AUGUST 8, 2018: Perhaps there is nothing better than a good rider, a great bike, a huge dollop of determination and some careful coaching by one of New Zealand’s dirt biking elite.
These elements all came together at the weekend to earn Dannevirke teenager Ben Paterson the No.2 spot in his class at the weekend’s Yamaha Taikorea 500, the second round of six in the Moto SR-sponsored NZXC cross-country series.
The 16-year-old, a year 12 pupil at Napier Boys’ High School, recently graduated from the inaugural Paul Whibley Racing (PWR) academy and he arrived at Whibley’s own Taikorea Motorcycle Park, near Himatangi, for Sunday’s race keen to collect his new Yamaha WR250F – purchased through the PWR Yamaha Demo Program – and get straight into the thick of the action on the pristine track.
However, with no time to complete set-up work on the bike, he lined up for the gruelling two-hour senior race with his bike still in road trim – sporting headlight, tail-light, blinkers, number plate mount, side-stand and horn – an odd sight with all the other racers lined up on trimmed-down, race-ready machinery.
It didn’t seem to matter to Paterson, though, who was quick at getting to grips with the brand new, straight-out-of-the-crate bike and equally adept at dealing with the treacherous sand, steep hills and tree roots that lay in his path, eventually settling for a brave 17th overall.
The race was actually won outright by Titirangi rider Callan May (Yamaha YZ250F), another rider who has benefitted recently from Whibley’s coaching.
Significantly though, Paterson had done enough to finish second overall in his intermediate four-stroke class, behind Martinborough’s James Purdie (Yamaha YZ450F).
“I purchased the bike through the PWR academy, but was only able to pick it up on Sunday and didn’t have time to convert it for racing. Also, I had not been racing at all because I didn’t have a bike, so my preparation for this race wasn’t the best,” said Paterson.
“It was nice to ride and I felt good on it straight away.
“It was quite funny in the race actually, because I tooted the bike’s horn as I launched off jumps at Taikorea … just something to bring a smile to the face of spectators,” he laughed.
“This bike is almost exactly the same as a YZ250F, except it comes with blinkers and such on it, so I knew I could do well on it.
“I’ve been racing for about five years now and getting faster all the time, but my stint in the PWR academy has made the biggest difference for me. It was six months of hard work, quite brutal really, but it’s made me a much better rider.”
Former Kiwi international Paul Whibley had groomed the track to perfection and he was trackside on Sunday, observing the form of Paterson, among others, as he considered fresh coaching points for future PWR academy sessions.
The popular NZXC Series, now in its fourth season, was the brainchild of Whibley, who created the competition to “better prepare New Zealand riders for racing in major cross-country events overseas”, and it seems to be working with several Kiwi riders now making waves in the United States and Europe.
The 40-year-old former Manawatu forestry worker, affectionately dubbed “The Axeman” on the motorcycling scene, was a two-time outright winner of the Grand National Cross-country Championships (GNCC) in the United States (in 2009 and 2012) and a record six-time winner of the parallel Off-Road Motorcycle and ATV (OMA) series there as well.
He was also New Zealand cross-country champion in 2015 and now dedicates much of his time coaching and advising aspiring champions, as well as running the NZXC Series.
Paul Whibley Racing and the NZXC Series are supported by Yamaha Motor New Zealand, PWR Yamaha, Arai, TCX, Oakley, G2, Asterisk, MotoSR, Vortex Ignitions, EC3D, Bush Riders MCC, Rossco’s Start Up Services, Dirt Guide, Tire Balls, Renthal, Bikesportnz.com, CarbSport, FMF, Michelin, Yamalube CV4 GYTR, IMS, Rekluse, Workshop Graphics, Silverbullet.co.nz, Motomuck and O’Neal.
Credit: Words and photo by Andy McGechan