DECEMBER 19, 2022: Whanganui on Boxing Day is where the first motorcycle road-racing trophies of the season will be handed out.
Perhaps the most eagerly-awaited road-race spectacle of the year, racing on the twisting streets of Whanganui's famous Cemetery Circuit on Boxing Day, is a must-do for serious bike racers and equally a must-see for dedicated fans.
The racing is always exciting and it's one of the few places in the world where spectators can stand within an arm's-length of the action, albeit behind sturdy safety barriers.
Just like the famous Isle of Man TT event, the challenge for riders here is much enhanced, with no reminder needed of the dangers as the racers flash past concrete curbs, telephone poles, road signs and over railway lines at full throttle, as dozens of similarly-talented riders nip at their elbows. They arrive in the sharp turns at truly scary speeds and there really is no margin for error.
There is no other event like this in New Zealand.
One rider who will surely be worth looking out for is home-town hero Richie Dibben, the Suzuki star from Whanganui on the verge of wrapping up the Supermoto title on Boxing Day, amazingly the first time ever that this class will also be recognised as a national title.
"I'm pretty excited to see the supermoto class of racing being recognised like this," said the 33-year-old father-of-three.
"It has been a few years since I raced a supermoto bike around Whanganui, but I've always loved being able to put on a show for my home-town fans in particular," he said.
"I'm leading the class (after the racing at Manfeild Circuit Chris Amon just over a week ago), but I'm not too stressed about what may happen at Whanganui on Boxing Day. As it stands, I can probably afford to not finish the first race at Whanganui and maybe still win the title, but I'm not taking anything for granted.
"I'm in a good position and my Suzuki RMZ450 has been performing flawlessly."
Dibben has raced supermoto bikes internationally, in Australia and throughout Asia and "in other parts of the world too", he said, also pointing out that all of the racers across all of the various classes were "itching to get out there on track again after the lockdowns" imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dibben can also be seen in action racing his Suzuki GSX-R1000 in the formula one/superbike class.
Because of the pandemic, the Suzuki International Series was not run in December 2021 and, with the street fighting at Whanganui the day after Christmas also the jewel in the crown for the series, capacity crowds can probably be expected this time around.
The Whanganui event is highly-regarded internationally and has been a must-do for some of the world's most famous "street fighters" in the past, men such as British and Isle of Man legends Michael Dunlop, Guy Martin, Peter Hickman and Richard Cooper, among others.
The Cemetery Circuit races are foremost on the racing calendar and, although there is already a hint at the likely title winners after racing at round two of the Suzuki International Series at the Manfeild in Feilding just over a week ago, anything can still happen.
The various class leaders after racing at Manfeild, and possible favourites to win at Whanganui, are Whakatane's Mitch Rees (F1 Superbikes class); Bulls rider Ashton Hughes (F2 Supersport 600); Taupo's Karl Hooper (F3 Pro Twins); Invercargill's Cormac Buchanan (Supersport 300); Wellington's Malcolm Bielski (Formula Sport/Bears, senior); Whanganui's Jeff Croot (Formula Sport/Bears, junior); Silverdale's Tyler King (Supersport 150); Upper Hutt's Kieran Mair (Gixxer 150); Hastings rider Gian Louie (Pre-89 post classics, senior); Auckland's Scott Findlay (Pre-89 post classics, junior); Whanganui's Richie Dibben (Supermoto); Auckland's Adam Unsworth and Bryce Rose (F1 sidecars); Whanganui's Bryan Stent and Dan Franzen (F2 sidecars).
Suzuki International Series dates:
- 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)
Credit: Words and photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com