There is probably only one main street in the world where the tarseal is closed off to regular traffic and opened up exclusively for motorcycle racing – the Thames Valley town of Paeroa.
The popular “antique town” of New Zealand will be transformed again this Sunday to host the popular Honda Battle of the Streets motorcycle road races.
This Sunday marks the 27th occasion that the barriers have gone up for the “street fight”, the straw bales have been positioned and the spectator fencing laid out along the gutters of this Thames Valley town, the front straight of this hacksaw-shaped course actually State Highway 2.
Each year hundreds of motorcyclists flood into Paeroa, at the foot of the Coromandel Peninsula, with the sole intention of flouting the nation’s road laws, while thousands of spectators typically enjoy the sporting occasion under a typically blazing sky, a day that usually runs like clockwork from the 7.30am riders’ briefing, right through the packed race programme that starts at 11.30am and finishes at about 5pm.
Whakatane’s Tony Rees has often been the favourite to win at Paeroa. He won the premier title at Paeroa more than 20 years ago, but then, at age 46, he celebrated his eighth big win there when he clinched the trophy at the 23rd annual running of the iconic event in 2014.
The event skipped a beat in 2015 when persistent rain forced the organisers to abandon the day, the first time that had been done in the entire history of the event.
Rees won the 10-lap King of the Streets feature race there again in 2016 and last year too, then aged 49, becoming a record 10-time outright winner at Paeroa.
Rees is currently sidelined with injury, but his two young sons, Mitch and Damon Rees, will be expected to pick up the baton and they will perhaps be foremost among the favourites in the glamour 1000cc Formula Paeroa class this Sunday, ranked alongside the F1 class winner there in 2016, Taupo’s Scotty Moir, and Wellington’s 2018 national superbike championships leader Sloan Frost.
These men each have enviable reputations for mastering the high-speed, curb-clipping, hay bale-dodging demands of street fighting.
Sunday’s programme also features races for several other bike classes, including 600cc Formula Two, Bears (non-Japanese bikes), Superlites, Seniors Classics, Junior Classics, Post Classic Pre-82, Post Classic Pre-89, sidecars, post classic sidecars and supermoto machines (converted dirt bikes).
Coming up just two weeks later will be the third round of four of the New Zealand Superbike Championships at Hampton Downs on March 3-4, where the riders will switch back from street to track mode.
© Words and photos by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com
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