Yamaha NZXC Series Involves The Best Of The Best

This is perhaps a classic case of an athlete "putting something back" into the sport he loves.

Former Kiwi international Paul Whibley is still regarded as one of the best off-road bike racers in the world and now the cross-country competition created by him in 2015 – the Yamaha NZXC series – is about to begin its fourth season.

At the end of his 2014 campaign in the United States, the Manawatu man returned from South Carolina to settle back in New Zealand following a successful 12-year stint of racing motorcycles off-road in Europe and the US and he immediately went to work trying to re-established his position at the top of the sport in New Zealand, taking his Yamaha YZ450F to compete in major enduro and cross-country events around the country. Although the Yamaha man did personally taste success at these events, he said he was not completely satisfied with some aspects of the domestic scene and so he began take his involvement a step further, developing his own series and, at the same time, lifting the quality of competition and putting processes in place that might assist young Kiwi riders who wish to follow in his wheel track overseas. Whibley won the New Zealand cross-country Championships in 2015, all the while putting into place the foundations for his own NZXC series. This year's six-round NZXC series kicks off at Ohakuri this Sunday, July 22. Whibley's NZXC series will again amalgamate some of the sport's most popular events, the event at Ohakuri on Sunday doubling up also as the third and final round of the popular Sean Clarke-organised Dirt Guide Cross-country Series. Whibley makes no apologies for the fact that he is "cherry-picking" the best events from other series already happening around the country, co-sanctioning his NZXC Series with the final round of the Dirt Guide Series, then also coupling up with the stand-alone Yamaha Taikorea 500 event, the NZ GNCC series, the Woodhill Two-Man series and the Central Cross-country Series. "These races will be run on flowing tracks, professional marked and well organised," said Whibley. He said the best five out of six rounds of the NZXC would count with contestants discarding their one worst score. "My intention had not been to simply add more events to the calendar, but to use some that are already there and combine them into something different. I've chosen the best of the bunch and that's how we've come up with the parallel-but-separate NZXC series. "I have considered what younger guys need to prepare them for when they venture overseas and, in my opinion, some of the events in New Zealand were not really preparing them for what they'd face internationally." Riders who have in the past taken advantage of what the NZXC series can offer include Titirangi's Callan May, Coatesville's Sam Greenslade, Cambridge's Ashton Grey, Cambridge’s Callum Paterson, Masterton's Jacob Hyslop, Cambridge's Beau Taylor and Tokoroa's Nick Wightman, among others, and these individuals will be among those fancied to lead the way in the series this season. Howick's Liam Draper is an NZXC series success story – he has tasted glory in the NZXC series in past years and he is currently racing the GNCC series in the US and experiencing great success there.

After the opening round of the NZXC on Sunday, 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