Dirt Bike teammates tackle road-racing scene
Bay of Plenty's Brad Groombridge and his Kea Trailers Race Team-mate Seton Head both love the power of their Suzuki dirt bikes, but they each discovered there was a whole new level of bravery required when they made their road-racing debuts at the weekend.
More accustomed to racing his Suzuki RM-Z450 or Suzuki RM-Z250 dirt bikes in motocross, enduro and cross-country events, the main focus for Groombridge at the weekend was in actually avoiding any encounters with the dirt and staying on top of a 1000cc Suzuki GSX-R1000 superbike.
Groombridge is the reigning New Zealand enduro and cross-country champion, who is also ranked No.2 in the national MX2 motocross class, jumped at the chance to try a different motorcycling code at the weekend as the popular three-round Suzuki Series kicked off at Taupo's Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park.
With backing from Suzuki New Zealand, the two Kea Trailers Race Team dirt bike riders rolled into the pits at Taupo with just one aim in mind, to learn as much as they could about racing on tarmac.
Groombridge took the GSX-R1000 to race in the Formula Sport class and Head climbed on board a Suzuki GSX150F to make his road-racing debut in the fledgling GIXXER Cup competition.
The 28-year-old Groombridge finished second and eighth in his two outings, behind experienced road-racers Brendon Coad and Steve Bridge, and this was good enough for Groombridge to end up third overall on the day, a podium finish on his road-racing debut probably better than he could have dreamed of.
"I received a call about a week ago from (Suzuki's national superbike champion) Sloan Frost and he said he had a spare bike for me if I wanted to give it a go on a superbike. Went down to Wellington on Thursday (just last week) to pick the bike up and I managed to have a ride on a 'bucket' bike at a local kart track for about 40 minutes, so that was my first road-bike experience.
"I have ridden a road bike up and down the road before, but no significant distance. The transition went pretty well and my track times were pretty good, straight off the bat.
"It was a learning experience trying to find my braking markers at 260kmph and not using any rear brakes ... it's all front brake really. There were a few different things I had to figure out.
"The first few times at full throttle down the main straight were a bit scary, but then I got used to the speed and I was okay.
"I did have one 'off', when I low-sided the bike and slid into the 'kitty litter', but it was nothing too major." smiled Groombridge, who works as a locksmith in Taupo.
"I am committing to doing the whole Suzuki Series and also now will do the 2019 New Zealand Superbike Championships too. None of the dates clash with my enduro, motocross or cross-country events, so I'm free to race the superbike."
The GIXXER Cup class is a relatively new competition, hatched last year, and reserved for riders aged between 14 and 21 and all on board identical 150cc Suzuki GSX150F model bikes, but the 17-year-old Head was soon on the pace, settling in the end for 10th overall in the 17-rider field.
"I had a call only a couple of days ago from Brad (Groombridge) and he told me there was a GIXXER Cup bike available for me to ride if I wanted to," said Head.
"I thought, 'I've never ridden a road bike before but I'll give it a crack'.
"I learned a lot at the weekend, like learning how to lean over and just how much more grip you have than on a dirt bike. I feel comfortable on the GSX150F bike now and have gotten to grips with the different riding technique.
"My cross-country friend Zak (Fuller, from Taupiri) did really well at this GIXXER competition last year and I thought I'd like to give him a run for his money."
Hamilton's Jesse Stroud won the GIXXER Cup class on Sunday, finishing one point clear of Fuller, with Sanson's Shane Miller and Greymouth's Clark Fountain sharing third spot overall.
Head's father, Tony, owner of the innovative Kea Trailers NZ Ltd company, said the weekend's experience was a real eye-opener.
"It was a really good opportunity for the two guys. They obviously don't mind a little variation, which is why they both race motocross, enduro events and cross-country events too.
"They are both the kind of guys that if you give them two wheels they'll try to find a way to go faster on it. That's what I like about them ... they have adaptability and therefore, I guess from my point of view, marketability too.
"They are putting my trailer brand out there across all the various bike codes. Whether you're racing motocross or road-racing, everybody needs a trailer and that's why my product belongs here. This is good branding for us and good exposure too."
The riders now head to Manfeild (on the outskirts of Feilding) for round two of the Suzuki Series this coming weekend. The series wraps up with the riders tackling the world-famous Cemetery Circuit in Whanganui on Boxing Day.
After that it will be the five-round 2019 New Zealand Superbike Championships that will command their focus, the series kicking off at Mike Pero Motorsport Park, Christchurch, on January 5-6.
Class leaders in the 2018 Suzuki Series after Sunday’s first of three rounds are Wainuiomata's Shane Richardson (F1 superbike class); Whakatane's Damon Rees (F2 600cc class); Palmerston North’s Jacob Stroud (F3); Hamilton’s Jesse Stroud (GIXXER Cup); Whangarei’s Duncan Coutts (Post Classics, Pre-89, Senior); Auckland’s Scott Findlay (Post Classics, Pre-89, Junior); Auckland’s Brendon Coad (Bears, non-Japanese bikes, Seniors); Te Awamutu’s Gary Morgan (Bears, non-Japanese bikes, Seniors); Tauranga’s Duncan Hart (Super Motard class); England’s John Holden and Tauranga’s Robbie Shorter (F1 Sidecars); Tauranga’s Barry Smith and Tracey Bryan (F2 Sidecars).