New Zealand Superbike Championship contender Sloan Frost has received a desperately needed late Christmas present – a brand-new motorbike to race in the New Zealand Grand Prix in Christchurch this weekend.
The Wellington rider, one of the favourites for the GP, crashed his Fujitsu Suzuki GSX-R1000 hard at Wanganui on Boxing Day.
At first they tried to repair the wrecked bike but then Suzuki NZ gave them a brand-new road bike and the team has been transferring competition components over to it from the original race bike.
The crash, triggered when Frost’s front wheel touched a manhole cover on the Wanganui street circuit, also left the rider with minor injuries to a wrist and ankle.
“I’m not sure what effect it will have on my performance but I’m feeling strong enough,” he said.
Frost’s toughest opposition in the Superbike Grand Prix race on Sunday is expected to come from Hamilton’s Nick Cole on a Kawasaki, Feilding rider Craig Shirriffs and local favourite Dennis Charlett on Suzukis, and Australian Linden Magee on a BMW.
Cole is on a high after winning the Suzuki Series in December and the Robert Holden Memorial feature race at Wanganui.
“We’ll go there with a positive attitude after the Suzuki Series, and try and enjoy ourselves,” he said.
His main concern was the weather, with the forecast for Christchurch threatening some rain.
The meeting on the Ruapuna circuit is also the first of four rounds in the New Zealand Superbike Championships, catering for several different categories.
After winning five NZ Superbike championships over the last seven years, fast Australian Robbie Bugden is taking a break this season. And nine-times NZ champion Andrew Stroud of Hamilton has announced his retirement, so the Superbike scene will look rather different this season.
However Frost, Cole and Shirriffs were all able to win championship races last season and the standard of New Zealand racing is now high, as Magee remarked after competing in the Suzuki Series.
Magee also suffered a big crash during that series but escaped without serious injury and his battered BMW has been repaired.
The nephew of former world championship star Kevin Magee, Linden Magee is expected to pose a real threat to the leading Kiwis. “He’s a top rider,” Frost, who raced against him in Australia last year, said.
Charlett knows the tricky Ruapuna track inside out and in his mid-40s is still fast enough to have won a race for Suzuki during the December series.
James Smith is another quick Christchurch rider, team-mate to Whakatane racer Tony Rees in the Honda squad, while three other Suzuki riders showed fine pace during the Suzuki Series: Hayden Fitzgerald (New Plymouth), Scott Moir (Taupo) and Ray Clee (Kumeu).
In 600cc Supersport Christchurch rider John Ross is ready to defend his crown and his Auckland team-mate Avalon Biddle showed how racing in Europe has increased her speed as she led one of the Suzuki Series races at Manfeild for several laps on her Suzuki.
However most attention will probably be focused on another Christchurch racer, teenager Jake Lewis back home after winning the hugely competitive European Junior Cup.
Other championship classes are Superlite, Pro Twin, 250 Production, 125 GP and 250 Mono (which race together), and Sidecars. Each class has qualifying and one race on Saturday, and then two races on Sunday with the final race in each category counting as the GP race for that category.
The series continues at Timaru the following weekend, Taupo on March 22-23 and a double-header at Manfeild over March 27-30.
Words by Bernard Carpinter
© Photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com