Whibley cut his teeth in New Zealand, Australia and across Europe before making it to America where he now rides for one of the top GNCC programs, Am-Pro Yamaha.
The GNCC series is America’s largest off-road racing series and arguably the most difficult. Top pros race for over three hours in conditions that range from choking dust to bike-swallowing mud. Unlike motocross, riders coming from outside the U.S. have found quick success, and they have owned the championship for the past half-decade. One of those riders is Paul Whibley. Born in Dannevirke, a small town in the southwest of New Zealand Northern Island, Whibley worked his way through school and a full-time job to become the top racer in the country. After three seasons in Europe’s World Enduro Championship, the 32-year-old immigrated to the U.S. and has been attacking the East Coast off-road racing world with the support of his wife, Katherine, and mechanic, Scott Brooker.
During the week he’s an intense trainer, but chooses to race almost every weekend to stay sharp. It’s the same drive that earned him multiple titles in his home country and Australia. Since landing in America six years ago, Whibley has racked up three OMA Nationals championships and the 2009 GNCC XC1 title. Off the track he’s quiet, fairly soft-spoken and doesn’t offer up a lot of chit chat. It’s not that he’s unfriendly, just efficient with his conversation – much like he is on the race course.
Whibley raced a Honda CRF450R with Scott Summers, Suzuki RM-Z450 for the factory squad, a Kawasaki KX450F under the Geico Powersports tent, the Yamaha WR450F upon switching to Am-Pro and now straddles the revolutionary Yamaha YZ450F in his second year with Randy Hawkins. After getting the formalities out of the way, we hung out and interacted with him and the rest of the Am-Pro Yamaha crew in South Carolina for two sunny days. He’s currently fourth in the standings with one win to his credit at the Maxxis General GNCC in Georgia.
Try reading it with a slight accent for a more authentic feel.
GETTING TO AMERICA
I started racing in New Zealand when I was about 15. I always had bikes on the family farm but just started racing at 15. I slowly progressed through the ranks racing motocross, Supercross – anything in New Zealand off-road. I won two titles in cross country and two titles in enduro and then started branching out overseas with a few races in Australia and ended up getting a ride in Europe with the factory Husky team over there. Spent three seasons racing in WEC in the 250 2-stroke class.
I always wanted to come to America and race over here. My favorite discipline was three-hour cross country format so we hooked up with Scott Summers and he was looking at putting together a little GNCC team. He said to come over and do a few races and we’d see how it goes. That was six years ago. I did two years with Scott. I then moved on to the Suzuki team for a year and then the Geico team two years ago and this is my second season with Randy.
WHAT IT’S LIKE RIDING FOR AM-PRO YAMAHA
Whibley rode the WR450F to start his title defense. The late-season switch to the YZ450F helped end 2010 on a winning note, despite losing the #1 plate.
I talked to Randy a few years beforehand about the possibility of joining the team and it finally all came together for 2010. I came on board and it was good. Randy is very welcoming and the base I’ve got down here in Travelers Rest is really good. The workshop and mechanics and everything – we’re very comfortable with all that.
After I signed a deal with Randy I was back at home in New Zealand in the offseason so I started preparing to ride the YZ. I was thinking, hoping, that this was going to be the bike we’d be racing. I couldn’t actually get a WR in New Zealand because the importer could only get me the YZ. I felt pretty comfortable on the bike – we had done some brief testing and racing and things were looking good. I came over here and was on the WR at the start of the year. It just took me a long time to work the bike out and get comfortable and up to speed on it. We had some issues in the first few races of the season that weren’t really related to the bike, but the results just weren’t what I was hoping for. After the summer break we got on the Y-Zed. I had a little bit of injury and so the results didn’t immediately improve, but the last two races I was able to win.
Every team I’ve been with seems like it’s had a different way of doing things. There’s no right or wrong, but every team goes about it a bit differently. When I was at the Geico team there was a very loose association with Kawasaki – we basically got the bikes and were free to do whatever we liked. From that side of it, it was good because you could modify whatever you wanted or do whatever races you wanted. At Suzuki they were very good to me and let me do a lot of local races that I wanted to, but there was always a certain way of doing things, I guess. It was a lot more strict. Now here it’s between the two. There is a very family-friendly feel to the team. Randy is very welcoming and it’s a good atmosphere around, but there is a bit more structure as we have an association with Yamaha. I think it’s a good thing the way this team is run.
I had a tough start to the year – racing Florida I got the holeshot and then just clipped a tree in the dust. There must have been a root or something there in the sand and I didn’t see it, clipped it and shot off the side of the track and just skimmed the side of a tree. It tore the radiator back so I had to come in for repairs.
Round 2 was a lot better. I didn’t get the holeshot but we were in the lead bunch. Right from the start of the day there were about five or six guys racing the whole day and swapping positions. As the race wore on it came down to me, Thad (DuVall) and Josh (Strang). In the last two or three laps we started stretching it out and I got into the lead and took the win. It was good.
I’ll be doing the OMA series again this year. In between those races, OMA and GNCC, off-weekends will just be local races for training purposes. Around here there is a Mid-East series, but the series is not important so much, it’s just me going and doing a race and testing stuff or keeping the body fitness up. I prefer to be out there racing because you always push yourself a little harder in races rather than just out at a practice track. I’ve always preferred to just go and race on Sunday.
WHAT IT’S LIKE AWAY FROM THE TRACK – TRAINING
This time of year it’s pretty boring (laughs). I pretty much just ride and train and after that you’re pretty tired so you don’t really want to do too much. I’m focused on the championship, that’s my main goal. When the year is done I usually have November off and go to New Zealand and just chill out then.
Back in New Zealand, my yearly structure has December/January when I do a lot of off-the-bike training – boosting endurance, fitness and strength for the coming season. At the moment I do a lot more riding to increase the bike speed and bike fitness. Usually during the GNCC summer break I step up the training and revert back to a little of the training I do in the winter. After the break it’s back into more of the bike training. I usually ride three times during the week spread out with different interval training.
At the moment I live pretty close to Randy’s base here (Travelers Rest, SC), just down the road. It’s good living close to the team. We’ve never really had a permanent base before. We usually just get a property or rental property close to where the team is being based. This time we’re supplied a house here and it’s right on Randy’s property where we ride at – the farm. I can ride right out the back door, so it’s awesome.
When I’m not training I like to just chill out at home. We’re not living very exciting lives, really. At the moment we’re just 100% focused on racing and results. We drive to every race. Katherine is really good. She’s a big part of the success and the racing. She gets everything ready on race day like sorting out my drink system. She’s at fuel stops with goggles and gel shots and does pit boards during the race with positions and times. It’s almost a full-time job looking after me. During the week it’s cleaning up gear, cooking for me and Scotty and keeping us on our toes – she’s a great help.
HIS MECHANIC – SCOTT BROOKER
We first worked together when I was in Europe. He was my mechanic during my second year over there and we worked together again for most of 2009 at the Geico team. Then he started an importing business in New Zealand. He had moved back and was basically done with his overseas stuff. He actually worked with David Knight as well when David won his championship a couple years ago, so he’s a very good mechanic and a good friend of mine. I talked to him about returning this year and sort of managed to twist his arm a little bit and got him back on board.
IF YOU WEREN’T RACING DIRT BIKES
When I left school I was actually logging – I was falling trees. That was my full-time job. It’s difficult, the whole racing scene in general is a lot smaller than it is in America. Most kids in New Zealand race, and when they leave school the go get a job because there’s not as much home-schooling and not so many kids who just live for racing in New Zealand. That’s probably why the talent or the speed isn’t as good as it is here. There’s a whole generation of kids here that’s all they do, racing dirt bikes. But anyway, I was logging for about five years and during that time I won my titles in New Zealand and got to the point where I could branch out overseas. I moved racing into a full-time career.