there is a lot that can go on out on the track and a race is never done until the chequered flag is flying.
Brown looked to have an insurmountable lead as he headed out for his final lap, until a collision with a stump took his foot peg off and injured his foot. Stuck in third gear he limped home. Claiming the win with a mere one-second gap!
The Mini race was held at the same time on a separate track. A great turnout of riders in the Mini class, with more than 20 riders lining up.
Track conditions were mostly fresh grass track with a hill climb and some short sandy loam sections to mix it up.
PWR Yamaha rider Colton Whibley showed a clean pair of heels and led from start to finish. Millar Spence and Alex Corver gave chase but had to settle for second and third respectively.
When the leaders returned from completing lap one, it was former champ Tommy Watts who led the way.
Honda’s Callum Dudson was not too far behind in second, with a steady stream of riders after that all keen to push their way to the front.
Lap two on the extended track saw Watts set what would be the fastest lap of the event and put some breathing room between him and second. The race was now on for that second spot with KTM’s Ryan Hayward making the move on Dudson.
This battle would continue for the whole race and they would even eat into Watts’ lead over the last couple of laps. But Watts would keep calm and claim the win, with Hayward nailing down second and Dudson settled for third.
Round two was staged in the sandy forests of Taikorea, in the Manawatu, at the weekend just gone.
The Taikorea 500 has become a staple on the GNCC calendar and is a rite of passage to claiming a GNCC Championship. Survive here and you will have what it takes to etch your name onto the overall trophies.
Juniors were again off first and immediately Brown showed his intentions. A holeshot and he was gone, consistently putting in lap times more than a minute faster than his rivals.
Bates had to settle for the runner up finish and will have some work to do before round three if he is to keep his championship hopes alive. Logan Clare put in an impressive ride to secure his first podium in the Juniors with a solid 3rd.
Even Mini riders have a race to tackle the sandy trails. A great place to tune their skills. To these young guns, an hour and a half race is easily tackled and relished. Round one winner, Colton Whibley led the race early but couldn’t shake Tanner Manson on his Husky.
It took a couple laps for Manson to make a pass, and now it was Whibley’s turn to apply the pressure.
These two went at it for the full race duration and were only separated by seconds for the whole race. With multiple led changes, it was anyone’s guess as to who was going to take it out.
As they came into the final section, Manson held a slim lead but he kept his cool and took the win. Whibley was obviously disappointed not to win, but also happy to battle so closely with his friend. The essence of Mini racing!
Alex Corver deserves a mention also, as another solid ride to third put him in a great position in the championship chase.
By the time the Seniors lined up, misty drizzle was threatening to dampen enthusiasm. But in reality, some rain would improve conditions.
The 10-second call put riders on notice and nerves on edge. The flag flew and the race was on as the pack disappeared out on the MX track briefly before heading out into the forest.
And as it was in the Junior race, it was a Brown that was leading the way as they came back to scoring. Brown’s elder brother Luke Brown was setting the pace in the Seniors with a good lead already built on lap one. Yeoman, settled into second with Sam Parker and Hayward duking it out for third.
Luke Brown consistently lapped faster than everyone until a crash on the final lap. But he was so far out front that he could afford to cruise home and still comfortably win with a few minutes to spare. Yeoman was a safe second, and Parker locked down third spot.
Charlotte Russ, on her PWR Yamaha, has dominated the women’s off-road scene the past couple of years and this looks set to continue with two strong wins so far. Edan Schlierike and Tracey Haldane sit 2nd and 3rd respectively in the points.
Some intense racing so far! Bring on Round 3 at Pongakawa, in the Bay of Plenty, on November 11, doubling also as the opening round of the 2023 New Zealand Cross-country Championships.
The NZ GNCC Series – not to be confused with the GNCC Series in the United States – is actually a competition that New Zealand’s two-time former US GNCC series champion Paul Whibley created when he retired from full-time international racing and settled back at his Manawatu base at the end of 2014.
Whibley became New Zealand Cross-country Champion at his first attempt in 2015, but he has had plenty more on his hands in more recent years as he puts back into the sport he loves, running coaching clinics, overseeing his new series and, of course, bringing up his young son Colton, now a rising star in the sport.
NOTE: Paul Whibley was United States GNCC champion in 2009 (on a Kawasaki) and again in 2012 (on a Yamaha). His offspring competition, the NZ GNCC, continues to prove itself one of New Zealand’s most popular off-road competitions.
2023 NZ GNCC CALENDAR:
Rnd 1: September 16, Burt’s Farm Trail Park, west of Matata;
Rnd 2: October 14, Taikorea MX Park, Manawatu;
Rnd 3: November 11, Pongakawa, near Maketu;
Rnd 4: November 25, Maddix Park, at Ohauiti, near Tauranga.
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