NZ Tri-Series this weekend at Hampton Downs – New Zealand’s richest motorcycle road race series kicks off at Hampton Downs on Saturday

More than $36,000 prize money is up for grabs for the 2012 Suzuki Tri-Series, but the biggest question is who can stop Hamilton’s Andrew Stroud (Suzuki GSXR1000) from taking a fifth successive Suzuki Tri-Series?

Any one of a dozen top Kiwis have a shot at stealing a race win, however, if they want a chance for series glory, they need to beat Stroud on a consistent basis.

Fellow Hamiltonian Nick Cole is one such rider in the premier Formula 1 class, riding his Red Devil Racing Kawasaki ZX-10R Superbike. Cole, 26, finished second last year after a string of top 3 finishes while nursing a recently broken collarbone, but this year he has been training hard.

“I always ride to win!” Cole says, “We’ve been to the dyno a couple of times and made some good gains, so the Kawasaki is definitely strong. I came pretty close last year but Sloan is looking pretty sharp, so it is going to be harder again this year. It’s the biggest field I’ve ever seen on a Superbike, so it’s going to be an awesome event as always.”

Cole is ultra-fast around Wanganui’s Cemetery Circuit, held on Boxing Day, where he enjoyed three legendary battles for second with Stroud, behind Australian Dan Stauffer. “I heard Stauffer isn’t coming back so the next guy last year was me, so hopefully we can turn that into firsts, not seconds! Stroud is talking about retiring so maybe he’ll be kind to me?”

This year is the 60th anniversary of the Cemetery Circuit, where three-time Marlboro Series champ and Wanganui winner Pat Hennen makes a very special return to join many former winners in a Legends Parade before racing starts, just after 11.00am. Andrew Stroud will also be on the Britten V1000.

Third in the 1977 World 500cc Grand Prix championship, the American will be guest of honour at the 60th reunion dinner in Wanganui on Boxing Day evening.

Sloan ‘Choppa’ Frost won both races on Sunday during an Auckland Motorcycle Club meeting, against strong Suzuki Tri-Series contenders, and NZ’s fastest refrigeration service manager is looking to carry his success into the Suzuki Tri-Series. The 31 year old is now based in Wellington, and has ramped up his pre-season training, which includes boxing, but reckons he won’t be pulling any punches from his Valvoline BMW S1000RR when the flag drops!

“This year I’ve been concentrating on fitness and strength work, I’ve been doing a lot of boxing, heaps of cross-over sports, and BMX,” Frost expands.

“The aggression and the confrontation of having someone in your face punching you is great, if you get into a good fight out on the track. I’ll hold all my punches and hopefully let the results speak for themselves.

“My plan is to win everything basically. I consider myself as one of the front runners and one of the guys who can take it out – if I am on the track then I want to win! The new BMW has a lot of extra grip from the new chassis and the traction control system, and also the bike has more mid-range power.”

Friends off the track but rivals on it, James Smith and John Ross drove up from Christchurch for last Sunday’s Hampton Downs meeting to fettle their bikes for what will surely become one of the greatest showdowns for some time.

Smith is racing a Castrol Honda CBR1000RR Superbike this year and can’t wait for the first big-bore race. “It’s going really good and I’m just trying different things. I want to win, and nothing else! I got second overall at Invercargill during the Burt Munro by finishing second, first and second, to John Ross.”

Christchurch racer John Ross won the prestigious Burt Munro road race at Teretonga two weeks ago by taking two victories in three heats. Ross will ride a Repsol Suzuki GSXR1000 in the F1 class and a Repsol GSXR600 in F2.

Ross said, “We didn’t do the street races there, but my father, Larry Ross, won the NZ championship Long Track race, so that was good. For the third year in a row I’m riding two bikes, but just the first two rounds.”

The Suzuki Tri-Series is staged over three rounds, Hampton Downs on Saturday, Manfeild on Sunday December 15, and Wanganui on Boxing Day.

Ray Clee (Kumeu) has been testing his new RCM Suzuki GSXR1000 and was looking very strong last Sunday at Hampton Downs while dicing with Stroud. “Sloan is definitely on the case, and Andrew will be on it, so it is going to be a good series!

“I want to be competitive. Here I might struggle but hopefully at Manfeild we’ll more competitive. We turned up there last year and the bike worked well.”

Clee lost victory on the last lap in both 2011 Manfeild heats to Cole and then Stroud respectively.

Brisbane-based Karl Morgan will ride Clee’s second RCM Suzuki Superbike in his first foray on a large capacity motorcycle. A long-time 600cc exponent, Morgan is treating his first season on a 1000cc Superbike as a learning year, but if he rides it as well as his old Suzuki GSXR600, the Kiwi may not be far from the podium.

Former NZ champion Tony Rees (Whakatane) is back in a Superbike saddle, this year on a Tony Rees Motorcycles’ Honda Fireblade. The 45 year old is riding as sharp as ever on his new CBR1000RR.

Rees said at Hampton Downs, “I’m doing all the Tri-Series this year including at Wanganui. I like what the Honda has to offer and I’m here to have a good shot at it, I’m not going anywhere to get my arse kicked!”

Rees last rode the Cemetery Circuit in 2002, when he broke the lap record.

Feilding’s Craig Shirriffs has a proven track record on his GSXR1000 Superbike, and is known to be very fast at Manfeild and Wanganui, where the 39 year old drainlayer has enjoyed many victories.

“Ultimately I hope to win – the only reason we go racing is to try and win. We’re still trying to find a base setting because we’ve changed to Michelin tyres for this season, but I had a good race with Sloan at Manfeild in August, and we went near as fast as we go in summertime!” Shirriffs says.

Fans will get more than their money’s worth of Superbike action with several other top-level racers capable of taking a win on the right day. Dennis Charlett (Christchurch, Underground Brown team GSXR1000) makes a welcome return to the premier class after winning several NZ 600cc Supersport titles in recent times, including 2012. Ryan Hampton (Christchurch) gets faster each year on his Hampton Honda CBR1000RR, and Hayden Fitzgerald (New Plymouth) should go well on a new Suzuki NZ GSXR1000.

Katikati rider Rhys Holmes (BMW S1000RR) displayed flashes of brilliance last year, while German racer Thomas Kreutz, who finished second in the 2010 German Superbike championship, is entered on a 600cc Yamaha R6.

Whatever happens on race day, you can be sure Andrew Stroud won’t let anyone go past him without a solid fight. Stroud has a new Brother Suzuki GSXR1000 and spent last Sunday at Hampton Downs setting up the new Ohlins suspension package. “Sloan’s best time was less than 0.2s faster than mine, so we’re not too far apart. But he is riding very well.” Stroud said.

“My new bike is a little bit better than it has ever been. I feel that when the time comes I should be able to do what is needed to hang in there at the front. I’m probably a second off what I’ve been around here [Hampton Downs], but at the same time, when I feel the need to push harder, it’s usually there!”

2012 Suzuki Tri-Series Schedule;

Rnd 1: Hampton Downs, Saturday December 8

Rnd 2: Manfeild, Sunday December 16

Rnd 3: Wanganui Cemetery Circuit, Wednesday December 26

Photo credits to: Terry Stevenson