VETERAN RACER WANTS TO MAKE MARK AT THIS YEAR’S TARAWERA 100
HE MADE a winning debut at the Honda Tarawera 100 cross-country marathon in 2013 and he sensationally made it two wins in a row last season, but now Bay of Plenty’s Ben Townley wants to claim the hat-trick.
The Tauranga 30-year-old may be easing into the twilight years of his racing life after wrapping up his international career in March 2013, but he showed his race craft was still as sharp as ever when he took his Honda CRF450 to win the great race for the second time last July.
Townley heads again to the hilly, farmland venue on the outskirts of Te Teko, west of Whakatane, for the 38th annual running this Saturday (July 4) in a confident mood. But the former motocross world champion can take nothing for granted, with his victory last year extremely tightand one which could so easily have eluded him.
Townley snatched the hole shot as a shotgun blast signalled the start to this event in 2014 and he was never headed in the gruelling 161km (100 miles) race.
He finished ahead of fellow motocross exponents Brad Groombridge (Bel Ray BikesportNZ.com Suzuki RM-X450) of Taupo, and Rhys Carter (Bel Ray Suzuki RM-Z450) of Mt Maunganui, with Auckland’s Sam Greenslade (Spectrum Motorcycles Kawasaki KX450F) and Waitakere’s Ethan Martens (Altherm JCR Yamaha YZ450F) rounding out the top five.
But the margin for victory was narrow, with Townley leading Groombridge across the line by just 21 seconds and he was just one minute and 31 seconds ahead of Carter after the four 43-minute laps.
Townley’s tactics had to have been carefully calculated.
“I knew I needed a good start and, when I got the hole shot, I knew I was in a good position to go on and win,” said Townley.
“I kept an eye on where the riders were behind me and just stayed steady and kept them there for the first lap because I didn’t want to push too hard when I was leading on a fresh track. I just had to be patient.
“But then I put the hammer down on laps two and three and then just tried to survive after that.
“To be honest, though, I couldn’t have held Brad at bay for another lap. I didn’t realise he was coming so fast.
“I’m a lot fitter this year and now have calluses on my palms too, so my hands are a lot tougher.
“Brad [Groombridge] will be tough to beat again and I know he fancies his chances after he got a sniff of the win last year, but I will probably also have to be concerned about [national cross-country experts] Paul Whibley and Adrian Smith.”
Pahiatua’s Whibley (Yamaha YZ450F) and Mokau’s Smith (Yamaha YZ250FX) battled throughout the New Zealand Cross-country Championships that wrapped up in May and finished the series 1-2.
“I know that Whibley and Smith will be fast starters and that’s really one of the keys to winning the Tarawera 100,” said Townley.
“There is still a lot of race to go after the start but a good start puts a rider in control.”
In addition to winning outright, Townley was also credited with the over-300cc four-stroke class win last time around, while fellow Honda star Scott Birch (Honda Hamilton CRF250), of Rotorua, won the under-300cc four-stroke class.
Other class winners last year were Auckland’s Chris Power (Yamaha YZ250, over-200cc two-stroke class); Auckland’s Liam Draper (Husqvarna TE125, under-200cc two-stroke class); Thames’ Natasha Cairns (KTM 200XCW, women’s class); Maruia’s Ethan Bruce (Yamaha YZ250, under-19 open class); New Plymouth’s Tony Parker (KTM 350XCF, veterans’ 35 to 39 years); Whakatane’s Darren Capill (Yamaha YZ450F, super veterans, 40 to 49 years) and Auckland’s Stephen Major (KTM300, mega veterans, over-50 years) and it’s fair to say these individuals should count among the leading contenders again this weekend.
Morrinsville brothers Hayden and Nathan Tesselaar shared a KTM 350XCF to win the new two-man, one-bike class last season, while Hamilton pair Aaron Jones (Yamaha YZ250F) and Andrew Charleston (Honda CRF250) combined to win the new two-man, two-bike class. The race programme allows for these configurations again this year.