Motorsport: Off-roaders face their acid-test

By Andy McGechan

Dirt bikers show their chops, writes Andy McGechan

Te Awamutu's Mark Penny (Suzuki) is determined to win the great race again. Photo / Andy McGechan
Te Awamutu's Mark Penny (Suzuki) is determined to win the great race again. Photo / Andy McGechan

It is the toughest off-road motorcycle endurance event on the Kiwi calendar and Te Awamutu's Mark Penny is one of very few people to have conquered it more than once.

The 38-year-old cross-country ace teamed with Queenstown motocross rider Scotty Columb on a Suzuki RM-X450 to win the big annual Suzuki Six-Hour off-road dirt bike marathon near Mangakino last year, the victory making Penny a rare four-time winner of the event.

He teamed with Rotorua's Cam Negus to win it outright in 2002, and with Motueka's Brad Thomas to win it outright in 2003. Penny won the ironman title as a solo rider in 2007, and last year's win, co-riding with Columb, made it victory No4.

"It is definitely a goal to win this race each year," says Penny, who is yet to announce this year's co-rider.

This year's Suzuki Six-Hour is on Saturday, October 5, at Ohakuri, a venue halfway between Tokoroa and Taupo.

Penny has firm ambitions to steal away with the glory again.

"It is a huge competition and just finishing is a huge accomplishment, but winning it is the ultimate achievement. I'm really looking forward to racing it again this year," he says.

The Suzuki Six-Hour is the premier off-road endurance event on the New Zealand motorcycling calendar and is again expected to attract the cream of the nation's dirt biking talent, riders such as Kiwi internationals Chris Birch and Chris Power, both from Auckland, Tauranga's Reece Burgess, Mokau's Adrian Smith, Palmerston North's Adam Reeves and Auckland pair Mike Skinner and Freddie Milford-Cottam.

Race organiser Sean Clarke, of Tokoroa, a recent international competitor with International Six Days Enduro medals and multiple national enduro titles, says the shift from Mangakino to Ohakuri allows for a "much more open, a free-flowing course. It's an honour to be running this event. It has been going more than 20 years now and has a long and proud history," says Clarke, who's a former class winner and event winner.

Past stars of this event include motocross, enduro and cross-country exponents, such as Daryl Hurley, Michael Phillips, Darryll King, Steven Croad, Adam Youren, Kevin Archer, Mark Fuller, John McKee, Cam Mabey, Ben Thomasen and Cody Cooper.

It is a gruelling race that can test man and machine to the limits, although, for the more social competitors, the option is still there to treat it as a glorified trail ride.

Various separate bike classes cater for all ages, abilities and bike capacities and, with several hundred riders typically signing up for the challenge, there are usually plenty of tall stories to tell afterwards.

Some of New Zealand's current crop of international off-road stars, riders such as Pahiatua's Paul Whibley and Wellington's Rory Mead, both currently racing in the United States, cut their teeth at this event in the past, using it to hone their skills before venturing offshore and hitting the big time.

Champions of the past, present and future will tackle this year's Suzuki Six-Hour ... could the name on the 2013 trophy be yours?

- NZ Herald

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