Whitaker’s big shoes to fill
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He’s the ultimate “rock star” of motorcycling, but record eight-time national champion Jake Whitaker won’t be able to extend his run to nine titles until next year at the earliest.
The Wainuiomata man is convalescing after knee surgery and will have to content himself with checking results on-line as this season’s three-day New Zealand Moto Trials Championships unfold in the Marlborough region over Labour Weekend (October 22-24).
With international star Jack Sheppard expected to again make the trip from the United Kingdom, and Whitaker sidelined, it will be up to the other talented Kiwis to keep the visitor honest.
Expected among the leading Kiwis in this year’s expert and A grade categories are Nelson brothers Nick and Peter Oliver, Rotorua’s John Haynes, New Plymouth’s Matt Foster, Wellington’s Carl Robson, Nelson’s Karl Clark, Dunedin’s Blake Fox, Tauranga’s Jacob Gundry and Marlborough’s Jason Baker.
Haynes finished runner-up to Whitaker in the expert grade last season, with Foster completing the grade’s podium, but most eyes will likely be on the British invader this time around.
“I really think it will be Jack Sheppard’s title to lose,” said Whitaker. “He should be in a league of his own, although anything can happen and we have some good riders here.”
Wellington’s Carl Robson . Photo / Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com
Sheppard was world No.13 when he last visited New Zealand in 2014 and he proved to be a sensation at the nationals that year, certainly clever enough to put a kink in Whitaker’s win streak and steal the title for himself.
However, Sheppard didn’t have it all go his own way on that occasion. He won two of the three days and finished runner-up to Whitaker on the other day, although this was sufficient for the visiting hero from Ipswich to be able to put the New Zealand trophy in his carry-on luggage.
“I would have loved to be able to have my revenge over Jack (Sheppard) this time around, and possibly to extend my win record to nine, but I’ll just have to wait until next year,” said Whitaker.
Other championship class winners last season were Nelson’s Stephen Oliver (presidents’ grade, over-40 years); Wellington’s Dylan Ball (junior grade, under-17), who was then aged only 11; Christchurch’s Stefanie Downes (women’s grade) and Rangiora’s Paul Jackson (post classic/twin shock). Support class winners last year were Aucklanders Peter Boettcher (intermediate) and Jason Day (clubman).
Sharp rocks, slippery tree roots, treacherous creek beds and steep hills ... these are mere judder bars on the path for these bike riders.
With this branch of motorcycling sport, the emphasis is not on speed, but on fine balance, bravery and throttle control.
Wainuiomata’s Jake Whitaker. Photo / Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com
The aim is to conquer the extreme terrain without touching feet on the ground or falling off. Points are lost for these “faults” and the rider with the lowest score wins.
Access to both days’ riding will be signposted from the main roads.
There is no charge for spectators.
Riding starts at 10am each day, and the championships are sponsored this year by MTF Vehicle Finance.
The venue for days one and two, October 22-23, is Griggs Property, Taylor Pass Rd, Blenheim.
The third and final day is scheduled for Leovs/Simcox Property, Barracks Rd, Omaka Valley, Blenheim.