Australian superbike star Robbie Bugden has some catching up to do when the New Zealand Grand Prix in Christchurch on Sunday kicks off the national championships.
“This is my seventh season in New Zealand and I’ve won the championship four times but I think I’ve only won the Grand Prix once,” Bugden, the reigning champion, said as he prepared for the new season after a holiday on the West Coast.
“It’s been eluding me in recent seasons but it would be a good one to win, and good to give one back to the team on their home track at Ruapuna.” Bugden races for Peter “Red” Fenton’s Christchurch-based Volvo Triple R Suzuki team.
All through his New Zealand career Bugden’s big rival has been nine-times champion Andrew Stroud, but the Hamilton veteran will miss the first three rounds of the series after breaking his collarbone in a crash at Manfeild last month.
“But it’s going to be tough with or without Andrew,” Bugden said. “There’s quite a few people who have won New Zealand championships.”
One such champion is Christchurch racer Dennis Charlett, who claimed his second 600cc Supersport title last season and has now moved back into superbikes after a long break from the premier category.
Charlett immediately proved his speed as he won last month’s Suzuki Tri-Series on his Underground Brown Suzuki, finishing ahead of all the top Kiwi riders.
“I went up there [to the Tri-Series in the North Island] to learn the bike and the suspension setup, and the bike is fantastic,” Charlett said.
“I’ll take each meeting as it comes. It would be fantastic to win races, but we’ll be up front for sure.”
Bugden has been following the New Zealand competition closely and sees Wellington rider Sloan Frost, who won three of the six races in the Tri-Series for the M1 Motorsport BMW team, as a major threat. The BMWs have been very fast in Australia, he said.
Hamilton racer Nick Cole won both the superbike races at Wanganui’s final round of the Tri-Series on his Red Devils Kawasaki and is sure to be right at the front of the GP battle.
Eighteen riders are entered for the Avon City Suzuki Superbike races and the entry list shows the current depth of strength in New Zealand superbike racing.
Suzuki’s Ray Clee (Kumeu), Hayden Fitzgerald (New Plymouth), Craig Shirriffs (Feilding) and John Ross (Christchurch), and the Honda trio of James Smith (Christchurch), Tony Rees (Whakatane) and Ryan Hampton (Christchurch), have all scored top superbike results.
Ross is again contesting both the top classes, Superbike and Trevor Pierce Yamaha 600cc Supersport, and says that racing Suzukis in both categories for the first time makes life easier because of the similarities between the bikes.
Eighteen-year-old Aucklander Jaden Hassan dominated the Supersport class at the first two rounds of the Tri-Series on his Yamaha, winning the four races by huge margins in a class that normally sees multi-bike dogfights at the front. He starts as favourite but there is plenty of fast opposition including Christchurch teenager Jake Lewis (Yamaha), back from a season in Europe.
The top two classes have qualifying on Saturday and two races each on Sunday. Other championship classes are Superlite (formerly F3). Pro Twins, 125 GP, 250 Production and Sidecars, and they all have one race on Saturday then two on Sunday. The final race in each class carries the Grand Prix title for that category.
Words by Bernard Carpinter
© Photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com