Any one of more than half a dozen riders could be expected to clinch the coveted Dirt Bike Series title when the competition wraps up near Tokoroa on Saturday.
The three-round cross-country racing series has again proven extremely popular this season, with Motorcycling New Zealand Hall of Fame inductee Sean Clarke renowned for setting courses that are both challenging and enjoyable, and many of New Zealand’s elite riders are again expected to tackle this weekend’s event.
The racing will be at the same venue that was used for both the first two rounds, at Ohakuri, south of Tokoroa, so there should really be no surprises in store for the athletes and perhaps average speeds might even be a little higher.
“The course features a bit of everything … it’s supposed to be a challenge, but, at the same time, not overwhelming. We want all dirt bike owners to come and have a go at bush riding,” said Tokoroa’s Clarke.
There will be plenty of top-level riders entered, with individuals such as Rotorua’s Bradley Lauder (Husqvarna), Wellington’s Jake Whitaker (KTM), Whitianga’s Blake Wilkins (Husqvarna), Whanganui’s Seth Reardon (Yamaha), Tokoroa’s Jake Wightman (KTM), Cambridge’s Ashton Grey (Yamaha) and Tauranga’s Reece Burgess (KTM), to name just a few, among those worth watching out for on the day.
Former Kiwi international Callan May, from Titirangi, won the two-hour senior race at round one in early June, closely followed across the finish line by Reporoa’s Hadleigh Knight, just back from racing in Japan, and then Manawatu’s two-time former United States cross-country champion Paul Whibley.
Knight had his revenge at round two three weeks later, winning the day ahead of Grey and Wilkins.
The racing will be intense in the junior ranks this weekend too, with top riders to watch for on Saturday including Taupo’s Wil Yeoman (Yamaha), Oparau’s Hunter Scott (KTM), Rotorua’s Hunter Steens (Yamaha), Putaruru’s Jacob Dover (Yamaha) and Eketahuna’s Luke Brown (Yamaha).
The central North Island location of the Dirt Guide event virtually guarantees a good-sized entry list, with more than 180 riders showing up to the first round and a similar number expected this Saturday.
The competition has wide appeal, attracting a diverse range of talents, suiting novice riders but also enticing the cream of New Zealand’s dirt biking community to turn up in large numbers.
It is events such as this that have created, inspired and nurtured Kiwi cross-country racing talent over the years before setting some of our brightest young talent on pathways to top-level international competition.
In addition to the expert grade riders, the series caters also for junior riders and for intermediates, veterans and women as well.
The venue at Ohakuri is signposted from Atiamuri on SH1, midway between Tokoroa and Taupo, with the 90-minute junior race set to kick off at 9.30am, while the two-hour senior race will start just after midday.
Saturday’s race doubles up also as round two of the parallel-but-separate NZ GNCC cross-country series, that competition piggy-backing onto select major events throughout the North Island.
Whibley won the opening round of the NZ GNCC series, at Woodhill Forest, west of Auckland, last month, finishing ahead of Reardon and Wightman that day.
The Dirt Guide Series is sponsored by Michelin, Bel Ray, Renthal, O’Neal, DRC, Zeta, Kiwi Rider magazine, Oakley, TCX boots, Yoshimura and Forest Trail Events.
Words and Photo by Andy McGechan