There simply aren’t enough superlatives to describe the depth of talent, wealth of excitement, level of energy or scale of entertainment on show at the opening round of the 2019 Suzuki International Series at Taupo at the weekend.
The picturesque Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park, just outside Taupo, hosted the first round of three in the popular series on Saturday and Sunday with the organisers keeping a weather eye out for the arrival of a predicted storm and, as forecast, heavy rains did arrive midway through Sunday afternoon, forcing the meeting to be abandoned, but not before two rounds of spectacular races had already been held.
It was a satisfying outcome for everyone concerned, the event lucky to avoid most of the rough weather that lashed much of the country, storms causing landslides, power outages and massive flooding in many parts of the country.
But for Saturday and most of Sunday, it was frantic and fast-paced fury of the motorcycling kind that dominated proceedings, with every class boasting capacity fields and an appreciative crowd on hand to witness the action.
Whakatane brothers Damon and Mitch Rees (both Honda) had their hands full battling with visiting British superbike star Richard Cooper (pictured above) in the 1000cc Formula One class, although Damon Rees eventually rode off with two impressive wins and he therefore leads the class by nine points from Cooper, with Mitch Rees claiming the final podium spot for the weekend, just two points adrift of Suzuki rider Cooper.
Cooper showed he is a very fast learner, having seen the Taupo circuit for only the first time at the weekend and he’ll be in unfamiliar territory again when he arrives at Manfeild, on the outskirts of Feilding, for round two in the series this coming weekend (December 14-15) and also at the traditional series finale on the public streets of Whanganui, with the riders tearing around the world-famous Cemetery Circuit, on Boxing Day (Thursday, December 26).
“I had some track time on Friday and learned a lot. I think I’ve proved I’m here for the fight,” said Cooper, the 36-year-old international superstar from Nottingham.
He finished on the podium at the famous North West 200 event in Ireland earlier this year and that speaks volumes about the talent of this man, although a modest Cooper is mindful that some of the Kiwis are world class too.
“The competition here in New Zealand has been tough and I like that. It’s nice to come over here and see that riders are as strong as they are. You never know, when you travel to another country, what the local riders are capable of. They’ve opened my eyes a little bit. Of course they know these tracks well, and that gives them a slight advantage, but learning a new circuit is a fun thing for me.
“I’m looking forward to Manfeild next weekend. I don’t know anything about that place yet either, only having seen a little bit on YouTube. I’ve heard it’s a little bit easier to learn and I know the Sloan Frost Suzuki GSX-R1000 bike I’m riding will be fast there.
“I have watched the Cemetery Circuit on YouTube and that’s looks like something really special. I think you have to treat all (public) road circuits with respect, no matter who you are or where you are. We’ll just have to see how we go,” Cooper concluded.
Meanwhile, Whanganui’s Richie Dibben again demonstrated his incredible versatility by taking two entirely different Suzuki motorcycles to set tongues wagging in both the supermoto and 600cc Formula Two bike classes at the weekend.
Already an international supermoto star, the 30-year-old bike shop owner naturally looked comfortable as he took his Suzuki RM-Z450 to qualify fastest and then score back-to-back wins in the supermoto class.
Then he jumped on board his Suzuki GSX-R600 road bike to qualify fastest in the 600cc Formula Two (F2) class.
He won his first of two F2 races, edging out fellow Suzuki GSX-R600 rider David Hall, of Te Awamutu, on Saturday, but Dibben came unstuck in the next race the following day, crashing out while in the lead.
Consistency won the weekend for Upper Hutt’s Rogan Chandler (Yamaha R6), his 3-1 scorecard in the two races giving him a one-point buffer over Hall as the riders now head to Manfeild.
It seems men and women can make perfect partnerships on the racetrack too.
The sidecars action featured Auckland’s former national champion pairing of Peter Goodwin and Kendal Dunlop at the head of the F1 class, with another male-female combo in France’s Estelle Le Blond and Belgium’s Frank Claeys topping the F2 class. It was more male-female magic in the runner-up positions too, with Australia’s Jeremy Joyce and Whanganui’s Louise Blythe runners-up in F1 and Tauranga’s Barry Smith and Tracey Bryan runners-up in F2.
This was described as “remarkable” by long-time commentator Graeme “Spyda” Staples, himself a former national sidecars champion (in 1988, 1990 and 1991).
Racing was close an all classes and this augurs well for the momentum to continue over the next two weeks, with Whanganui’s Cemetery Circuit street racing on Boxing Day sure to be post-Christmas another crowd-thriller.
Other class leaders after round one in Taupo are Taumarunui’s Leigh Tidman (Formula Three); Hamilton’s Jesse Stroud (GIXXER Cup); Whanganui’s Ashley Payne (Formula Sport/Bears, senior); Palmerston North’s Robert Lammas (Formula Sport/Bears, junior); Napier’s Eddie Kattenberg (Post Classics, Pre 89, senior); Woodville’s Kieren O’Neill (Post Classics, Pre 89, junior).
© Words and photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com
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Leading standings after the opening round of the 2019 Suzuki International Series at Taupo at the weekend:
Formula One Superbikes: 1. Whakatane’s Damon Rees 51 points; 2. UK’s Richard Cooper 42; 3. Whakatane’s Mitch Rees 40.
Formula Two (600cc): 1. Upper Hutt’s Rogan Chandler 45 points; 2. Te Awamutu’s David Hall 44; 3. Palmerston North’s Ashton Hughes 38.
Formula Three: 1. Taumarunui’s Leigh Tidman 51 points; 2. France’s Xavier Denis 42; 3. Clive’s SJ Cavell 38.
GIXXER Cup: 1. Hamilton’s Jesse Stroud 51 points; 2. Australia’s Lachlan Epis 37; 3. Hamilton’s Andrew Stroud 34.
Formula Sport/Bears, senior: 1. Whanganui’s Ashley Payne 48 points; 2. Ngaruawahia’s Steve Bridge 45; 3. Whanganui’s Dwayne Bishop 40.
Formula Sport/Bears, junior: 1. Palmerston North’s Robert Lammas 47 points; 2. Whanganui’s Blane Hannah 45; 3. Auckland’s Gui Mendes 43.
Post Classics, Pre 89, senior: 1. Napier’s Eddie Kattenberg 51 points; 2. Hastings’ Gian Louie 44; 3. Invercargill’s Jon Rawcliffe 38.
Post Classics, Pre 89, junior: 1. Woodville’s Kieren O’Neill 50 points; 2. Auckland’s Scott Findlay 45; 3. Lower Hutt’s Dean Bentley 40.
F1 sidecars: 1. Auckland’s Peter Goodwin and Kendal Dunlop 50 points; 2. Australia’s Jeremy Joyce and Whanganui’s Louise Blythe 39; 3= Auckland’s Chris and Richard Lawrance 38; 3= Christchurch’s Dennis Charlett and Dan Jenkins 38.
F2 sidecars: 1. France’s Estelle Le Blond and Belgium’s Frank Claeys 51 points; 2. Tauranga’s Barry Smith and Tracey Bryan 44; 3. Auckland’s Mark Halls and Darren Prentis 40.
Supermoto: 1. Whanganui’s Richie Dibben 51 points; 2. Tauranga’s Duncan Hart 44; 3. Taumarunui’s Jette Josiah 40.