Jake Wightman was probably always going to be prominent rider in the Off-Road circuit. Growing up in North Auckland, the family owned the property that backed right onto Woodhill Forest, providing an abundance of tracks to cut his teeth on. In fact for a number of years, the famous Dead Toad Harescramble started on the Wightman property and dived into the Pine forest of Woodhill. Now a Tokoroa/Hamilton resident, Jake has just completed the National Enduro Champs in 3rd place outright. So we caught up with him.

Image: Rachel Callaghan

The Dirt: How does it feel to be at the end of the Enduro season and finish 3rd outright?

Jake Wightman: I’m stoked to be able to take 3rd outright for this year's Enduro series. It was a big effort for me with a high level of commitment. I do feel like I am punching above my weight with that result, so it feels good to have it under my belt. 

TD: Tell me a brief about your 2019 Enduro season.

JW: Overall I had a really enjoyable Enduro season. The first round in Whangamata I scored 8th which I was happy with. My pace was within the guys I usually compare myself against, which is always a big uncertainty heading into the first round of the season. It was good to race Whangamata in the dry after the absolute grovel we had there the year beforehand. 

That grovel turned up for the second round in Wellington. I struggled in wellington to get any flow going in the incredibly tight and wet trail sections, losing a decent amount of time and placing 12th. My day wasn’t helped here by crashing up a metal road in the second test splitting my camelback and losing all my water and tools for the rest of the day. 

Round 3 in Tokoroa was my favourite round (as it usually is). Conditions were absolutely prime and I got a mean flow going all day. I came away with a 5th that day which I feel was my best result of the season given the stacked field which turned up for it. 

Marlborough was an enjoyable day for the most part, though the times were rather tight given the short trail sections and I lost a couple of minutes in the end, placing me 10th for the day. 

Masterton was pretty good too. Kinda felt like I was struggling for pace on the steeper farmland compared to those around me, but still managed a 5th for the day. 

Image: Rachel Callaghan

Down to the South Island which was quite a mixed bag. The first day worked out well for me, taking 4th. Despite the wet and cold, I did enjoy hanging the rear end out across the wet paddocks. The unclear marking in places took a bit of a shine off day for me. I missed a large section of 1 test when I was feeling great finishing 2 minutes faster than anyone else, with that test being thrown out. Later in the day, myself and a group of others missed the finish of one test and did this long extreme section flat out. I turned up to the start of the next test very confused and rather exhausted, with a big hand full of us turning up and feeling the same. 

The final day was just 20k laps of this big swamp where I struggled for pace a bit. I spent the day just focusing on keeping upright and moving, taking 9th for the day. I just wasn’t able to do it wide open like some of the South Islanders were. In the end, I was mainly just happy to finish with a bike that still ran, as there were a lot who didn’t. 

TD: You are racing in the 250F class this year. Why this class in particular after years on the 2-Stroke? And how did you find it compared?

JW: Mainly I was just excited about the new challenge of racing a 4-Stroke. I first tried a 250F at a demo day and was blown away by how nimble it was, and how much fun it was to ride. Certainly the engine doesn’t pull as well from the bottom as the 250 2-Stroke I had previously, so the bike is a bit harder to ride in the real slow gnarly stuff. However, outside of this I do like riding it more and think it’s easier to ride fast. It’s a bike which likes to be thrashed, and I find a can thrash it with more control, without it thrashing me. 

Image: Rachel Callaghan

TD: What kind of events have you grown up racing?

JW: Like most, I started in the mini motocross scene, making trail rides with dad when I could. I went to my first GNCC in the Woodhill forest when I was 8 where dad, unexpectedly, made a bet with me that if I won my class that day he would take me to do the rest of the series. And I did, so we did. I realised that I preferred that style of riding and racing, and pretty much considered myself an off-road rider from there; doing all the Enduros since I was eligible as well. 

TD: You are only a few years into your expert National level Enduro racing - are you surprised that you finished 3rd in the country?

JW: Like not really. There are a lot of us around my age at the top end of this sport. Seth and Beau have both been doing it for about the same amount of time as me. Especially when the more experienced dudes like Draper and Hamish MacDonald are off competing overseas. 

Image: Rachel Callaghan

TD: What has brought you to the Off-Road side of racing, as opposed to the MX side?

JW: Mainly I just prefer racing in trees compared to racing on a wide MX track. I love how in the trees you can often just carry almost a constant speed without riding real aggressively and still be going fast. To me at least, on an MX track you have straights and corners as being distinctly different. Whereas Off-Road the difference tends to be a lot more blurred which allows me to try and carry speed rather than going for hard acceleration and late-breaking. Like I realise this is a weird explanation and a big generalization, but it kinda explains the type of tracks which I like the most and hence what draws me to Off-Road. 

TD: You just finished 2nd outright at the Woodhill 2-Man series. Tell us a bit about that too.

JW: Yeah, I love being back up in the Woodhill forest. I grew up near there and it's still probably my favourite place to ride. I teamed it with my brother last year but was feeling fit this year so I wanted to solo them again. Really happy to be able to do three 3 hour races with a good pace without any real problems. They’re still hard work, but I’m quite happy with how my body held up this year, as they’re often the most physical races of the year. I’ve been soloing them since I was 15, and they were definitely a lot more brutal back then. 

TD: Is there anyone you grew up watching and who you are now racing against?

JW: Whibley and Birch are the two which spring to mind. They were insane back then and they’re still pretty bloody good now. I suppose that’s the most impressive part really. 

TD: What does a day in the life of Jake Wightman look like away from dirt bikes?

JW: So at the moment, I’m in my third year (of 4) of mechanical engineering at the University of Waikato. Depending on how far through the semester I am, this can take up half, or all of my day. Outside of that I will go to the gym or running or something and hang with mates. I’ve got a student flat in Hamilton where I’ll spend my weeks (during the uni year) and then I tend to go back to my parent's place in Tokoroa during the weekends to ride and do bike stuff.

TD: What is it that motivates you about this sport?

JW: In short, I like riding fast. Again, weird to explain, but you know that feeling when you’re riding really well; it’s no longer like your on a machine, but you're using the bike as an extension of yourself, and you can feel through it and control it like any other limb. It sounds weirdly metaphorical, but it's so natural and that’s why it's cool. At that point your just focusing on going fast. Also, I’m quite competitive with myself. For me it's not really about trophies, but I will always judge how well I did based on who finished around me and how well I did relative to those I usually compare myself against. That’s one of the cool things about our sport is it tends to be a pretty tight group of people that have been doing it regularly. Take someone like Ashton Grey for example. He was the guy I was battling with when I was 8 in that first GNCC series, and he’s still one of the main guys I swap places with today. 

I would like to finish off with a big thanks to Vege from Kiwirider magazine for the support over the years.  As well as KTM, Motorex Oils, Oakley goggles, Michelin Tyres and Leatt. And though he’ll claim he doesn’t want it, the biggest thanks goes to dad, who's been my number 1 supporter and sponsor from the word go. 

Image: Rachel Callaghan