The traditional post-Christmas affair, this year celebrating its 70th anniversary on the public streets circuit, wound up the three-round Suzuki International Series in classic style, with Whakatane’s Damon Rees taking his Honda CBR1000 to dominate the premier Formula One/Superbike class on Saturday.
Not only did the 25-year-old Rees celebrate back-to-back wins in the F1 class, but he also backed that up with a stirring start-to-finish win in the 10-lap Robert Holden Memorial feature race that followed.
If it weren’t for an uncharacteristic crash while leading his race at the first of three rounds in the series, at Taupo’s Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park at the start of December, then he should probably have won the series outright.
But in a three-round, six-race series, a rider can’t afford to drop points like that and this allowed his ever-consistent elder brother and Honda team-mate Mitch Rees to take maximum advantage.
Mitch Rees celebrated his maiden F1/Superbike class win in race one at the second round of the series, at Manfeild Circuit Chris Amon, on the outskirts of Feilding, and this set him up for a thrilling final push at Whanganui’s round three on Boxing Day.
Christchurch rider Alastair Hoogenboezem (Yamaha) had won the other three races at rounds one and two, but he opted out of the Whanganui event, leaving the way clear for the Rees brothers to swoop.
The just-turned 28-year-old Mitch Rees finished third and fourth in his two F1/Superbike races on Saturday, enough to win the series overall by five points from two-time former series champion Scott Moir (Suzuki), of Taupo, and Mitch Rees then lifted the tempo another notch to finish a close runner-up to his brother in the feature race as well, finishing less than a bike length behind and actually surpassing Damon Rees by setting a new Whanganui track record in the process.
The performances of the Rees brothers on Boxing Day was reminiscent of the feats of their father, Tony Rees, who was on hand at Whanganui to act as mechanic and mentor to his two sons.
Tony Rees is a record seven-time winner of the Robert Holden Memorial feature race at Whanganui, taking the trophy there in 1990, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2014, 2015 and 2016.
“It was a bit of a dream come true for me,” said Damon Rees afterwards.
“It has been something that I’ve wanted to do for a while, to put my name on the Robert Holden trophy. Dad put his on there so many times, so I was stoked to be able to do that.
“The first race today was fairly easy for me, but Scotty (Moir) kept me honest in the second race and Mitch (Rees) was keeping me on my toes in the last one, so I didn’t really have it all my own way.”
It was a joyous occasion also for Mitch Rees, finally clinching the series honours at his fourth attempt and after finishing third overall last season.
“I’m over the moon to have won the series,” said Mitch Rees.
“I have been there or thereabouts all the way through, but it’s great to finally win it. I had a good tussle going with Damo (Rees) in the Robert Holden race, but, to be fair, to make the pass for the win happen, it was going to be pretty risky.
“I secured the all-time lap record and Robert Holden Memorial lap record, so I’m pretty happy with that too. I scored the lap record here last year too, but then Damo took that from me in F1 race one today, until I snatched it back in race three. So the lap record didn’t really leave the family at all,” he laughed.
“I’m looking ahead to the New Zealand Superbike Championships now (starting in Christchurch on January 9-10). I’m feeling pretty confident.”
Meanwhile, a third rider in the Honda team, Taupiri teenager Zak Fuller came on strong at Whanganui, winning the day in the Formula Two (600cc) class with his 2-1 results in the two races.
This remarkably elevated him from sixth to second overall for the series on his debut at this high level of close-fought competition.
Upper Hutt’s Rogan Chandler (Yamaha) won the F2 class for the series, finishing just eight points ahead of Fuller – both of these riders having crashed out of one race earlier in the competition – with other more experienced riders Dale Finch (Triumph), from Christchurch, Rangiora’s 2019 national 600cc champion Avalon Biddle (Kawasaki) and Manukau’s Toby Summers (Kawasaki) rounding out the top five.
Class winners after Boxing Day’s third and final round of the 2020 Suzuki International Series are Whakatane’s Mitch Rees (Formula One); Upper Hutt’s Rogan Chandler (Formula Two); Nikau Valley’s Richard Markham-Barrett (Formula Three); Whanganui’s Dwayne Bishop (Bears Senior); Whanganui’s Darren Bendle (Bears Junior); Levin’s Justin Maunder (GIXXER 150 Cup); Hastings’ Gian Louie (Post Classics, pre-89 Senior); Ngaruawahia’s Steve Bridge (Post Classics, pre-89 Junior); Tauranga’s Barry Smith and Stu Dawe (F1 Sidecars); Albany’s Mark Halls and Michelle MacLean (F2 Sidecars); Taumarunui’s Jette Josiah (Super Motard); Sanson’s Shane Miller (Supersport 300); Whanganui’s Robert Hood and Graham Wilkinson (Classic Sidecars, raced at Whanganui round only).
© Words and photos by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ
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