The contrasts don’t come much more extreme than this.
Although quite shy by nature, Honda team-mates Ryan Hampton and Hayden Fitzgerald are certainly expressive when they don their racing leathers and climb aboard their 1000cc superbikes.
Christchurch’s Hampton and Hawera’s Fitzgerald have taken a little time to warm to one another, but not because there’s any friction in the Castrol Honda race team pits, quite the contrary.
“It’s just taken us a bit of time to open up to one another because we’re both very quiet,” Fitzgerald explained. “But now we get on great and share bike settings and things like that.
“I guess we’re both completely different characters on the bikes as we are when we’re off them. When we put on out lids (helmets), it’s an entirely different story.
“We’re in the same class and both of us want to win, but there’s never any dirty riding between us.”
The test of that friendly rivalry will come this weekend when the pair tackle the first round of five in the New Zealand Superbike Championships on Hampton’s home track, Ruapuna Park, on the outskirts of Christchurch.
“I finished fourth in the superbike class last year … not far off third place … and the No.3 spot is the tasty number I’m looking for. A top-three finish would be fantastic,” said the 26-year-old Fitzgerald.
Hampton finished ninth in the superbike class last season.
“Ryan and I have as good a chance as anyone of finishing among the top three. It’s just a matter of being consistent throughout what really is quite a short series (there are just 10 superbike races to make up the championship, two at each of the five rounds).”
Of course Hampton and Fitzgerald will also have to fend off such illustrious opponents as Hamilton’s defending nine-time champion Andrew Stroud (David Reid Homes Mobil 1 Suzuki), Australian three-time former New Zealand superbike champion Robbie Bugden (Triple R Suzuki), from Brisbane, former national 600cc class champion Nick Cole (Red Devil Kawasaki), of Hamilton, Feilding’s Craig Shirriffs (Suzuki) and Tauranga’s Sloan Frost (BMW), to name just a few.
Christchurch has a strong connection with this weekend’s racing.
In addition to Hampton and Canterbury-based Australian rider Bugden, Christchurch Suzuki star James Smith could also be expected to feature in the superbike class. Smith finished sixth overall last season.
Meanwhile, in the other bike categories, local race fans should also look out for Canterbury riders Dennis Charlett, the defending national champion in the 600cc supersport class, and national 600cc No.2 John Ross, also of Christchurch; Rangiora’s Jake Lewis, the 2011 125GP champion; Seth Devereux, the defending champion in the 250 Prolites class; and other Christchurch riders Robbie Stokes, Cameron Jones, Cameron Hudson and brothers James, Alastair and Matthew Hoogenboezem.
© Words and photos by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com