It is youth versus experience at the top of the 600cc superstock standings in this season’s national superbike championships and, so far at least, it is experience that has the upper hand.
But that may be about to change, certainly if lanky 16-year-old Aucklander Jaden Hassan has anything to say about it.
Inglewood’s Midge Smart currently leads the 600 superstock championship standings after three of five rounds, riding his Yamaha R6 to victory in three of the five races in the series thus far, with round two reduced to just one race in this class thanks to atrocious weather at Invercargill that day in early February.
Yamaha’s Hassan is second in the standings — his win in the first race of the season at Timaru in January the highlight so far — and he is currently 14 points behind Smart as the riders head to round four at Hampton Downs, near Meremere, this weekend.
It’s there that Hassan knows he must advance if he has any hope of snatching away the title from Smart.
“Unfortunately for me, I have not won another race since that first race in Timaru,” said Hassan.
“I’ve only been racing the 600 for five months now, so I’m still learning things,” said Hassan.
“It’s a different bike to ride than the 125. At first I was quite loose on the 600, especially in the hairpins. The 600 has more weight and more power, so it takes a different style of riding to master it. But I’ve been doing okay,” he said, an obvious understatement from the young man who is beating many of New Zealand’s elite.
“Yamaha has been great in their support of me. I wouldn’t be able to race if it wasn’t for their help. I think the Yamaha is the fastest bike on the track, but, of course, that’s what Midge is riding too.
“I’ve been the fastest rider at two out of the three rounds so far but, unfortunately, I have only had one win. Midge is so experienced and he rides very smart. He only does what he needs to do, no more.
“He’s a great rider to learn from and, even though we’re rivals on the track, we are friendly off it and always congratulate one another.”
It is going to take a supreme effort for the young Hassan to peg back the experienced Smart, but the teenager has already shown he’s a fast learner and, with the taste of victory still fresh, he knows what he has to do at Hampton Downs on Sunday.
Third in the superstock standings is Christchurch rider Eric Oliver-Maxwell (Yamaha), 27 points behind Hassan, while fourth overall is Invercargill’s Stewart Smart, on another Yamaha R6, another 23 points further back.
The fifth and final round is set for Manfeild, near Palmerston North, on April 3.
© Words and photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com