Paul Whibley and the bigger and better NZXC Series
A bigger and better NZXC Series, the brainchild of Kiwi former international off-road motorcycle racer Paul Whibley, begins its second season in just over a week’s time.
The one-time Manawatu forestry worker, affectionately dubbed “The Axeman” on the motorcycling scene, raced the world Enduro Championships in Europe before moving to the United States, where he twice won the Grand National Cross-country Championships (GNCC), in 2009 and 2012, and also became a record six-time winner of the parallel Off-Road Motorcycle and ATV (OMA) series in a sparkling international career that spanned 12 years.
Although he retired from the international scene and resettled back home at Taikorea in Manawatu at the end of the 2014 GNCC season, Whibley was far from ready to hang up his helmet.
The Yamaha star’s first step back into the Kiwi scene earned him the New Zealand Cross-country Championships crown last season. But 38-year-old Whibley wanted more, so he hatched a plan to establish his own off-road competition, incorporating many of the pre-existing events on the off-road calendar.
He makes no apologies for “cherry-picking” the best races from several other competitions and last year’s inaugural NZXC series was a huge success, so much so that this season’s second edition of the NZXC series sees it expanded from five to six rounds.
Whibley said he formed the series because he wanted to create a high-quality competition that might assist in preparing young Kiwi riders who wished to follow in his wheel tracks overseas.
The 2016 NZXC series kicks off at Tar Hill, just south of Tokoroa, on June 19. The event is of double significance because it will also be the opening round of the parallel Dirt Guide Cross-country Series, with riders able to earn points towards both separate but parallel competitions.
Taupiri’s Zak Fuller (Kawasaki), expected to be one of the leading junior riders in the NZXC series this year. Photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com
It was a huge talking point when Whibley won his own inaugural competition “by accident” last season. “The series is not for my benefit ... it’s for others,” he said. “I did what I could to make sure I didn’t win last year.
“I sat out of two of the five rounds and rode a Yamaha YZ125 in one round too, thinking the smaller, less-powerful bike would handicap me ... but I won the race that day, too.
“I still wanted to ride a few races, just for the fun factor, and I ended up leading the series. But I didn’t race the final round, thinking that one of the two riders who were closest behind me in the points, Adrian Smith and Adam Reeves, would easily do enough to take out the series overall.”
But Palmerston North’s Reeves (Yamaha), a three-time former national cross-country champion, was a surprise no-show at the final round and Mokau’s four-time former national cross-country champion Smith (Yamaha) failed to finish the race that day.
That meant Whibley had earned more points in three rounds than many of the other riders had in five, and so the trophy went to the man who was providing it.
Te Awamutu's Rachael Archer (KTM), expected to be among those who will lead the women’s section of the NZXC series. Photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com
“I didn’t want people to think I’d just made up a series for me to win. That was never my intention. It’s for other riders to enjoy and gain recognition from,” said Whibley.
He will also race again in the series he created and, once again, he claims his aim is not to win it for himself, although it’s not hard to imagine he will be among the favourites anyway.
Others who are expected to feature near the front include the NZXC series winner in 2014, Coatesville’s Sam Greenslade (Kawasaki), Taupo’s just-crowned national cross-country champion Brad Groombridge (Suzuki), Howick’s Liam Draper (Husqvarna), Wellington’s Jake Whitaker (Husqvarna) and Titirangi’s Callan May (Yamaha), to name a few.
Only the best five out of six rounds in the NZXC series are counted, with contestants discarding their one worst score.