Boxing Day Superbike Battle at Whanganui
The final round of the 2016 Suzuki Series at Whanganui promises to be a cracker on Boxing Day with a world champion and three riders with 16 Isle of Man TT victories in the mix.
Series leader Sloan Frost and Tony Rees won an F1 Superbike race each during the opening round at Taupo while Horst Saiger won both legs at Manfeild Circuit Chris Amon during round two.
With 91 points, Frost has a slim three point lead for his Fujitsu TSS Red Baron Suzuki NZ GSXR1000 team over Liechtenstein-based Saiger, who won the series in 2014 on his Red Devil Racing Kawasaki ZX-10R. Both riders went to Whanganui equal on points a year ago but Saiger suffered a crash which left Frost to take the 2015 Suzuki Series.
Neither rider won last year as Tony Rees, 49, took his Honda Rider Insurance CBR1000RR to victory in both Suzuki Series points races, plus the prestigious Robert Holden Memorial – his sixth feature race win since 1990! Rees is eight points adrift of Frost and all three riders have a chance of winning the 2016 Suzuki Series.
With 25 points for a win, 22 for second and 20 points for third, for Suzuki Series victory there are several scenarios which could play out. If Rees wants the title he has to win both F1 superbike races, with Frost placing no better than third. But if Frost gets a second and a third position the pair will be equal on points. If either secure the one point for Pole position then the Suzuki Series is theirs.
Rees was unstoppable last year, and it turns out he was also giving out riding lessons to his following rivals, “Whanganui is one of those places where you pull the bike out of the van and if it works you can have a good day, and I’ve had that for a bit. My Honda has been nice to ride, it’s a different bike to last year, it doesn’t have the most horsepower but it is very smooth and it’s handling really well. I always go there to give it a nudge, but you can only do what you can do, it’s always nice to win but the guys in front are riding really well,” Rees explains.
Saiger would win the title if he wins both races, or wins at least one race and gains second in the other – if Frost is second and third. Saiger says, “Now it’ll be my third time there. For sure we’ll make it better than last year because in my first year (2014) we had a good plan. But in the second year we thought the bike is really doing well so we do things completely different. At the end it didn’t work out, I tried to push too hard in the wrong place and I crashed, so everything was really bad. Only in the last race I could follow Tony Rees for a couple of laps where I saw how easy he was going, which was completely the other way that I tried, and that was much better. So, I take this knowledge with me for this year.”
For Frost to win the title he has to win both races or place second once to Saiger, so he can’t afford to cruise. “Last year we had a problem, in practice we had a tip-over sensor that cut out so I lost that practice, which meant my qualifying time was slow,” Frost says. “This year we’ve been doing our homework and my Suzuki has such good punch off the corners it will be a good bike for Whanganui. We are going to gear it a bit differently this year, I learnt stuff last year that I wasn’t doing in previous years, after following Tony a bit. We’ve got two Suzuki Series races to knock out, and then we’ve got to try to get Michael Dunlop to take away the Robert Holden race. That’s why he’s come here and it is pretty important to him.”
Suzuki NZ GSXR1000 mounted Michael Dunlop might have a say on who finishes where, but his sights are set on the Robert Holden Memorial trophy. The Northern Irishman is the fastest rider ever around the gruelling Isle of Man TT course with an average speed of 215.591kmh (133.962 mph).
Dunlop’s 13 Isle of Man TT wins are testament his competition need to take the 27 year old seriously, so winning at Whanganui should be a walk in the park? “Obviously the circuit here is not what we’re used to at home so we just need to keep pushing and see where we end up. Whanganui is not like a road circuit, it’s a couple of road ends by the looks of things, so it’s not what I call a road circuit with fifth gear turns – the real big stuff. Whanganui is more stop-start stuff but we can’t really judge it until we get there. So I’ll take it as it comes.”
Tony Rees raced against Michael Dunlop’s uncle, the late great Joey Dunlop, in 1992, so there’s added interest to see how the younger Dunlop fares against Rees 25 years later.
20 year old Daniel Mettam wrapped up his 2015 F2 600 Suzuki Series title with a win at Whanganui last year. The Aucklander rode very strongly at Manfeild on his Team RCM Suzuki GSXR1000 and may be another rider who could get between the leading F1 Superbike contenders to re-shuffle the points. Scott Moir (Penny Homes Suzuki GSXR1000), Ray Clee (Team RCM Suzuki GSXR1000), and bLU cRU Yamaha R1 rider Hayden Fitzgerald can never be discounted to make the podium.
Toby Summers and his UK-based Barnes Jenkins Insurance team-mate, James Flitcroft, 20, are another pair of riders capable of winning if everything goes right on the day.
If Tony Rees wins the Suzuki Series premier class, can his 21 year old son, Damon Rees, lock up the F1 600 title to keep both trophies in the family? Damon finished the 2015 Suzuki Series second in the F2 600 class and this year leads the undercard series on his Honda Rider Insurance CBR600RR by 12 points from Shane Richardson, on his Wainui Joinery Kawasaki ZX-6R.
Damon Rees says, “I’ll go there and just see what happens because you don’t know till you get there. I’ll do the best that I can, if I can win then I will win, but if I can’t then I’ll settle for second, as second in both races is good enough to win the series. There’s definitely a bit of weight off my shoulders going there but I’ll do my best.”
Fellow Wellingtonian Rogan Chandler is a distant third riding his TSS Red Baron Triumph 675 and is riding remarkably well however, he’ll need to watch his back around the Cemetery Circuit as the experienced Hayden Fitzgerald, of New Plymouth, is only one point behind. Rising Auckland star Nathanael Diprose (RCM Suzuki GSXR600) is just two points adrift of Fitzgerald, effectively leaving third place still up for grabs in the F2 600 championship.
The two sidecar races are ‘must see’ events as five-time World Sidecar champion Tim Reeves has flown all the way from the UK just to race at Whanganui on a Carl Cox Motorsport Suzuki F1 sidecar with passenger Mark Wilkes, who was unable to race last year.
Two teams are locked on equal points for the Suzuki Series F1 Sidecar title and both have the pedigree to win it. John Holden/Robbie Shorter are tied on 94 points with Barry Smith and Tracey Bryan, who plan to race their Carl Cox Motorsport Suzuki F2 sidecar to be more competitive around the twisting Cemetery Circuit.
Barry Smith, 57, and Tracey Bryan took victory in both F1 Sidecar races at Manfeild on their fast F1 ‘chair’. British sidecar rider John Holden, 60, and kiwi passenger Robbie Shorter were second in the opening leg on their visibly slower Barnes Racing LCR Honda 600 F2 machine, but were relegated to third in race two by an improving Spike Taylor and Craig Pedersen on their Mobility Wairarapa LCR GSXR1000 sidecar.
The Warkworth-based Chris Lawrance/Richard Lawrance brothers (Shorai Anderson R1) and the Pete ‘Pirate’ Goodwin/Kendal Dunlop duo are getting faster on their Shorai Anderson R1 sidecar, so the entertainment won’t stop until the chequered flag.
All of these teams might be lucky to win a race because serial Suzuki Series winners Adam Unsworth and Stu Dawes have decided to make a return for the final round on their Boss Engineering Eni Windle F1 machine. The pair were injured during practice for the opening round at Taupo and will be keen to make amends.
Wellington racer Glen Skachill leads the Formula 3 class on his i-Tools NSR300. If Leigh Tidman can repair his Jilesen Contractors RS450 in time the battles will be close.
Skachill is also leading the Post Classic Senior class on his Bimota YB8 although he’ll have stiff competition around the tight street circuit from Jay Lawrence, Eddie Kattenburg, and Paul Pavletich who is making a one-off appearance on a Yamaha OW01 750.
Tauranga rider Colin MacGregor leads the BEARS category on a BMW S1000RR while Duncan Hart, also of Tauranga, enjoys a 12 point lead from Ashton Hughes in Supermoto. He might struggle to claim the Supermoto title again this year however watch out for Richard Dibben at or near the front of the pack as he’ll be trying to win both heats to make it five wins from six races following his race two crash at Taupo.
The action continues at Whanganui on Boxing Day for the final round of the Suzuki Series.