The 2016 New Zealand Moto Trials Championships

It was very much a “one-horse contest” in the upper echelon of New Zealand’s moto trials community at the nationals at the weekend.

Visiting international star Jack Sheppard scampered away with the main trophy at the annual New Zealand Moto Trials Championships in the South Island, the British rider simply stunning over the three-day event.

This was exactly as most pundits probably expected, however, with record eight-time national champion Jake Whitaker unable to compete at the Blenheim event because of injury.

The Wainuiomata man was convalescing after recent knee surgery and had to content himself with checking in on results on-line as this season’s championships unfolded over the Labour Weekend (October 22-24).

Runner-up to Sheppard was Nelson’s Peter Oliver, with visiting French rider Jules Huguenin third, while Oliver’s elder brother Nick Oliver and Blenheim’s multi-time South Island champion Jason Baker rounded out the top five in the Expert Grade.

This was Sheppard’s second visit to New Zealand and also his second title win here.

Sheppard was world No.13 when he last visited New Zealand in 2014 and he proved to be a sensation at the nationals that year too, certainly clever enough to put a kink in Whitaker’s win streak and steal the title for himself.

Fourth in the Scottish Six-Day Trial earlier this year, the 23-year-old Sheppard would have been even more heavily favoured this time around and he certainly made light work of the gnarly New Zealand terrain at the weekend, recording “clean” results through 105 of the 108 sections he had to face.

In contrast, runner-up Oliver managed to go clean through 43 sections over the three days.

Meanwhile, Wellington’s Stuart Lawton, Kaikoura’s David Trewin and Wellington’s Carl Robson topped the A Grade.

A stand-out rider over the weekend was Wellington’s Dylan Ball, the youngster winning titles in two separate categories – he topped the intermediate grade, finishing ahead of Ashhurst’s Kevin Pinfold, and Ball was also No.1 in the junior grade, finishing ahead of Mapua’s Dylan Cox.

In May this year, Ball was a finalist in the Best Up And Coming Off Road Rider category at Motorcycling New Zealand’s Hall of Fame awards ceremony.

Other grade winners at the weekend were Taumarunui’s Cody Davey (clubmans’ grade); Christchurch’s Stefanie Downes (women’s grade); Nelson’s Stephen Oliver (presidents); Nelson’s Karl Clark (twin-shock); Tauranga’s Nigel Shilton (sportsman’s grade).

With this branch of motorcycling sport, the emphasis is not on speed, but on fine balance, bravery and throttle control.

The prime aim is to conquer the extreme terrain without touching feet on the ground or falling off. Points are lost for these “faults” and a rider with the lowest score wins.

The championships were sponsored this year by MTF Vehicle Finance.

Words and photo by Andy McGechan