The 39-year-old Whibley (Yamaha YZ450FX), a two-time former United States cross-country champion and New Zealand cross-country champion in 2015, has scaled back his racing activities over the past year or so, but there are still plenty of events that take his fancy. And this was one of them. Although Whibley eventually claimed the win, he was pushed all the way by Draper on Sunday, the Manawatu man winning the two-hour race by no more than a bike length. "Lining up on row one on the inside, I was expecting a good race with Liam Draper lining up on the opposite end of the start," said Whibley. "With the wave of the flag I took the holeshot and led the way. The odd slick spot kept us on our toes, but otherwise it was a fast and flowing trail through the pines. "It didn’t take long before Liam latched onto my back wheel and the next four laps he searched for a way past. When I zigged, he zagged. When I railed a berm, he dove up the inside and vice versa. "I held my nerve and he was never able to make a pass stick. I gassed up at the end of the fourth lap and Liam went through without gassing and took the lead. I pushed hard to regain that time but we stayed about the same and he gassed the following lap and came back out just in front of me. "Going into the last lap he had about 10 seconds on me.
I continued to push and, late on the last lap, I finally reeled him in. Within two kilometres of the finish, I pulled in behind him and went to work zigging to his zag, as he had done to me earlier. "I found an outside line and carried some speed into a large rain bar. I went pretty big over it and thought I was going to land over the bank in the trees but managed to complete the pass and steal the win." The GNCC series will now go down to the wire at the final round at Maramarua on Saturday, January 27.
Whibley is supported by Yamaha Motor New Zealand, PWR Yamaha, Arai, TCX, Oakley, G2, Asterisk, MotoSR, Vortex Ignitions, EC3D, Bush Riders MCC, Rossco's Start Up Services, Dirt Guide, Tire Balls, Renthal, Bikesportnz.com, CarbSport, FMF, Michelin, Yamalube CV4 GYTR, IMS, Rekluse, Workshop Graphics, Silverbullet.co.nz, Motomuck and O'Neal.
Words and photo by Andy McGechan