The 27-year-old plumber from Ararimu, east of Ramarama, has steadily been climbing the rankings on the New Zealand dirt bike racing scene and, although unheralded at the start of this season's Dirt Guide Cross-country Series, he is now one of the men most fancied to take the main prize. He took his Yamaha YZ125 to finish a creditable fourth overall at the first of three rounds of the popular Dirt Guide cross-country series near Tokoroa in May, then backed that up with a solid runner-up finish, behind fellow Yamaha man Callan May, of Titirangi, last month.
Those two results have placed Sutton top of the series standings, with another Yamaha rider, Cambridge's Ashton Grey, just two points behind him in the runner-up position, thanks to Grey's 2-5 score-card thus far. The third and final round of this series is set for the same venue at Ohakuri, about halfway between Taupo and Tokoroa, in just over a week's time, on July 22, and Sutton must now fancy his chances of clinching the senior trophy. A recent trip to the United States, to watch Kiwi comrade Liam Draper race in the Grand National Cross-country Championships (GNCC), served as massive inspiration to Sutton. "I was over in the United States with Liam for a month," said Sutton. "I didn't ride there but I did get to see some awesome racing. I learned a few things while I was over there too, like knowing how to look for lines in the forest. It's all about walking the track before the race and trying to see where you can be quicker. "Last year I broke my leg at a race in Mosgiel, so that put me out of racing for over a year. But, I returned from my trip to the USA and bought a Yamaha YZ125. The next day I went and raced the cross-country nationals round at Taupo (in April) and I won the 125cc class that day. I think I was about 10th overall." Despite lining up against riders on 250cc, 300cc and 450cc bikes, Sutton is perhaps the favourite to win the Dirt Guide Series outright this year. "That's the plan, anyway," he laughed. It will be a massive double-header weekend on Sunday, July 22, with the Dirt Guide event sharing the billing with the opening round of this year's six-round NZXC series – riders at Ohakuri therefore scoring points at two separate series that day. The NZXC series was first created in 2015 by former Kiwi international Paul Whibley, the former champion in the United States keen to put something back into the sport at home. Whibley's NZXC series will again this year amalgamate some of the sport's most popular events. Whibley has "cherry-picked" the best events from other series already happening around the country to create the NZXC competition, co-sanctioning this year's opening round of the NZXC with the final round of the Dirt Guide Series, then also coupling up with the NZ GNCC, the Woodhill Two-Man, the Central Cross-country Series and the Yamaha Taikorea 500.
After the opening round of the NZXC Series at Ohakuri on July 22, the series heads to Taikorea, near Palmerston North, on August 5; the Woodhill Forest on September 2; Matata on October 13; then Woodhill again, on November 10, and it finally wraps up at Waimiha on December 8.
Words and photo by Andy McGechan