The ‘old man’ of the sport is really giving the young guns something to think about this season.
Whakatane’s Tony Rees (Honda CBR1000RR) has been on fire this season, the 49-year-old winning the pre-nationals Suzuki Series in the Formula One class, which included him also again dominating the day at Whanganui’s famous Cemetery Circuit race meeting on Boxing Day.
Then, just over a week ago he was again, proving himself the ultimate “street fighter” as he made it a record win No.10 at Paeroa’s iconic Battle of the Streets event.
The last time Rees was national superbike champion was 12 years ago, in 2005, and before that he was superbike champion in 2001 and sports production champion in 1999, but his wins this season have perhaps already eclipsed those successes.
Rees led the 2017 New Zealand Superbike Championships after the South Island phase of competition, arriving at Taupo’s Bruce McLaren Motorsports park for the third round of four at the weekend with a solid 18-point advantage over fellow Honda star Alastair Hoogenboezem, of Christchurch, and a massive 26 points clear of Wellington’s defending national champion Sloan Frost.
When the engines were shut off at the end of racing on Sunday, Rees was still on top, but now a massive 42.5 points clear of new No.2 man Frost.
A crash in race two proved costly for Hoogenboezem and he has slipped to third, nine points adrift of Suzuki’s Frost.
But the weekend belonged to Rees as he propelled himself into an almost unassailable position in the championship chase.
The pressure is off for Rees for the fourth and final round at Hampton Downs, near Meremere, next weekend (March 4-5) and mid-pack finishes will be enough for Rees to add to his title haul this season.
“The track (at Taupo) was very slippery because of the heat,” said Rees. “My aim was to not push too hard because I knew the tyres wouldn’t last.”
Rees saved his best for last as he led amazing six-rider freight-train in the third and final superbike race of the weekend – Rees ahead of Taupo’s Scotty Moir, Pakuranga’s Daniel Mettam, Manukau’s Toby Summers, Hoogenboezem and Frost.
“I tried to be smooth on the throttle. Then I saw my gap back to the others had increased,” said Rees.
“We spent a 15-hour day freshening up the engine before the weekend but still struggled a lot with suspension settings. After the first race on Saturday, we made a few changes to the bike’s handling with a firmer front end, forks and tyre, because I’d also crashed the bike during practice on Friday, so we knew it wasn’t quite right. The change made all the difference for racing on Sunday.
“With the championship points advantage I now have, I just have to ride sensibly at Hampton Downs.
“The championship hunt is not over yet, but at least it’s comfortable for me.”
Meanwhile, Invercargill’s Jeremy Holmes took his stock Honda CBR1000S to wrap up the 1000cc superstock title with a round to spare.
In the 600cc supersport class battles, championship leader Shane Richardson (Kawasaki) came under fire from Whakatane’s Damon Rees, the youngest son of Tony Rees.
Damon Rees (Honda) qualified fastest and then finished 1-1-2 in the races, while Richardson finished 2-2-1 at Taupo, meaning Rees shaved six points off Richardson’s lead.
But Richardson still leads by a comfortable 20.5 points as they head to Hampton Downs this coming weekend.
“I know I’m quite a way behind Shane in the points, so it’s going to be hard to overtake him. But it’s not impossible,” said Damon Rees.
“None of us have been able to race at Hampton Downs much this season, so it’s going to be a level playing field this weekend and I’m up for the challenge.”
© Words and photos by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com
Find BikesportNZ.com on FACEBOOK here