FRIENDS IN TOP SPOTS FACE THE MUST-WIN FINAL ROUND TO MAKE ONE A WINNER
Adrian Smith knows a thing or two about racing dirt bikes at eyewatering speeds across unforgiving terrain.
He’s very good at it and that is why the Mokau sheep and beef farmer is the reigning No 1 and a record four-time winner of the New Zealand Cross-country Championships.
But this season’s defence has been his toughest battle. He can thank his close friend and international champion Paul Whibley for that as he heads for a must-win fourth and final round of the series near Pahiatua this Sunday.
The Pahiatua rider’s return to New Zealand at the end of last season upset the balance of power, certainly as far as Smith was concerned. Whibley (Yamaha YZ450F) and Smith (Yamaha YZ250FX) have traded wins throughout the series , Whibley finishing 2-1-1 and Smith 1-2-2 in the three rounds.
But only three rounds are counted, with riders discarding their worst result, and it all comes down to Sunday’s showdown.
Though they joke with each other before racing, friendships go out the window when championships are at stake, at least for the three-hour race duration, and a fierce fight between the two is predicted.
The mathematics is simple — if Whibley wins, he wraps up the series. If Smith wins and Whibley finishes runner-up, the two will be level on points and a countback applies. After they each discard a runner-up result, both will have two wins and one runner-up, so the rider who finishes highest on Sunday wins the championship.
No other rider can prevent one of the two men being crowned champion.
“It’s Paul’s to lose really,” said Motorcycling New Zealand cross-country commissioner Chris Smyth. “He’s won two out of three races and just needs to beat Adrian at the final round.”
Smith knows what he must do. “Paul and I will finish 1-2 in the championship, nothing can change that now. We’ve also both wrapped up our respective class titles already.”
Whibley won the over-300cc four-stroke title and Smith took the under-300cc four-stroke title.
“We were on top of one another all day [at round three near Nelson last month] and I think the biggest gap between us might have only been 20 seconds, but he was the better man on the day.
“It’s definitely going to be tough to beat Paul at Pahiatua ... that’s his home turf too. But I’ve been in tough spots before and I think I can find a way to get the job done.”
The battle for third is also undecided.
Riders to watch on Sunday include Ethan Bruce (Nelson, KTM), Andrew Charleston (Hamilton, Honda) and Scott Birch (Rotorua, Honda). Also impressive have been James Galpin (Palmerston North, KTM), Jason Dickey (Raglan, Kawasaki), Nathan Tesselaar (Morrinsville, KTM) and Daniel Christie (Eketahuna, KTM), each capable of an upset.