JANUARY 8, 2023: It was an action-packed two days of high drama at the third round of six in the 2022-23 New Zealand Superbike Championships in Canterbury at the weekend.
Mike Pero Motorsport Park (Ruapuna) hosted what could turn out to be a pivotal weekend of racing as it was either a case of reputations being enhanced or fresh new talent snatching the spotlight over the two days and this made it a perfect entertainment package for the large crowd in attendance at the popular Christchurch venue.
Mechanical gremlins and a few crashes caused grief for a few title hopefuls, but mostly it was close handlebar-to-handlebar racing, with the requisite daring passing manoeuvres and insane out-braking attempts, that kept an appreciative crowd on their feet throughout the weekend.
Whakatane's defending national champion Mitch Rees was the leader in the premier 1000cc superbikes class after he had finished unbeaten at the preceding round at Feilding's Manfeild Circuit Chris Amon last month, but his position looked threatened when a rare fuel pump problem reared up as he sat on the start-line for race one at Ruapuna on Saturday.
It immediately put paid to his chances of keeping alive his remarkable win-streak, but he bravely battled on and nursed his bike to the finish that race in an unaccustomed 10th place, good enough to at least salvage a handful of points and still keep his championship lead intact.
Christchurch's Dale Finch won that fateful race, finishing ahead of Taupiri's Zak Fuller and Auckland's Dave Sharp, all three men thrilled to score the first superbike podium finishes of their respective careers.
With bike repairs completed overnight, Rees returned the following day to fight off heated challenges from 2020 national superbike champion and home town hero Alastair Hoogenboezem, winning both superbike races on Sunday, and so he was grateful to salvage his weekend.
Christchurch's Hoogenboezem had threatened to steal the thunder from Rees in the weekend's third and final superbike race – recognised as the GP title race – but his bike suddenly slowed, due to a mechanical gremlin, when he was in sight of the finish line and his challenge evaporated.
Rees therefore managed to extend his series lead to 65 points over Hoogenboezem at the top of the superbike standings.
Unfortunately for both Finch and Fuller, and Taupo's Scott Moir too, off-track excursions later in the weekend hampered their progress.
Riders who particularly shone out at the weekend included Whitby's Dave Fellows, Christchurch's Ben Rosendaal, Kumeu's Nick Southerwood and Nelson's Jonny Lewis (all racing in the Pro Twins class); Christchurch's Hunter Charlett (in the Supersport 150 class); and Invercargill's Cormac Buchanan (racing in both the Supersport 600 class and the Supersport 300 class as well), while Christchurch's Jake Lewis and Bulls rider Ashton Hughes also gave a good account of themselves in the Supersport 600 class battles and Hamilton's Jesse Stroud was impressive in the Supersport 300 class.
Rees, Fellows, Buchanan and Charlett also won the national GP titles in their respective classes.
Meanwhile, there will be little time for riders and spectators alike to catch their breath as the South Island also hosts round five next weekend, a full programme of races scheduled for the Teretonga Circuit, on the outskirts of Invercargill, on January 14-15.
Class leaders after round three at Ruapuna at the weekend are Rees (F1 Superbikes class, Honda); Hughes (F2 Supersport 600, Triumph); Rosendaal (Pro Twins, pre-2020 bikes, Suzuki); Jonny Lewis (Pro Twins, post-2020 bikes, Aprilia); Buchanan (Supersport 300, Yamaha); Charlett (Supersport 150, Yamaha); Lincoln's Hayden Freeman (250cc Production support class, Kawasaki); Rolleston's Logan Jackson (Supersport Lightweight support class, Suzonda).
"We had some great racing at Ruapuna across all the various classes. It brought out the best in terms of racing and it was a great competition. It was certainly top quality entertainment," said Motorcycling New Zealand road-racing commissioner Andy Skelton.
After racing at Teretonga next weekend there will be a short hiatus and the Hampton Downs-promoted Star Insure MotoFest will reignite the racing again when it hosts round five, on the weekend of March 4-5.
The sixth and final round is set for a return the Taupo International Motorsport Park and Events Centre on March 11-12.
This season's competition would not be possible without support from the following groups: Victoria MCC, Hampton Downs, Auckland MCC, MCI, Hamilton MCC, Southland Motorcycle Club, South Canterbury Motorcycle Club, Cemetery Circuit, MNZ and all the other supporting sponsors.
DATES FOR 2022-23 NZ MOTORCYCLE ROAD-RACE SEASON:
Suzuki International Series (and first two rounds of nationals):
- Round 1, Taupo, Dec 3rd and 4th (ABANDONED)
- Round 2, Manfeild, Dec 10th and 11th
- Whanganui's Cemetery Circuit, Dec 26th (third and final round of Suzuki International Series, but not part of the nationals)
- Round 3, Ruapuna, Jan 7th and 8th
- Round 4, Teretonga, Jan 14th and 15th
- Round 5, Hampton Downs, part of Moto Fest, Mar 4th and 5th
- Round 6, Taupo, Mar 11th and 12th
Credit: Words and photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com