Whitaker needed all his skills to win Dirt Bike Series
NOVEMBER 18, 2019: As was predicted, this year's edition of the New Zealand Extreme Off-Road Championship series went right down to the wire in Canterbury at the weekend.
The fourth and final round of the Yamaha-sponsored competition was wrapped up after two days of brutal riding at two vastly different venues around Christchurch on Friday and Saturday, with the series outcome unsure until the final few moments of race action.
The weekend's two-dayer began with an enduro-cross at the Christchurch A&P Showgrounds on Friday, followed by the Nut Buster hard enduro at nearby Oxford the following day.
Wainuiomata's Jake Whitaker eventually claimed the glamour Gold Class trophy on Saturday afternoon, although even he wasn't sure he'd done enough until moments after the final session and he needed all his magical skills from years of winning national trial championships to get him through the demands of the weekend.
He had been locked in a fierce battle throughout this year's extreme series with Helensville's Tom Buxton and, when they locked horns again on Friday and Saturday, the battle intensified still further.
Christchurch rider Hamish Macdonald, just returned from international duties and making his first appearance in this domestic series, won the enduro-cross on Friday, but most eyes were on the see-saw battle for championship honours between Whitaker and Buxton.
Whitaker finished ahead of Buxton in the enduro-cross and this gave him confidence ahead of the next day's extreme enduro.
But the racing the next day was perhaps even more intense, with virtually nothing to separate the two men on the hilly course.
Although Buxton did eventually finish ahead of Whitaker on Saturday, that wasn't quite enough and so Whitaker narrowly took the national Extreme Enduro Championship title ahead of Buxton.
New Plymouth's Tony Parker, Rotorua's Bradley Lauder and then Napier's Mackenzie Wiig rounded out the top five overall for the 2019 championship standings in the premier Gold Class.
Motorcycling New Zealand enduro commissioner Justin Stevenson said the final round had lived up to all expectations.
"It was certainly challenging," he said.
"The winds were extreme and riders were being blown off their bikes at some places along the ridge lines. Then there was a huge downpour in the afternoon, making it muddy and very slippery too."
Riders nominated themselves as either Gold, Silver or Bronze class competitors, depending upon their skill and fitness levels, and the battle for silver and bronze glory was equally fierce.
In the Silver Class, Hastings rider Brett Gunson won the series ahead of New Plymouth duo Daniel Herbert and Mark Horwell.
The top three in the Bronze Class this year were Whitecliffs' rider Luke Corson , Rerewhakaaitu's Zach Sefuiva and then Hastings rider Michael Toulmin.
Best of the Silver Veterans (40-49 years) for the series was Auckland's Troy Field, with Kaukapakapa's Lucia Oles topping the Bronze Women's Class.
Stevenson praised the host Christchurch Off-Road Motorcycle Club.
"They did a tremendous job of running this event," he said. "So much effort was put in by these people and it was certainly appreciated."
Only three of the four rounds of the championship were counted towards the final tally, with riders to discard their one worst score from the three North Island rounds.
The 2019 Yamaha NZ Extreme Off-Road Championships were supported by Mitas tyres, Macaulay Metals, Best Build Construction, Silver-bullet, Kiwi Rider magazine, Dirt Rider Downunder magazine, Moto Events NZ and NZ Car Parts (Auckland).