The form book was thrown out the window at round three of the New Zealand Superbike Championships at Teretonga Park, near Invercargill, on Sunday as the elements conspired to upset the main players.
In summary, it was Hamilton’s Nick Cole (Kawasaki ZX10) and Tauranga’s Sloan “Choppa” Frost (BMW 1000) who advanced most in the glamour superbike class, Cole winning the day and moving up from seventh to fourth in the championship, while Frost finished runner-up at Teretonga and moved up from fifth to second in the standings.
Cole also celebrated his first ever national superbike championship race win on Sunday when he rocketed to the front of race two and never looked back.
“I qualified the bike on pole in the dry on Saturday,” said an overjoyed Frost, a rider who has an obvious affinity with Teretonga, having won there in the rain last year.
“I’m absolutely stoked with how my weekend went,” said the 30-year-old. “I was down in 11th spot after the opening round and fifth after round two. Now I’m up to second in the standings. That’s incredible.”
Nothing about the racing at Teretonga on Sunday was clear-cut.
Intermittent rain squalls meant tyre choices were critical for the riders and some of the traction gambles simply did not pay off, the day also shaken up when the first superbike race had to be run in two stages after a crash brought it to a premature end after just four laps.
Defending champion Andrew Stroud (Suzuki), of Hamilton, won the first stage of race one, finishing ahead of Christchurch pair Ryan Hampton (Honda) and John Ross (BMW), but he had to settle for fifth place in the second leg, that race won by championship leader Robbie Bugden (Suzuki).
That Bugden (pictured above) was able to race at all was something of a miracle, the Australian crashing spectacularly during Saturday’s preliminaries.
He eventually had to borrow a similar Suzuki, belonging to Auckland’s Ray Clee, and qualified that bike in an unaccustomed ninth spot, good enough to start on Sunday but, unfortunately, near the back of the grid.
But a mixed day followed for Bugden on Sunday. He raced from the back of the pack to snatch seventh in the first part of the disjointed opening superbike race and he then won the second leg.
He raced conservatively in the wet race that followed, doing just what was required to finish ahead of his main threats, Ross and Stroud.
It was another tale of woe for Stroud, finishing 1-5 in the two-part opening race and then riding gingerly to finish an unfamiliar two laps down on the leaders, in 11th place, in race two. This was because he’d gambled on using slick tyres on a wet track that simply did not dry as he’d hoped it might.
Bugden continues to lead the superbike championship, now with an extended lead, ahead of new No.2 rider Frost, with Ross now in third position overall, Cole in fourth and Stroud slipping back to fifth.
“It was quite a weekend for me,” said Bugden afterwards.
“I was lucky to get away with it after my crash on Saturday. I was feeling pretty well beaten up and sore all over. To tell the honest truth, when I woke up this morning I didn’t think I’d be able to race. My left leg and shoulder bore the brunt of the crash.
“But the team did an awesome job to get my bike repaired and it all worked out good for me today.
“I’ve got a few weeks off now to rest and recover. I’ll return to Brisbane and see my doctor and hopefully be back to 100% by the next round.”
In the 600cc supersport class, defending champion Dennis Charlett (Avon Suzuki GSX-R600) came on strong, finishing 2-1 in his two outings to win the day and take over the championship lead from nearest rival Josh Ross (Suzuki), also of Christchurch.
Ross won the day’s first 600cc race but crashed out of the second leg while trying to catch the leaders.
“I was just pacing myself to bring it home in the second race when the leader (Invercargill’s Jeremy Homes) crashed in front of me,” said Charlett.
“I have a bit of a points buffer over John (Ross) now but I’m not resting on my laurels. Anything can still happen and the championships still wide open.”
The riders now take a break until March 18 and the fourth round of five at Hampton Downs, near Huntly. The fifth and final round is set for Taupo on March 25.
© Words and photos by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com