By SHELLEY TOPP
Mandeville teenager Ben Whalley is following in the footsteps of some legendary Kiwi sporting heroes, becoming the youngest person to win the New Zealand Speedway Solo Bike Championship.
He won the title at Moore Park Speedway in West Melton on February 6, displacing an idol, four-time champion Bradley Wilson-Dean.
Ben, at just 18, emulated the New Zealand titles won by speedway legends Ivan Mauger, Ronnie Moore and Barry Briggs, all of whom went on to become world champions and household names.
Ben has already followed up his championship win with a second placing at last week’s Burt Munro Challenge in Invercargill.
Ben became interested in solo bike racing after his father, Neil Whalley, died suddenly 10 years ago.
He has worked hard under the mentorship of his maternal grandfather, Ivan Harris, a keen solo bike enthusiast, to claim the championship at such a young age.
Ben loves the speed, thrill and tactical aspect of solo bike racing.
Ivan is proud of what his grandson has achieved and also his ability to stay calm under pressure and listen and learn from mentors who have helped him along the way.
Ben has two sleek methanol-powered racing solo bikes which can reach speeds of up to 100kmh, but have no brakes.
“You race at full throttle the whole time,” he says. “After the chequered flag you just button off the throttle and they slow down pretty quick.”
Each finely tuned bike is custom-made to the riders’ requirements and cannot be bought ready-made off the showroom floor.
The bikes are being constantly fine-tuned to achieve optimum performance, and riders are
always seeking new equipment that will give their machines an edge over their competitors.
‘‘It is a precision thing. Everything has to be perfect,’’ Ben says.
His main bike is fitted with a new GM engine which was made in Italy and tuned in England by Peter Johns Racing.
Ben works full-time as a diesel mechanic at Truckstops in Christchurch, but his ultimate dream is to eventually head overseas to test his skills against the world on the international
solo bike circuit.