WR450F Rally mounted Adrien Van Beveren has secured his second stage win of the 2019 Merzouga Rally, topping the results of stage three by close to two-and-a-half minutes. Once again showing himself to be the rider to beat, the Yamalube Yamaha Rally Team rider now holds a 16-minute overall motorcycle class lead with one full day of racing and the final Grand Prix des Dunes remaining.

Following his impressive third place result on stage 2 of the Merzouga Rally, having opened the tracks the entire day, Van Beveren was the third rider to start stage three, departing at 7.31am local time. As the first half of the two-day marathon stage, Van Beveren was well aware that any running repairs at the end of the day would have to be done without the support of his team.

Attacking the day’s special, the Frenchman made up time on the riders that started ahead of him, completing the stage without issues and further extending his overall rally lead.

With event organisers claiming that the penultimate day of the event will be a “major stage full of dunes and difficulties,” the second half of the marathon stage will see competitors return to Erfoud via a 205.27-kilometre special stage.

Merzouga Rally 2019

Stage 3 Provisional Classification

1. Adrien Van Beveren (FRA), Yamaha, 3:25:31
2. Joaquim Rodrigues (PRT), Hero, 3:27:54 +2:23
3. Oriol Mena (ESP), Hero, 3:28:39 +3:08
4. Alessandro Botturi (ITA), Yamaha, 3:29:04 +3:33
5. Sebastian Buhler (GER), KTM, 3:29:25 +3:54
6. Ross Branch (BWA), KTM, 3:29:31 +4:00

Provisional Overall Classification [After Stage 3]

1. Adrien Van Beveren (FRA), Yamaha, 11:00:49
2. Joaquim Rodrigues (PRT), Hero, 11:16:49 +16:00
3. Oriol Mena (ESP), Hero, 11:26:05 +25:16
4. Jacopo Cerutti (ITA), Husqvarna, 11:26:17 +25:28
5. Ross Branch (BWA), KTM, 11:27:44 +26:55
6. Alessandro Botturi (ITA), Yamaha, 11:42:22 +41:33

Merzouga Rally 2019 – Race Schedule

Prologue / March 31 / Erfoud
Stage 1 / April 1 / Erfoud to Erfoud
Stage 2 / April 2 / Erfoud to Erfoud
Stage 3 / April 3 / Erfoud to Marathon Bivouac

Stage 4 / April 4 / Marathon Bivouac to Erfoud
Stage 5 / April 5 / Extreme GP

Words and Photos: Yamaha Racing

It is a sport the brings out the best and the worst… the best of dirt bike riding talent and the worst that nature can throw at them.

The 2019 Yamaha New Zealand Enduro Championships kicked off near Whangamata two weeks ago and the second round of seven in the series is set for the Kapiti Coast region, in forestry just north of Wellington, this weekend, the demanding terrain sure to be another stern test for the riders and their motorcycles.

The venue for Saturday’s event, on steep forest land off Moonshine Road, will be signposted from State Highway 58 (Haywards Hill Road) and it’s probably hard to believe that such rugged terrain can be found so close to New Zealand’s Capital city.

Hosted by the Kapi-Mana Motorcycle Club, the course is mostly clay-based forestry tracks with the premier AA course riders expected to complete three loops, each of just under 50km in length and comprising five terrain tests. The lesser A course riders have been set two loops of just under 50km and comprising four terrain tests. The Intro Trail riders will be doing two shorter loops with two terrain tests (not timed).

Helensville’s Tom Buxton dominated the day on the AA course at Whangamata, the 20-year-old finishing ahead of Cambridge’s Dylan Yearbury, Thames rider Jason Davis, the former national enduro champion back from retirement, with another former champion, Glen Eden’s Chris Birch, finishing fourth and Whanganui’s Seth Reardon rounding out the top five.

Other riders to run among the leaders at Whangamata included Cambridge’s Beau Taylor, Rotorua’s Bradley Lauder, Tokoroa’s Jake Wightman, Cambridge’s Ashton Grey and Wainuiomata’s eight-time national moto trials champion and now enduro expert Jake Whitaker. 

Such is the nature of this most demanding of sports that any of these individuals could be expected to move up and challenge Buxton this weekend, with rider stamina, strength, skill, bike reliability, the weather and terrain, plus the unknown element of luck all sure to play a part.

Leading riders on the A course at Whangamata were Tokoroa’s Jake Wightman, Thames rider Natasha Cairns, Te Hauautu’s Elliot ‘Superman’ Kent, Masterton’s Philip Bly and Putaruru’s Phil Skinner. 

“The track at Moonshine is in a really good condition,” said Motorcycling New Zealand enduro commissioner Justin Stevenson. “We have put in a few interesting bits for the AA guys and it will be a challenge. It will be a little bit more moderate for the A course riders. I think a bit of moisture is expected leading into the event, but rain will be good to keep the dust down. It is shaping up to be a really good series. It’s early days yet, but it’s certainly close at the top and anyone’s championship to win at this stage.”

The Yamaha and Mitas tyres-sponsored series will next head to the South Waikato region for round three on Saturday, April 20.

The 2019 Yamaha NZ Enduro Championships are supported by Mitas tyres, Macaulay Metals, Best Build Construction, Silver-bullet, Kiwi Rider magazine, Dirt Rider Downunder magazine and Moto Events NZ.

2019 Yamaha NZ Enduro Champs calendar:

Round 1 – Saturday, March 16 – Thames
Round 2 – Saturday, April 6 – Kapiti 
Round 3 – Saturday, April 20 – South Waikato
Round 4 – Sunday, June 9 – Martinborough
Round 5 – Saturday, June 29 – Bideford, Masterton
Round 6 – Friday, July 19 – Hokitika, Westland
Round 7 – Saturday, July 20 – Hokitika, Westland

Words and Photo by Andy McGechan

Cambridge’s Ashton Grey (Yamaha YZ450FX), one of many possible top-10 contenders this weekend.

Good positions for Nacho Cornejo in third, and Kevin Benavides, fifth, at the end of the first day of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. Joan Barreda will set off from behind tomorrow after suffering a mechanical setback today.

Prudence prevails on returning, two months after finish the Dakar Rally, to a competition as tough as the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge with its treacherous cut dunes capable of ruining a rally on day one. Nevertheless, today Chilean rider Nacho Cornejo finished top of the Monster Energy Honda Team riders, posting third position on the day.

It was a scorching day, but also one with plenty of wind, on a route which ended in midst of the Liwa desert. The first day of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge featured 262 kilometres of special stage out of a 329-kilometre total. As usual the first round of the FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship served up a fair dosage of navigation and dunes as competitors left the Yas Marina circuit behind to enter into the ante-chamber of the desert – a sea of dunes which dominates the Liwa region in the south of the country.

José Ignacio Cornejo set off at a cracking pace over the early stretches of the race and made it safely back to the bivouac in Qsar Al Sarab, on an error-free ride, to finish on the day’s podium, 6’46” adrift of the stage winner. Argentine team-mate Kevin Benavides, went in pursuit of the riders who preceded him, but after getting bogged down in a dune, lost the trail that would have allowed him to reach his rivals and would have permitted easier progress without such a physical drain. Benavides ended in fifth place on the day.

The third rider on the team, Spaniard Joan Barreda suffered a mechanical setback at kilometre 16 of the special whilst opening the track. Barreda, the third competitor to start the special, was unable to repair the bike on the course in the intense heat and wind and was forced to retire from the stage. However, Joan remains confident that he will be able to repair and restart in tomorrow’s stage.

The second stage will likewise play out in the Liwa region, with a total of 370 kilometres, of which 222 km are against the clock.

Kevin Benavides 

STAGE: 5th, OVERALL: 5th

This was the first contact with the desert of truth. As soon as I started I got stuck in a dune and had to make a huge effort to get out. Then I adapted to the race but with some pain in the shoulder. The desert was complicated with wind and soft dunes. I took things as easily and calmly as I could, looking for a reasonable pace that would allow me to finish. I am not at 100%, but about 50%, but I will try to give 100% of that 50. We will try to take things one step at a time because there are still many days left to run.

Joan Barreda 

STAGE: DNF

I’m fine, although a bit upset because I think that, without having pushed hard, I had a good pace. I had overtaken two riders and was opening the track, when at kilometre 16 I was unable to continue. I tried hard but it was just impossible. We are going to try to repair the bike and my intention is to continue in the race, so I am going to prepare the roadbook for tomorrow.

José Ignacio Cornejo 

STAGE: 3rd, OVERALL: 3rd

Today was a deceptive day with a lot of wind that raised the sand and it was difficult to guess what the dunes would be like. It was cloudy, but it was very hot with areas where it felt quite hot. It was not a bad day. I hope to improve the pace in the next stages.

Stage 1  Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge 2019

Provisional results Stage 1 

Pos.RiderNationTeamConstructorTime/Gap
1SUNDERLAND SamGBRRed Bull KTM Rally Factory TeamKTM3:40’41
2SHORT AndrewUSARockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory RacingHusqvarna+6’09
3CORNEJO José IgnacioCHIMonster Energy Honda TeamHonda+6’46
4BENAVIDES LucianoARGKTM Factory Racing TeamKTM+9’07
5BENAVIDES KevinARGMonster Energy Honda TeamHonda+14’27
6ACKERMAN MarkRSASRG MotorsportsHusqvarna+40’31
7BLAIR RyanGBRSRG MotorsportsHusqvarna+40’49
8AL BALOOSHI MohammedUAEBalooshi Racing KTM UAEKTM+42’49
9MCBRIDE DavidGBRVendetta Racing UAEKTM+1:01’06
10MESHARI JAFFAR MohammedKWTTeam JaffarKTM+1:04’15
23BARREDA JoanSPAMonster Energy Honda TeamHonda

Words: Honda Racing Corporation, Photos: RallyZone – Edoardo Bauer (Copyright)

It seems that history does repeat for Helensville dirt bike ace Tom Buxton.

The 2019 Yamaha-sponsored New Zealand Enduro Championships kicked off in the Thames-Coromandel District at the weekend with Buxton shining out among the talent-packed field on the premier AA course.

The 20-year-old won the corresponding opening round of the enduro nationals at this venue last season too and his victory at Whangamata on Saturday had all the same hallmarks of that, Buxton this time crossing the finish line a solid 28 seconds ahead of runner-up rider Dylan Yearbury, of Cambridge.

It was another impressive performance from Buxton, the young man in only his fifth season in the top grade of competition, but it’s early days for the series and still anybody’s guess as to who might win the title this year, with six more rounds still to be run.

One thing probably is certain though, there will be a different national enduro champion this season with last year’s eventual outright winner, Taupo’s Brad Groombridge, currently sidelined with injury and therefore a non-starter on Saturday.

However, there are still plenty of highly-skilled individuals capable of winning the crown in 2019.

Third overall in the Taungatara Forest, just north of Whangamata, on Saturday was Thames rider Jason Davis, the former national enduro champion back from retirement, with another former champion, Glen Eden’s Chris Birch, finishing fourth and Whanganui’s Seth Reardon rounding out the top five.

Leading riders on the A course on Saturday were Tokoroa’s Jake Wightman, Thames rider Natasha Cairns, Te Hauautu’s Elliot ‘Superman’ Kent, Masterton’s Philip Bly and Putaruru’s Phil Skinner. 

It’s interesting to note that Buxton’s dad, John Buxton, finished sixth overall in the A Grade on Saturday, the sport obviously a real family affair for them.

“It was a fantastic day of racing and was very well run by the Thames Valley Motorcycle Club,” said Motorcycling New Zealand enduro commissioner Justin Stevenson. “It was great to see top championship riders from the past, men such as Jason Davis, Chris Birch and Elliot Kent, in action again. The conditions for riding were perfect and this event has a great reputation, probably contributing to their decision to show up.”

The Yamaha and Mitas tyres-sponsored series will head down to the Kapiti Coast for round two on April 6.

The 2019 Yamaha NZ Enduro Championships are supported by Mitas Tyres, Macaulay Metals, Best Build Construction, Silver-bullet, Dirt Rider Downunder magazine and Moto Events NZ.

2019 Yamaha NZ Enduro Champs calendar:

Round 1 – Saturday, March 16 – Thames
Round 2 – Saturday, April 6 – Kapiti 
Round 3 – Saturday, April 20 – South Waikato
Round 4 – Sunday, June 9 – Martinborough
Round 5 – Saturday, June 29 – Bideford, Masterton
Round 6 – Friday, July 19 – Hokitika, Westland
Round 7 – Saturday, July 20 – Hokitika, Westland

Words and Photo by Andy McGechan

Helensville’s Tom Buxton (KTM 350EXC-F), top man at the opening round of the New Zealand Enduro Championships near Whangamata on Saturday.

The 2019 New Zealand Enduro Championships kick off in the Thames-Coromandel District this weekend and it’s anybody’s guess as to who might win.

Boosted from five to seven rounds this season, the Yamaha and Mitas tyres-sponsored series will take riders from round one at Whangamata in the north this Saturday, to round seven at Hokitika in the south, each offering extreme and varied terrain challenges for the riders.

But, difficult landscape aside, it is the talent of the riders and the reliability of their bikes that will determine who finishes on top when the final round wraps it all up in July.

One thing is almost certain … a new outright champion will be crowned in 2019.

Taupo’s defending national enduro champion Brad Groombridge injured himself while racing at the final round of the New Zealand Motocross Championships in Taupo last weekend, ruling him out of action this coming Saturday and possibly for longer than that too.

But there are plenty of talented riders who are capable of stepping forward.

Wainuiomata’s Jake Whitaker and Helensville’s Tom Buxton could be expected to battle near the head of the field on Saturday, while young guns such as just-turned 21-year-old Seth Reardon, of Whanganui, and Blake Wilkins, of Whitianga, will certainly keep them honest.

Whangamata’s Jason Davis returns to the race scene after several years away from the sport to raise a family and the former national champion is sure to be a contender this weekend, especially on home turf.

Others to watch out for include Thames rider Natasha Cairns, Taumarunui’s Cody Davey, Eketahuna’s Charlie Richardson, Tokoroa’s Jake Wightman, Rotorua’s Bradley Lauder, Cambridge’s Dylan Yearbury, Taupo’s Nathan Tesselaar, Rotorua’s Ethan Harris, Cambridge’s Ashton Grey, New Plymouth’s Tony Parker and perhaps even cross-country ace Sam ‘Charlie’ Brown, from Glen Murray.

“It will be exciting to see Jason Davis back in action. It’s always a thrill to see him in action,” said Motorcycling New Zealand enduro commissioner Justin Stevenson. “The racing will be a good test of man and machine and will cater for all abilities. The venue at Whangamata is one of the most popular on the calendar, sure to attract a large number of entries.”

The venue for Saturday’s racing is the Taungatara Forest, off State Highway 25, between Whangamata and Hikuai. The Taungatara Forest is about 10 minutes’ drive north of Whangamata and racing starts at about 10am.

There are 15 classes in total to cater for everyone, including two non-championship intro trail rider classes, and only six rounds count, with riders to discard points from their worst round.

The terrain is mostly clear-felled tree areas and virgin clay and ash-based forestry tracks. The national championship riders will be doing three loops of just under 50 kilometres and comprising five terrain tests. The intro trail riders will be doing two shorter loops with two terrain tests (not timed).

The 2019 Yamaha NZ Enduro Championships are supported by Mitas tyres Macaulay Metals, Best Build Construction, Silver-bullet, Dirt Rider Downunder magazine and Moto Events NZ.

2019 Yamaha NZ Enduro Champs calendar:

Round 1 – Saturday, March 16 – Thames
Round 2 – Saturday, April 6 – Kapiti 
Round 3 – Saturday, April 20 – South Waikato
Round 4 – Sunday, June 9 – Martinborough
Round 5 – Saturday, June 29 – Bideford, Masterton
Round 6 – Friday, July 19 – Hokitika, Westland
Round 7 – Saturday, July 20 – Hokitika, Westland

Words and Photo by Andy McGechan

Whanganui’s Seth Reardon (Yamaha), possibly one rider to watch out for at Whangamata this weekend.