Whakatane’s Tony Rees is a hard man to keep down.
Even with work commitments keeping him off the race track for the early part of the New Zealand Superbike Championships season, he was very quickly up to speed in his first outing of 2001, racing at the Battle of the Streets race meeting in Paeroa on Sunday.
The 43-year-old Whakatane biker shop owner dusted off his 1000cc 2009-model Yamaha R1 and proceeded to stun everyone when he qualified fastest on the tricky public street circuit, a track that he admits is one of his favourites.
“People often remark that it is home turf for me but, in reality, I don’t have any advantage there over anyone else. It’s not exactly a track you can practice on, not legally anyway,” he laughed.
Rees twice finished fourth in his two formula one outings, overshadowed in the end, as indeed was everyone, by talented Australian rider Dan Stauffer (Yamaha). Rees finished the day fourth overall in the formula one class, behind Stauffer, Hawera’s Hayden Fitzgerald (Honda), and Tauranga’s Sloan Frost (BMW), but ahead of Christchurch’s Ryan Hampton (Honda) and Auckland’s Ray Clee (Suzuki).
“I even led the first race for a while but I just didn’t have the stamina to stay there,” Rees admitted.
Rees tipped off his bike in the tight hairpin that opens onto State Highway 2, the main street of Paeroa, during the 10-lap King of the Streets feature race, but he dusted himself off and bravely clawed his way back through the field to eventually settle for ninth spot.
“It’s always an exciting day’s racing at Paeroa,” he shrugged. “I knew I’d struggle against the men who have been racing throughout the nationals. I knew they’d be sharper than me.
“I am looking ahead to joining in the superbike nationals – to race the two remaining rounds in the North Island (at Hampton Downs on March 27 and at Manfeild on April 3). I couldn’t do the three earlier South Island rounds because it’s just too difficult, and expensive too, to take three consecutive weeks off to race down there.”
Rees is a seven-time former outright winner at Paeroa and also has two national superbike championship titles to his credit, so it’s not surprising that, even as an infrequent racer these days, he still commands huge respect from his rivals.
Perhaps a podium finish at Hampton Downs or Manfeild is not out of the question.
© Words and photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com