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Monday Conversation: Paul Whibley

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Shock Doctor KTM’s Nathan Kanney claimed the victory in Sunday’s Klotz Ironman GNCC finale, but Paul Whibley wrapped up the 2009 Can-Am Grand National Cross Country Championship with a safe fourth-place finish. This is the first GNCC Title for the New Zealander and his team, GEICO/JG Racing/Monster Kawasaki. He felt pretty good after the race, so we talked to him about his new number-one plate.  

  • New Zealand's Paul Whibley
Racer X: Are you excited now?
Paul Whibley: Yeah, I’m pretty excited, well, I’m beyond excited! It’s just beyond words, I’m so excited right now. I don’t even know what to say! I’m so happy, it’s everything I’ve ever hoped for, to win a GNCC Title. It’s awesome

You didn’t come here with all these World Enduro Titles like the last two GNCC Champs (Juha Salminen and David Knight). You’re reaching your peak right now!
Yeah, cross country style racing is better for me than the World Enduro format in Europe. They have a lot of sprints in those, and I prefer a longer race which relies more on fitness. I always wanted to come here and reach the top. It makes it feel even better after all of the hard work I’ve done, sleeping in the back of vans and crazy stuff like that, it’s awesome to be able to wrap it up.

You’re not kidding. A few years ago I remember you were just hoping to finally make money at this!
I’ve been racing for a long time all over the world, but I didn’t really start making money racing bikes until last year with Suzuki, and then this year, too. Before that I was just getting support, getting enough bikes and parts and money to just make it to the races, that’s all.

And you were racing how often? Out of 52 weekends a year?
Probably 50! Something like that. I might miss a week to fly home to New Zealand or something.

Or your wedding.
(Laughs) I did have to miss one for my wedding, but I did have a bike there. I had to at least have a picture taken with the bike.

Yeah! And I ask you this all time time: you never burn out?
Now I’m ready for a break, but after a week I’ll probably want to get going again. I really enjoy training and riding. I think that’s what helps me get to this level, I want to do the work and I enjoy it.

Talk about the season.
We swapped the [points] lead a lot, it was a good battle. Charlie [Mullins] was strong all year and won the first race. He was really consistent and rode well every week, it didn’t seem like he ever finished off the podium. Josh [Strang] was really strong as well and won a lot of races, he had the points lead for a little while there. So it was good racing with those guys, my teammates from last year. It was fun.

Yeah you were with those guys at Suzuki this year. You lost your ride a few times, first when you were riding Hondas for Scott Summers, and then that team went another direction. Then you had a great year for Suzuki last year, but you got dropped.
I think it was the whole money situation, making life tough. They just didn’t have the budget to keep us all at Suzuki anymore.

How weird was it to get dropped and then come back and do well, actually end up beating that team to win the title?
I don’t hold anything against Suzuki, there wasn’t anything they could do, money wise. Charlie had a two-year contract and Josh, he’s a young guy going really fast, he could be the future of the sport. So they had to keep him. It’s just the way it all worked out, and I think I landed on my feet here. The GEICO JG Racing Kawasaki team is good, and the Kawasaki is a great bike to work with.

You’ve improved tremendously over the last few years. Can you keep getting better?
Yeah, there’s still room to grow. I learned some more things about training and stuff this year. I’m becoming one of the older guys out here, and there are some young kids coming in that go really fast. They may have speed that I don’t have, but I think I have developed some knowledge and race craft. So I just have to keeping working.

Multiple championships, that’s the goal now?
Yeah that would be great, but defending the titles is definitely going to be harder than winning it. I guess now that I’ve taken this step, I can do it.

Finally, you came from a long way to win this. What about people back home? Do they follow this?
Oh yeah, people send emails, or comment on my website. We get text messages after the race from a lot of people. My mom came over here and watched a race and [my wife] Kathrine’s mom came over and watched a race, that was the first time they ever got to watch a race overseas. So yeah, it seems like there is a good population keeping an eye on me. And it’s good for New Zealand, too. I don’t think there are too many guys from New Zealand in off-road who have been able to compete and do this well.

Congrats, Paul. Go enjoy it.
I will!
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