This could be Andrew Stroud’s year.
The Suzuki rider from Hamilton won the day at the opening round of this year’s Castrol Power 1 New Zealand Superbike Championships at Christchurch’s Ruapuna Park on Sunday, instantly signalling to his rivals that he means to take back the superbike crown he last held in 2006.
For the past three seasons it has been Australian interloper Robbie Bugden who has crossed the Tasman to steal away the coveted Kiwi title and he was hoping to make it four in a row this year.
It certainly looked a distinct possibility when the Suzuki rider from Brisbane won the first of two superbike races on Sunday — albeit less than a second ahead of Christchurch Suzuki rider James Smith — and Stroud crossed the line in a disappointing fourth spot.
But the 42-year-old Stroud, a seven-time former champion, is possibly as fast now as at any time in his career and the balance of power swung convincingly in the Waikato man’s favour when he ran off to an impressive victory in the next outing, winning the race by a whopping 15.9 seconds.
That race win also gave Stroud the New Zealand Superbike GP title.
Bugden, meanwhile, found had himself stuck in traffic and his bid to break free ended in disaster as he crashed his bike on the opening lap.
Bugden was unable to finish the race and those lost points may prove costly for the defending champion as the five-round series progresses, with round two set for Invercargill’s Teretonga circuit next weekend.
“The pack seemed half a lap behind me,” said Stroud afterwards. “I guess you could say the weekend worked out good for me.
“I struggled a bit in the first race and it took me a while to work out how much traction I could find on the wet surface.
“It all turned back in my favour in race two though. There were still wet patches on the track but the new Pirelli tyres are brilliant and I was able to go hard straight away.”
Fellow Hamilton rider Sloan Frost (Suzuki) finished 3-2 to take second overall for the day, while Smith’s 2-4 placings gave him the third step on the superbike podium.
One of very few riders to tackle two classes this season, Smith had his work cut out to keep sight of Hamilton’s Nick Cole in the 600cc sports production class.
Kawasaki-mounted Cole was simply sensational, winning both 600cc races by a comfortable margin, with Smith runner-up both times.
“I won both races by quite a large margin. I’m rapt, of course, and taking the GP title for this class was great too” said Cole.
“I was expecting the other riders to put up more of a fight.”
Another Christchurch rider, Yamaha’s John Ross, finished the day in third spot overall after posting 4-3 results.
In the 125GP class, Christchurch rider Alastair Hoogenboezem reigned supreme, winning all three races at the weekend and establishing a 19-point buffer over defending champion Tim McArthur, of Dunedin.
It was a similar story for Wanganui sidecar pairing Stephen Bron and Dennis Simonsen, who also took three wins at the weekend. They enjoy a 15-point gap over Canterbury pair Dave Annan and Warwicks Demmocks.
The defending champion in the formula three class, Palmerston North’s Glen Williams, is locked in a fierce battle with old foe Terry Fitzgerald, of New Plymouth, and just two points separate the pair.
Two points is also all that separates Dannevirke’s Geoff Booth from Kaiapoi rival Jason Cameron in the 650 Pro Twins class, while Christchurch’s James Hoogenboezem is third overall, 13 points further back.
Christchurch’s Trevor Chapman leads the super motard class, while Timaru riders Jarred Pyke and Johnny Small head the senior and junior street-stock classes respectively.
Leading standings after round one of the Castrol Power 1 New Zealand Superbike Championships at Ruapuna Park, in Christchurch, on Sunday:
Andrew Stroud (Hamilton, Suzuki) 38 points;
Sloan Frost (Hamilton, Suzuki) 36;
James Smith (Christchurch, Suzuki) 33.
600cc Sports Production:
Nick Cole (Hamilton, Kawasaki) 50 points;
James Smith (Christchurch, Suzuki) 40;
John Ross (Christchurch, Yamaha) 29.
Alastair Hoogenboezem (Christchurch, Honda) 75;
Tim McArthur (Dunedin, Honda) 56;
Jason Easton (Palmerston North, Honda) 49.
Glen Williams (Palmerston North, Suzuki) 63 points;
Terry Fitzgerald (New Plymouth, Suzuki) 61;
Jason Easton (Palmerston North, Aprilia) 56.
650 Pro Twin:
Geoff Booth (Dannevirke, Suzuki) 65 points;
Jason Cameron (Kaiapoi, Suzuki) 63;
James Hoogenboezem (Christchurch, Suzuki) 52.
Trevor Chapman (Christchurch, KTM) 70 points;
Darcy Prendergast (Ashburton, Honda) 52;
John Crawford (Invercargill, Suzuki) 50.
Jarred Pyke (Timaru) 66 points;
Jock Woodley (Blenheim, Suzuki) 60;
Hayden Jackson (Christchurch, Suzuki) 29.
Johnny Small (Timaru, Suzuki) 66 points;
Andy McLaughlin (Christchurch, Suzuki) 61;
Seth Devereaux (Tapanui, Kawasaki) 46.
Steve Bron and Dennis Simonsen (Wanganui, Suzuki) 75 points;
Dave Annan (Christchurch) and Warwicks Demmocks (Rangiora, Suzuki) 60;
Peter Goodwin (Bay of Islands) and Pion Weedon (Papakura, Yamaha) 45.
© Words and photos by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com