Suzuki hero wins memorial race thriller
DECEMBER 26, 2019: He came, he saw and he conquered ... visiting British champion Richard Cooper swept the major trophies at this year's edition of the popular Suzuki International Series.
The Suzuki hero from Nottingham was invited to New Zealand to race for the first time this year and he delivered all that was expected of him when he wrapped up the premier Formula One class outright at the series' third and final round on Whanganui's famous Cemetery Circuit on Boxing Day.
He then exceeded those expectations when he also clinched victory in the glamour all-capacities Robert Holden Memorial feature race at Whanganui.
The Robert Holden race win came at the end of a thrilling handlebar-to-handlebar battle with Whakatane's Damon Rees, the young man who is shortly to head off-shore to challenge Cooper on his home turf as the likeable Englishman seeks to defend his British Superstock 1000 title in 2020.
The 36-year-old Cooper (Suzuki GSX-R1000) showed right from the opening round of the Suzuki International Series, in Taupo on December 7-8, that he was a fast learner, taking virtually no time at all to learn the unfamiliar Kiwi race tracks, although he was forced to settle for overall runner-up during the Taupo weekend, ending the event nine points behind Bay of Plenty's Rees.
Cooper came on strong at round two at Manfeild a week later, wiping out the deficit and rocketing to a one-point series lead over Rees.
Although Cooper had his hands full battling Rees' elder brother Mitch at Whanganui's final round on Boxing Day – Mitch Rees winning both F1 races on the day – this was not too much of a concern to Cooper, who knew that it was really only Damon Rees that he needed to keep at bay.
Cooper responded to Mitch Rees' back-to-back F1 class wins at Whanganui by twice finishing runner-up, while Damon Rees finished third both times, and this was easily enough for Cooper to win the series outright, ending up five points clear of Damon Rees, with Mitch Rees claiming third overall for the series, a distant 29 points further back.
Damon Rees led early in the 10-lap Robert Holden Memorial feature race, with Cooper and Mitch Rees in hot pursuit.
It stayed like this for the next eight laps, until the leaders started lapping other riders and that's when Cooper pounced, zipping past Damon Rees and into the lead, which he held until the end.
Taupo's defending Suzuki Series champion Scott Moir and Glen Eden's national superbike champion Daniel Mettam rounded out the top five in the Robert Holden race.
"I had no answer for Mitch (in the F1 class races) today," said Cooper.
"His pace was unbelievable and he broke the lap record here at Whanganui. I was comfortable and I just did what I had to do to win the series. In the last race we always put a little bit more on the line and I saw my opportunity when the back-markers came into play.
"I had planned to pass him on the first corner of the last lap, but I had an issue with my brakes and the lever was coming right back to the bar. I had brake fade because the Robert Holden race was so soon after our second F1 superbike race and the brake pads were just too hot.
"I was adjusting the brakes as I was riding and that was tricky.
"To come here and win this series for Sloan Frost Suzuki and TSS Red Baron is amazing, but then to top it all off by winning the Robert Holden race too is pretty special."
Cooper said he'd love to return and race again in the Suzuki International Series next year ... adding "it would be a shame not to come back".
Meanwhile, Auckland's Toby Summers won the 600cc Formula Two class at Whanganui's finale, finishing the day ahead of Hastings rider Adam Chambers and Whanganui's Richie Dibben, although Upper Hutt’s Rogan Chandler had done enough at the earlier two rounds to clinch the series win for this class.
Hamilton's Jesse Stroud, the 17-year-old son of Suzuki's nine-time national superbike champion Andrew Stroud, won the GIXXER Cup class for a second consecutive season.
Other class winners in the series this year were Taumarunui's Leigh Tidman (Formula Three); Whanganui's Ashley Payne (Formula Sport/Bears, senior); North Shore’s Gui Mendes (Formula Sport/Bears, junior); Hastings’ Gian Louie (Post Classics, Pre 89, senior); Lower Hutt’s Dean Bentley (Post Classics, Pre 89, junior); Auckland’s Peter Goodwin and Kendal Dunlop (F1 sidecars); Tauranga’s Barry Smith and Tracey Bryan (F2 sidecars); Whanganui’s Richie Dibben (Supermoto); Whanganui's Bryan Stent and Tracey Bryan (Classic sidecars).
Leading standings after the third and final round of the 2019 Suzuki International Series at Whanganui's Cemetery Circuit on Boxing Day:
Formula One Superbikes: 1. UK’s Richard Cooper 162 points; 2. Whakatane’s Damon Rees 157; 3. Whakatane's Mitch Rees 128.
Formula Two (600cc): 1. Upper Hutt’s Rogan Chandler 134 points; 2. Palmerston North’s Ashton Hughes 124; 3. Auckland’s Toby Summers 123.5.
Formula Three: 1. Taumarunui’s Leigh Tidman 175 points; 2. France’s Xavier Denis 133; 3. Auckland’s Matt Dunlop 121.
GIXXER Cup: 1. Hamilton’s Jesse Stroud 114 points; 2. Whanganui’s Caleb Gilmore 132; 3. Whanganui’s Cameron Goldfinch 111.
Formula Sport/Bears, senior: 1. Whanganui’s Ashley Payne 117 points; 2. Ngaruawahia’s Steve Bridge 112; 3. Whanganui’s Dwayne Bishop 110.
Formula Sport/Bears, junior: 1. North Shore’s Gui Mendes 126 points; 2. Whanganui's Blane Hannah 121; 3. Palmerston North's Robert Lammas 117.
Post Classics, Pre 89, senior: 1. Hastings’ Gian Louie 165 points; 2. Invercargill’s Jon Rawcliffe 126; 3. Napier’s Eddie Kattenberg 123.
Post Classics, Pre 89, junior: 1. Lower Hutt’s Dean Bentley 142 points; 2. Woodville’s Kieren O’Neill 131; 3. Castor Bay’s Scott Findlay 118.
F1 sidecars: 1. Auckland’s Peter Goodwin and Kendal Dunlop 150 points; 2. Australia’s Jeremy Joyce and Whanganui’s Louise Blythe 144; 3. Christchurch's Dennis Charlett and Dan Jenkins 120.
F2 sidecars: 1. Tauranga’s Barry Smith and Tracey Bryan 171 points; 2. Australia's Sam Watson and New Zealand's Jo Mickleson 96; 3. France's France's Estelle Le Blond and Belgium's Frank Claeys 95.
Supermoto: 1. Whanganui’s Richie Dibben 153 points; 2. Taumarunui's Russell Josiah 118; 3. Whanganui’s James Clarke 117.
Classic sidecars: 1. Whanganui's Bryan Stent and Tracey Bryan 50 points; 2. Hastings' David Black and Dan Franzen 40; 3. Whanganui's James and Lucy Dowman 36.
Credit: Words by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com