A snapped Achilles injury sustained while practising at his private track at Taikorea, near Himatangi, back in January this year, had seen the Yamaha legend reduced to the role of spectator at major cross-country and enduro events over the past year or so, but the 40-year-old showed he was well on the road to recovery with a solid runner-up finish at the annual Acerbis Four-Hour race near Taupo on Saturday.
Whibley teamed with fellow Yamaha ace Callan May, both of them campaigning Yamaha YZ450FX model bikes, and they shared riding duties for the gruelling cross-country marathon. In the end, they came just 13 seconds shot of winning the race, Taupo's Brad Groombridge riding solo and taking the chequered flag. "I had a lot of fun returning to racing. I've got the taste again and looking forward to the next event," said father-of-one Whibley. "My preparation leading up to this event was near non-existent, but I was keen to ease back into some competition. A team event takes some pressure off an individual and Callan May wanted a partner. "Callan took care of the start and came into the change-over in third position after moving up through the dust from a 10th place start. I set of for my lap and was soon pressuring second place. But trying to push in the rough dusty conditions and lack of bike time soon had me pumped up. "I didn't have any real problem with my weak Archilles, but I banged my toes into the ground early in the race and that hurt a lot. I think the pain felt in my toe took my mind off my Archilles, so I guess that was good in a way," he laughed. "With a lap completed, Callan took over and moved us into second place, behind Brad Groombridge. On my next lap I had made a few minor changes to my bike setup and it felt a lot better. "I was able to push hard and caught Brad, catching him by surprise. I tried to find a way to make a quick pass but the dust made it so dodgy. I surprised Callan too as, when I pulled into the pits, he wasn’t ready for the change-over and we missed a chance to go out in front of Brad while he was gassing up.
Callan rode so hard trying to make a pass but suffered a couple of crashes. It was exciting racing and on my next lap I again closed in on Brad enough to give Callan a sniff of the win on the last lap. He pushed hard again trying to find a way to make the pass but just couldn’t do it, coming home right behind Brad. "Overall it was a successful return to racing for me. I was happy with the speed I showed, but just need to find some time to put towards improving my fitness." Meanwhile, the 90-minute Motomuck Junior 90 race was again the “curtain-raiser” to Saturday's main race and that was won by Napier's Bryn Codd, with fellow Yamaha rider Wil Yeoman, from Taupo, and Tokoroa's Nick Wightman completing the podium.
Whibley is supported by Yamaha Motor New Zealand, PWR Yamaha, Arai, TCX, Oakley, G2, Asterisk, MotoSR, Vortex Ignitions, EC3D, Bush Riders MCC, Rosscos Start Up Services, Dirt Guide, Tire Balls, Renthal, BikesportNZ.com, CarbSport, FMF, Michelin, Yamalube CV4 GYTR, IMS, ONeal, Rekluse, Workshop Graphics, Motomuck and NZXC Series.
Words and photo by Andy McGechan