Motocross: Birch leaves rivals way behind

By Andy McGechan

Rider wraps it up with a round to spare, writes Andy McGechan

Chris Birch (KTM) has two major championships in the bag already this year. Picture / Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com
Chris Birch (KTM) has two major championships in the bag already this year. Picture / Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com

It is two from two for Auckland's Chris Birch already this season and he's really only just starting to warm up. Riding two different models of KTM motorcycle, the Kiwi international won the New Zealand Enduro Championships at Oparau, near Kawhia, on Easter Saturday and then won the Extreme Enduro Series in the fifth and final round of that competition at the same venue on Easter Monday.

"It was one massive weekend for me," the 33-year-old Birch said afterwards.

The Glen Eden man won the fifth round of six in the KTM-sponsored New Zealand Enduro championship on the KTM 350XC-F and then jumped on the two-stroke 300EXC to win the No Way in Hell extreme enduro, thus wrapping up the separate but parallel KTM Extreme Enduro Series.

Birch had won rounds one, two and three of the national series - at Whangamata, Porirua and the Riverhead Forest - but had been forced to settle for runner-up in round four, putting him in a solid position to seal the title with another strong showing at Oparau. That's exactly what happened and he picked up the crown for overall national champion on the Saturday with a round to spare.

Birch also secured the over-300cc four-stroke class title for 2014. He had been similarly dominant in the Extreme Enduro Series and, despite being forced to miss round two of that contest because of overseas commitments, his win at the No Way In Hell event on Easter Monday gave him a final tally of 97 points, 15 more than his nearest challenger, Wainuiomata's Jake Whitaker (Husqvarna FE250).

Birch scored 1-DNS (did not start) 1-2-1 over the five rounds, while Whitaker went 2-5-4-3-2 for the series.

Third overall in the Extreme Enduro Series was national cross-country champion Adrian Smith (Yamaha YZ250), from Mokau, with a 5-14-20-1-3 score-line for the series.

"The KTM Extreme Enduro Series was an adventure, as always," said Birch. "The No Way in Hell final round was really tough and I was knackered. The course was extremely steep in places and pretty hard going and I felt absolutely broken down afterwards. I had not been feeling well the week before Easter and was diagnosed with tonsillitis after the weekend."

Wainuiomata's Jake Whitaker (Husqvarna), a seven-time former and the current national moto trials champion, comfortably transferring his skills to the enduro code.
Wainuiomata's Jake Whitaker (Husqvarna), a seven-time former and the current national moto trials champion, comfortably transferring his skills to the enduro code.

It was probably a surprise that he managed to finish, let alone win both events over the weekend.

In the end, Birch was so far in front that he was the only rider allowed to start the third loop at the No Way In Hell event.

"If I had known I was the only rider out there on the final loop, I may just have stopped for a wee sleep," he said. "It has been a good season so far for me ... I hope I can continue this overseas."

Birch is preparing to tackle the Dacer Rally in Canada in June, an 800km one-day enduro, before he heads to Romania for the big annual Romaniacs Extreme Enduro in the unforgiving Carpathian Mountains from July 15 to 19.

"I had a shocker at the Romaniacs event last year and I want to make up for that this time around," said Birch, who beat all the world's elite off-road racers when he won the event outright in 2010.

Somewhere along the way Birch will try to squeeze in an appearance at the sixth and final round of the New Zealand Enduro Championships, set for Waimiha in the King Country, on May 10.

His attendance there is not essential seeing as he's already won the crown, but Birch is not the sort of man to let a challenge pass him by.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n3 at 28 Aug 2014 20:03:10 Processing Time: 540ms