By Andy McGechan,
A rare mistake on the track on Sunday means Wainuiomata’s Jake Whitaker has put himself in a difficult position in his bid to defend his national off-road title.
The 29-year-old father-of-one has the outright lead in the 2020 New Zealand Extreme Off-Road Championship series after the third round of four was completed in Hawke’s Bay at the weekend, but there’s nothing certain about the KTM 300EXC rider being able to stay on top.
Whitaker now has to pin his hopes on another solid result at the series finale, preferably a win, if he is to keep hold of the trophy for a second term.
Riders will discard their worst result from the three North Island rounds of the series, therefore making the South Island finale – the Nut Buster hard enduro at Oxford, near Christchurch, on November 14-15 – a must-do event, and so the title chase for the Gold Grade is very much in the balance.
Other riders could feature too, but essentially, if Whitaker wins the final round, he’ll successfully defend the title he won in 2019 and, if close rival Dylan Yearbury (Husqvarna TE300) wins at Oxford, then he will take the title.
Whitaker won the series opener near Porirua in early September and then finished runner-up to Cambridge’s Yearbury at round two near Whangamata two weeks later.
Yearbury won round three – a two-day affair in Hawke’s Bay, day one on Saturday being a “prologue”, stadium-style event on the outskirts of Taradale and day two on Sunday a traditional extreme enduro at Tutira, about 50-minutes’ drive north of Napier.
Helensville’s Tom Buxton took his KTM 300EXC to win Saturday’s prologue with Yearbury runner-up, New Plymouth’s Tony Parker (KTM 300EXC) third and Whitaker settling for fourth. Sunday’s four-hour race was won by Yearbury, finishing just over two minutes ahead of Buxton, with Whitaker third and Parker fourth.
Whitaker admits these were no the results he was looking for, but he remains upbeat about his title prospects.
“There was nothing really that went wrong on Saturday. I just simply wasn’t fast enough on the motocross section of the prologue,” said Whitaker.
“I was up front with Tom (Buxton) and Dylan (Yearbury) in Sunday’s enduro and quite comfortable with the pace, but then I make a rookie mistake. I was familiar with where the track was headed but I had brain fade and made a wrong turn and dropped into a ravine.
“I fell into a massive hole in the ground and went over the handlebars.
“Several Silver Grade riders stopped to help me out, but it had cost me about 15 minutes of track time. I was very lucky to be able to hold onto third overall for the day. It was a pretty bad result and I was quite angry with myself.
“It’s a must-win for me in Christchurch now but I think I can do that.
“There is no racing coming up for me this coming weekend, but I will impose a boot camp on myself, just to toughen up and prepare for Christchurch in two weeks’ time.”
In addition to Whitaker and Yearbury, riders such as Buxton, Parker and New Plymouth’s Mark Horwell (KTM 300EXC), are also well-positioned to nip in and steal the limelight in the elite Gold Grade.
It will go down to the wire in Canterbury.