–  NZ SBK heads to Hampton Downs
–  Superbike contender has to stick neck out

Craig Shirriffs will have to go outside his comfort zone if he is to sustain his challenge for the New Zealand Superbike Championship at Hampton Downs this weekend.

The Feilding racer is having his best season yet and has been the only Kiwi to beat Australian Robbie Bugden, the reigning champion, so far in this series.

Going into the penultimate round of the championship Shirriffs stands second in the championship, 24 points behind the Australian. He likes the Hampton Downs track mostly but has vivid memories of it biting him in the past, especially the tricky first corner.

“Turn one’s pretty interesting,” Shirriffs says. “It’s blind and bloody fast and it drops away from you quite steeply.

“It’s good, it’s one of my favourite parts of the track, but I’m probably not as strong there as I need to be – that’s probably because I crashed there three times in one weekend.”

He agrees with the saying that you find your limits by exceeding them. “Well that’s the only way you can find them, isn’t it,” he says.

“You’ve got be prepared to go outside your comfort zone – some people can do it, some people can’t. I don’t do it as often as I used to.”

Apart from fellow Suzuki racer Bugden, Shirriffs expects strong competition from Wellington’s Sloan Frost (BMW), Hamilton’s Nick Cole (Kawasaki) and Christchurch riders Dennis Charlett (Suzuki) and James Smith (Honda). Frost has been testing intensively to get more speed out of his bike.

The second Superbike race on Sunday has extra significance as it carries the New Zealand TT (Tourist Trophy) title and the Geoff Perry Memorial Trophy. Perry, a Kiwi racing internationally, was killed in an air crash in Tahiti 40 years ago.

Fans had been expecting to see nine-times champion Andrew Stroud back in action this weekend after he missed the three South Island rounds in January because of a broken collarbone suffered in a crash in December. But the Hamilton star will be there only as a spectator.

“I feel fine but the hospital doctors won’t give me a medical clearance,” he says.

Stroud – now 45 — had been hinting that he would retire at the end of this season but now he says he will definitely be back next year trying to claim his 10th title.

John Ross from Christchurch enjoys a solid lead in the 600cc Supersport class on his Suzuki but Auckland teenager Jaden Hassan is very fast at Hampton Downs on his Yamaha and will be trying hard to make up at least some of the points deficit.

As usual this class is hotly contested with other contenders including Jeremy Holmes (Invercargill, Honda), Alastair Hoogenboezem (Christchurch, Suzuki), Rhys Holmes (Katikati, Yamaha) and Jake Lewis (Christchurch, Yamaha).

Other championship classes are Superlite, 650 Pro Twins, 125 GP, 250 Production and Sidecars. These classes will have one race each on Saturday and two on Sunday, while Superbikes and Supersport will have qualifying on Saturday and two longer races on Sunday. The final race in each category carries the TT title for that class.

Attached photo show Craig Shirriffs leading James Smith and Nick Cole at Timaru earlier this season.