It would be a brave person who’d bet against the Triple R Suzuki race team this summer.
Again guided by winning manager Red Fenton, the Triple R Suzuki motorcycle race team will mount a two-pronged assault on the coming season’s New Zealand Superbike Championships, set to kick off at Christchurch’s Ruapuna Raceway in January.
With three-time former champion Robbie Bugden returning from Australia to defend his 2009 Kiwi superbike crown and 600cc sports production class runner-up James Smith, of Christchurch, also stepping up to the bigger bike, there’s no reason to doubt that the Triple R team will again hog the podium.
Bugden, from Brisbane, first won the premier Kiwi motorcycle road-race crown in 2007, defended his title in 2008 and, to further underline his dominance, Bugden’s hat-trick win last season was his most comprehensive.
Bugden finished 29 points clear of fellow Suzuki ace Andrew Stroud, of Hamilton, when the 2009 season wrapped up in March and, while seven-time former champion Stroud will no doubt again be one of Bugden’s biggest threats for superbike honours, Smith (pictured above) expects that he will also be in the mix.
He’ll also have to contend with the awesome talents of Hamilton’s Sloan Frost (Suzuki), Taranaki’s Hayden Fitzgerald (Honda) and Feilding’s Craig Shirriffs (Honda), to name a few.
“As a superbike newbie, I don’t have any pressure on me to perform … except the pressure I’m putting on myself,” Smith said.
“I’m riding the 2009-model GSX-R1000 that Robbie used to win the title last year, so I know it’s a great bike. I rode it at Manfeild recently and was only half a second off the time set there by Stroud, so I know I’m on the pace.”
For Smith, the coming season will be particularly meaningful as he actually doubles his chances of winning a national title.
In addition to joining the superbike ranks for the first time, Smith will also reignite his bid to win the 600cc title that has so far narrowly eluded him on two separate occasions — he finished runner-up to fellow Christchurch racer Dennis Charlett (Suzuki) in 2008 and was runner-up to Australian Gareth Jones (Yamaha) last season.
With Jones not returning to defend his 600cc title this coming season, the tag of “title favourite” perhaps now sits solidly with the 29-year-old Smith.
“The superbike bid is really just a learning thing for me. Of course I will be trying very hard to win the superbike title but it’s actually the 600cc class that I’m concentrating on.”
Although most certainly a leading contender for 600 class honours, Smith won’t have it all his own way with riders such as Charlett, Hamilton’s Nick Cole (Kawasaki), Wellington’s Glen Skachill (Suzuki), Wellington’s Craig Frethey (Honda), Taupo’s Jamie Rajek (Honda), Christchurch’s former 125GP champion Cameron Jones (Suzuki) and Hamilton’s 2009 Pro Twins champion Sam Love (Yamaha) to contend with.
“Winning the 600cc title is a box I want to tick before I move on to the superbike class fulltime,” said Smith.
“But, in saying that, I am absolutely loving the superbike. The GSX-R1000 really suits me. I have to be careful though, because, even with just a little twist of the throttle, quite a lot happens.”
If Smith rides “carefully” and his throttle control is again spot-on this season, it could very easily end up Suzuki 1-2-3 in the superbike class by the time the national series wraps up at Hampton Downs, near Meremere, on March 28.
The dates are:
Round 1, Ruapuna, Christchurch (including the NZ Grand Prix titles) January 16th/17th
Round 2, Teretonga, Invercargill January 23-24
Round 3, Levels Raceway, Timaru January 30-31
Round 4 Manfeild Raceway, February 27-28.
Round 5, Hampton Downs, Auckland, March 27-28 (including the NZ TT titles).
Words and photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com