2023 New Zealand Hard Enduro Championships

CAPTION: Papakura’s Ryan Hayward (KTM 300 EXC), on the charge in the Akatarawa Forest course, near Porirua, on Saturday. Photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com

SEPTEMBER 11, 2023: The battle lines have been drawn and now it’s “game on” for the 2023 New Zealand Hard Enduro Championships title.

The first of two rounds in this year’s Yamaha-sponsored championship series was held in the Akatarewa Forest near Pauatahanui, north-east of Porirua, at the weekend and the wins were shared by two riders with outstanding reputations and insane riding skills, meaning the deciding second and final round in the South Island in two months’ time should truly be a torrid affair.

Pre-event favourite and winner of the corresponding series last season, Wainuiomata’s Jake Whitaker, finished in front of friend and rival Ryan Hayward, of Papakura, in Saturday’s opening clash, the two Gold Grade riders actually separated by a slender margin of less than three minutes after a long and brutal day of racing on the steep and unforgiving forestland course.

The finishing order at the top of the premier Gold Grade was reversed the following day and, when overall times were added together after both days, it was Hayward who ended up in front, winning the weekend overall by just 47 seconds over Whitaker.

Remarkably, this was Hayward’s debut ride in the Gold Grade, but, after his impressive showing at the Red Bull Romaniacs hard enduro in Romania last month, where he finished up as the best-performed New Zealander at the massive international event, it was probably expected that he would step up to the top category for the weekend’s domestic championship event north of Wellington.

Third best after the two days was South Islander Luke Corson, from Whitecliffs, near Christchurch, while New Plymouth’s Sam Parker and Nelson’s Tom O’Brien rounded out the top five in the elite Gold Grade.

Best of the Silver Grade riders was Whangaparoa’s Jacob Refoy, winning ahead of Havelock North’s Tom Hislop and Tinui’s George Williams, while Owaka’s Blake Affleck won the Bronze Grade ahead of Porirua’s Jarrod Moss and Dannevirke’s Anders Easton.

“It was a great track put on by the Kapi Mana Motorcycle Club crew once again,” said Whitaker afterwards. “Congrats to Ryan on a well-deserved first gold class win.”

The weekend’s overall winner, Hayward, revealed he had a slight issue to deal with when his tyre started coming off the wheel rim on Saturday and it cost him valuable time in the pits to rectify the matter.

The course featured separate tracks for the various Gold, Silver and Bronze category riders, but contestants of all abilities certainly found the racing a challenge.

The weekend’s national event at Moonshine also doubled as round one of the parallel-but-separate North Island Hard Enduro Championships and, for the host Kapi-Mana Motorcycle Club, this was the fourth championship event they have run this year. Of note also is that Saturday marked the 51st running of the Akatarawa Enduro.

Round two of the New Zealand Hard Enduro Championships is also known as the Nutbuster Enduro and set for Canterbury on the weekend of November 17-18. Similarly, this event in Christchurch will double up as round one of the South Island Hard Enduro Championships.

All series are additionally supported by Mitas tyres, Kiwi Rider magazine, Silver-bullet and Macaulay Metals.

2023 NZ Hard Enduro Championships:

Round 1: September 9-10, Moonshine Xtreme, Bulls Run Road, Porirua;

Round 2: November 17-18, Nutbuster, Christchurch.

North Island Hard Enduro Championships:

Round 1: September 9-10, Moonshine Xtreme;

Round 2: October 7-8, Root 100, Whangaruru, Whangarei.

South Island Hard Enduro Championships:

Round 1: Wanaka (already held in April);

Round 2: November 17-18, Nutbuster, Christchurch.

New Zealand Enduro X Championships:

Round 1: November 17, Nutbuster day one.

Credit: Words and photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com