BAY OF PLENTY SUZUKI RACER POCKETS ANOTHER NATIONAL TITLE
It has been an outstanding year for Bay of Plenty Suzuki ace Brad Groombridge and there's still six months to go.
The 25-year-old Taupo locksmith produced a remarkable come-from-behind result just over a week ago to secure the 2016 New Zealand Enduro Championships title overall and the under-300cc four-stroke class title as well in what was his first serious attempt to contest the series, adding those titles to the national cross-country crown he won in May.
Riders faced a gruelling double-header enduro weekend – the fourth and fifth rounds of the series, at Waimiha on the Saturday of Queen's Birthday Weekend and at Tokoroa on the Sunday — to wrap up the competition, and with three individuals all within four points of one another at the top of the standings, the phrase “it's not over until the fat lady sings” could not have been more appropriate.
Round two winner Groombridge (Suzuki RM-Z250) started the weekend second overall in the series standings, sandwiched just two points behind Christchurch's Hamish Macdonald (Sherco SE-R 300), who had won the series opener in March, and two points ahead of the round three winner, Howick's Liam Draper (Husqvarna FE250).
But then the balance of power swung dramatically in favour of Kiwi international Groombridge at round four on the Saturday when he won the day, while both his main rivals “blew it” — Macdonald suffering a blown engine, which resulted in a DNF for the young rising star, and Draper suffering a blown fuse, which left him finishing the day in a lacklustre and undeserved eighth position.
Groombridge was now suddenly on top of the standings, a solid 14 points ahead of new man Draper, with Titirangi's Callan May (Yamaha YZ250X) elevated to third, eight points further back, and Macdonald forced down to fourth overall, just one point behind May, and the title was Groombridge's to lose.
A finish of fifth or better at Tokoroa on the Sunday would be enough for Groombridge to win his first national enduro championship and that's what he did, ending the day third overall, behind a fired-up Draper and Glen Eden's 2015 overall champion Chris Birch (KTM 250 XC-F).
“I only rode three enduro races last season and this is my first full attempt. To win two rounds out of three on debut is pretty good, I think — and it doesn't feel any better than winning a title at your first attempt,” Groombridge said.
Dubbed Mr Versatility, Groombridge won the New Zealand Cross-Country Championships earlier in the year, also at his first full attempt, on that occasion riding the bigger Suzuki RM-Z450, and he also finished fifth overall in the MX1 class at the New Zealand Motocross Championships, which wrapped up in March.
Meanwhile, May finished the day fourth overall at Tokoroa and this was enough for him to snatch third overall for the enduro championship, ending 15 points behind Draper.
Macdonald battled all day on a borrowed bike at Tokoroa. He managed to finish fifth overall, but that wasn't quite enough to earn a place on the championship podium. Sadly, it was a disappointing end to a season that had shown so much promise for the 17-year-old.
It was perhaps some consolation for Macdonald that he managed to still win the over-200cc two-stroke class.
His elder brother, Angus Macdonald (Sherco SE-FR 300), was sixth overall on Sunday and he clinched the expert over-300cc four-stroke class title.
Helensville's Tom Buxton (KTM 200 XC) won the expert under-200cc two-stroke crown.
Thames rider Rob Howe (KTM 250 EXC) won the expert veterans' (over-40 years) class.
Loburn's Josh Dando won the intermediate grade overall, finishing the series six points clear of Thames rider Natasha Cairns, who was also the winner of the separate women's class. Dando also won the intermediate over-200cc two-stroke class title.
Te Awamutu's Rachael Archer won the junior grade.
Other intermediate class winners were: Whitianga's Blake Wilkins (under-200cc two-stroke); Auckland's Michael Taliaferro (under-300cc four-stroke); Taumarunui's Sam Davey (over-300cc four-stroke); Whitianga's Dale Wilkins (veterans 40-49 years); Putaruru's Phil Skinner (veterans 50-54 years); Tairua's Mark Scott (veterans over-55 years).