Suzuki series dishes up Smorgasbord of Treats
The first of three rounds of this year's Suzuki Series at Taupo's Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park on Sunday had it all – suspense, thrill-a-minute motorcycle racing and certainly drama all the way.
There were internationals stars, returning former Kiwi champions, riders making their debut rides, a few even celebrating their debut victories, plenty of passing, a couple of crashes, wheelies and slides ... there was something for everyone.
And there is little time for anyone to catch their breath because more can be expected at round two on the outskirts of Feilding this coming weekend too. The series will have its traditional public street race spectacular to wrap it all up on Boxing Day, racing around Whanganui's famous Cemetery Circuit.
But there's plenty that will happen before then and the Suzuki Series riders will no doubt arrive at Manfeild Circuit Chris Amon this weekend with the adrenaline still coursing through their veins after a frenetic series opener in Taupo on Sunday.
Supporters of every bike brand had reason to celebrate, and possibly reason to commiserate too, after Sunday's racing at Taupo, this year's edition of the popular three-round Suzuki Series perhaps boasting more talent per kilometre of tarmac than has ever before been seen in New Zealand.
Wainuiomata’s Shane Richardson had more reason than most to break out the champagne late on Sunday, the 23-year-old taking a borrowed Kawasaki ZX10R bike to top the premier Formula One superbike class.
He didn't win a race, two runner-up finishes were good enough, and he will take a slender four-point advantage over defending Suzuki Series F1 champion Scott Moir (Suzuki GSX-R1000) to Manfeild this coming weekend.
Taupo's Moir twice finished third in this premier F1 class on Sunday, a solid performance and a good platform on which to build his title defence over the coming races.
The first F1 race on Sunday was won by Whakatane’s Mitch Rees and the second F1 race was won by his younger brother, fellow Honda CBR1000SP1 rider Damon Rees.
It was Richardson’s debut outing on a 1000cc superbike, the man from the Wellington region more familiar to race fans as a Supersport 600 class campaigner and one who has enjoyed plenty of success over recent years, including in the United States.
“I’m more than happy with this result, my first time in New Zealand racing on a big bike,” said Richardson afterwards.
“Battling with Damo (Rees) again feels like a bit of déjà vu from the 2017 season,” he said, referring to the year this pair battled for Supersport 600cc class honours at the nationals.
“The racing was so tight. It was good. It’s such a good class right now and I’m over the moon.
“I didn’t expect to be leaving this track with the points lead.
“Obviously I would have liked to win both races today and that was my goal, but, realistically, being my first time on a superbike, I didn’t think it was possible."
Interestingly, it was also Damon Rees' Suzuki Series debut on a superbike.
With three wins from four starts, it's probably fair to say that the 23-year-old Rees was the most dominant individual racing on Sunday.
The Team Rees Racing Honda man impressed by taking his Carl Cox Motorsport-backed Honda CBR600RR to qualify fastest and then win both races in the Formula Two (600cc) class on Sunday, setting a new F2 lap record in the process.
On both occasions he finished ahead of fellow Kiwi international Avalon Biddle (Kawasaki ZX6R), from Waimakariri, with Manukau's Toby Summers (Kawasaki ZX6R) claiming third overall for the day.
Then, perhaps even more remarkably, Whakatane's Rees qualified fastest in the 1000cc Formula One Superbike class.
Rees' elder brother, Mitch, took his Team Rees Racing Honda CBR1000SP1 to win the first of the day's two F1 races, but it was rising star Damon who stepped up to win the next race, his first ever victory on a superbike.
"Mitch celebrated his first superbike race win here at Taupo last year and now it was my turn," said an elated Damon Rees afterwards.
"Maybe there's something about the Rees family and this track, eh?" he smiled.
Unfortunately for the two Rees brothers, they were both unable to finish one of their two F1 outings – Damon ran off the track in the first F1 race and, because he was deemed by a marshal to have dropped the bike, he was not permitted to continue; Mitch failed to start the second F1 race when his bike threw a chain during the warm-up lap.
And so instead it was Richardson who was credited with the overall win in the F1 class, with Taupo's Moir taking the runner-up spot and Rangiora's Jake Lewis (Yamaha YZFR1) completing the F1 podium.
"Back-to-back wins in the F2 class was awesome ... that was certainly my plan at the start of the day," said Damon Rees, the 2017 national Supersport 600 champion.
"I earned pole position and I was reasonably comfortable winning those races. Avalon (Biddle) was riding exceptionally and she certainly pushed me to begin with. But I had just the little bit more.
"The first time I'd hopped back on a 1000cc superbike was only about three weeks ago. First race didn't finish so well for me but the second one did. I holeshot the race and led from start to finish. So that was three wins from four starts for me today ... we'll just quietly forget about the one where I got no result."
Damon Rees will complete this series racing both classes, but, for the upcoming nationals, he will concentrate solely on the superbike class.
"I'm feeling so at home on the superbike now and I think I'm only going to get faster."
Though F1 and F2 race wins eluded the Suzuki camp, they did still have plenty of reason to smile on Sunday.
Taupo's Brad Groombridge loves the power of his Suzuki dirt bikes, but he discovered there was a whole new level of bravery required when he made his debut at the weekend on a 1000cc superbike.
More accustomed to racing his Suzuki RM-Z450 or Suzuki RM-Z250 dirt bikes in motocross, enduro and cross-country events, his main focus at the weekend was in actually avoiding any encounters with the dirt and staying in control of a Suzuki GSX-R1000 superbike.
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 ... and no, he wasn't able to avoid a little accidental off-track dirt biking.
Groombridge raced in the Formula Sport class, the 28-year-old finishing second and eighth in his two outings, good enough for third overall, behind experienced road-racers Brendon Coad and Steve Bridge.
A podium finish on his road-racing debut probably better than Groombridge 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. I 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."
Leading standings after Sunday’s first of three rounds in the Suzuki Series are:
Formula One superbike: 1. Shane Richardson (Wainuiomata) 44 points; 2. Scott Moir (Taupo) 40; 3. Jake Lewis (Rangiora) 36.
Formula Two 600: 1. Damon Rees (Whakatane) 51 points; 2. Avalon Biddle (Waimakariri) 44; 3. Toby Summers (Manukau) 38.
Formula three: 1. Jacob Stroud (Palmerston North) 26 points; 2. Leigh Tidman (Taumarunui) 22; 3. Glen Skachill (Wellington) 20.
GIXXER Cup: 1. Jesse Stroud (Hamilton) 48 points; 2. Zak Fuller (Taupiri) 47; 3= Shane Miller (Sanson) and Clark Fountain (Greymouth) 38.
Post Classics, Pre-89, Senior: 1. Duncan Coutts (Whangarei) 51 points; 2. Peter Bogusz (Paraparaumu) 44; 3. Gian Louie (Hastings) 40.
Post Classics, Pre-89, Junior: 1. Scott Findlay (Auckland) 51 points; 2= Chris Sales (Palmerston North) and Dean Bentley (Lower Hutt) 42.
Bears (non-Japanese bikes) and Formula Sport, Seniors: 1. Brendon Coad (Auckland) 51 points; 2. Steve Bridge (Ngaruawahia) 40; 3= Brad Groombridge (Taupo) and Malcolm Bielski (Wellington) and Glen Eggleton (Rotorua) 35.
Bears (non-Japanese bikes) and Formula Sport, Seniors: 1. Gary Morgan (Te Awamutu) 45 points; 2. Stephen Bates 44; 3= Paul Jenkins (Kaikohe) and Robert Lammas (Palmerston North) 36.
Super Motard: 1. Duncan Hart (Tauranga) 51 points; 2. Jette Josiah (Taumarunui) 44; 3= Russell Josiah (Taumarunui) and Andrew Rudd (Ashburton) and Will Young (Wellington) 36.
F1 Sidecars: 1. John Holden and Robbie Shorter (England/Tauranga) 51 points; 2. Chris and Richard Lawrance (Warkworth) 42; 3. Ian Staples and Mark Thompson (Whanganui) 38.
F2 Sidecars: 1. Barry Smith and Tracey Bryan (Tauranga) 51 points; 2. Gary Bryan and Philip Hyde (Leceister, UK) 44; 3. Mark Halls and Darren Prentis (Auckland) 40.