NZ Superbike Grand Prix to be fiercely fought
The 2012 Castrol Power1 New Zealand Superbike Championship, starting with the New Zealand Grand Prix meeting in Christchurch this weekend, is the strongest for many years.
“There are half a dozen riders capable of winning races,” defending champion Andrew Stroud from Hamilton said as he prepared his campaign seeking his 10th national superbike championship.
Nineteen superbike riders are entered for the Grand Prix meeting at Powerbuilt Raceway, Ruapuna, and they include two very fast Australians – former New Zealand champion Robbie Bugden on a Suzuki and Wanganui Boxing Day winner Dan Stauffer a late entry on a Yamaha.
And now there is a new wave of young Kiwi riders coming to the fore, including Christchurch’s James Smith who is Bugden’s team-mate in the Triple R outfit.
Stroud and Bugden have fought titanic battles for the superbike title in recent seasons. Last year Bugden was recovering from a broken leg but now he is fit and race-sharp after another season in the Australian championship.
“Robbie showed at Hampton Downs that he’s definitely on form,” Stroud said. Bugden won both races at that meeting, the first round of December’s Suzuki International Tri-Series.
Stroud is still developing his David Reid Homes Waikato Suzuki, which has new suspension components. At Ruapuna it will be necessary to set up the suspension so that the bike does not wheelie under acceleration all the time, Stroud said.
James Smith showed good speed last season on a bike that was down on power. Now for the first time he has a full Suzuki superbike to race and he is out to make his mark.
“I’ve been cycling 30-40km every day or every second day,” he said. “I’m putting in a massive effort for sure.
“I had some bad luck last year but if I can get some better luck it should be a good year for us. I’m pretty confident.”
Smith will benefit from working with Bugden in the Christchurch-based Triple R team run by Peter “Red” Fenton.
Other members of the new generation include Nick Cole (Hamilton, Kawasaki) and Sloan Frost (Wellington, BMW), who have both already won top-level superbike races. Ryan Hampton from Christchurch has joined Taranaki rider Hayden Fitzgerald in the Castrol Honda team, while rookie Scott Moir from Taupo is showing great potential on his own Honda.
Established riders Ray Clee (Kumeu) and Craig Shirriffs (Feilding), both on Suzukis, have been on form lately, both scoring podium finishes in the Tri-Series.
Christchurch rider John Ross should be a leading contender in both the top classes, Superbike and 600cc Supersport, riding a BMW and Suzuki respectively. Very fit, he says it is not too difficult to handle so much top-level racing on one day.
In Supersport, his main rivals include defending champion Dennis Charlett of Christchurch and young Wellingtonian Glen Skachill, both on Suzukis, and 17-year-old Aucklander Jaden Hassan on a Yamaha. Fifteen-year-old Australian Josh McGrath is having his first season in this class but has already finished as high as fourth in a Tri-Series race.
The top two classes have qualifying on Saturday and two races each on Sunday. Other championship classes are Superlite (formerly F3). Pro Twins, 125 GP and Prolite 250, and they all have one race on Saturday then two on Sunday.
The final race in each class carries the Grand Prix title for that category.