It is certainly going to be another scorching summer of motorcycling this year with the annual Suzuki International Series road-race competition again absolutely swamped with entries and organiser Allan ‘Flea’ Willacy sure he will again have trouble fitting them all in.
Willacy is overjoyed with the huge interest being shown from overseas too, and he believes the 2019 edition of the series, set to kick off at Taupo’s Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park on December 7-8, will be massive.
The popular three-round series – with Manfeild following as host venue a week after the Taupo round and the action wrapping up on the public streets of Whanganui’s famous Cemetery Circuit on Boxing Day – is New Zealand’s richest motorcycle competition and it has again attracted a huge overseas contingent, with top riders arriving from the United Kingdom, France and Australia, including Isle of Man and British Superbike Championship winners among them.
Willacy said members of the public could save money by purchasing “early bird tickets” through Ticketek on-line and then they’ll also go in the draw to win a Suzuki GIXXER150 bike.
British rider Richard Cooper, Ireland’s Lee Johnston, and Frenchman Morgan Govignon are the main draw-card entrants this year, with many race fans sure to already know of their incredible international exploits.
Cooper is the British Superbike Championships (BSB) Superstock Champion for 2019 and his performance as a newcomer at this year’s North West 200 was a definite highlight of that iconic event.
His maiden racing stint around the ultra fast “Triangle” circuit, saw Cooper give a more than respectable account of himself, on route to finishing a very creditable sixth, along the way becoming the new fastest NW200 newcomer in history when he recorded a best lap speed of 120.659 mph (194 kmph). He finished runner-up in the Superstock class.
Cooper will certainly be one to look out for at this season’s Suzuki International Series with his BSB and street racing experience.
He will race in New Zealand for the Sloan Frost Motorsport Team.
Johnston is the 2019 Isle of Man TT winner, icing on a cake to his 2019 season that also saw him win the Scarborough Gold Cup and finish runner-up in the Ulster GP
It was a supersport class clean sweep for Johnston at the Barry Sheene Classic on the Ashcourt Racing Yamaha Racing UK R6 and he also took several podiums in the Classic Superbike races this year.
Johnston also celebrated his first podium in the British Supersport Championships this year, finishing third in the Dickies British Supersport sprint race.
Johnstone race in New Zealand at the Suzuki Series in 2017 and he returns this year riding a BMW1000 under the M1 Motorsport NZ banner.
Govignon will be riding in the Bears Class. He will also be riding a special one-off Voxan in memory of good friend of his, Fabrice Miguet, who unfortunately died at the Ulster GP.
Meanwhile fellow French rider Estelle Leblond and Belgium’s Frank Claeys will also debut at the Suzuki International Series this December.
Leading French sidecar driver Leblond is set to link up with fellow accomplished, high-calibre Isle of Man Mountain Course exponent Claeys for competition within the Optimark Road Racing outfit at TT 2019.
Both Leblond and Claeys respectively have impressive TT records which include securing between them nine top-15 finishes and overall 13 top-20 finishes.
TT 2018 saw the French/Belgian three-wheeling competitors both quietly impress. Driver Leblond, competing for a second successive TT alongside Melanie Farnier, finished an excellent ninth.
Another French rider, Xavier Denis, will also debut in New Zealand this summer.
Overall sixth within this year’s IRRC Supersport series, additional highlights from this season for the amiable Frenchman included his achieving rostrum finishes at Circuit De Chimay and the Southern 100, plus he scored a collection of creditable finishes at TT 2019. Denis will be riding F2 on a Triumph Dayton 675 and in the F3 class on a Kawasaki 650.
Australian-based rider Steve Marshall first raced in New Zealand during the NZ Marlborough Series 1977 and moved to Australia in 1979. Teamed up with Australian Murray Stronach, the duo competed in multiple Western Australian and State Championships sidecars events, gaining many titles. Marshall retired in 1995 but came back again in 2016 with Stronach. They both came out to New Zealand in 2017 for the Suzuki Series and have returned bringing two of Steve’s sons who will also compete.
Australian brothers Morgan and Dion Marshall will race in New Zealand for the Marshall Brothers Racing Team.
As sons of Steve Marshall, Morgan and Dion obviously both have racing in their blood.
Morgan Marshall started in 2016 and sibling Dion joined him as passenger in 2018, the duo only having to wait till April 2019 for their first win.
They wanted to take the opportunity to race against their father on overseas circuits, which is what brings them to this year’s Suzuki International Series.
Several notable trans-Tasman partnerships will also be on track this season.
Australian Sam Watson will join up with Kiwi Jo Mickleson in the sidecars class, alongside another Aussie/Kiwi pairing in Jeremy (Jero) Joyce and Louise Blythe.
Watson started competing in motocross events and then onto Supermoto in WA, Queensland and came out to New Zealand for the 2017 Suzuki Series. To honour the memory of his dad (Garry Watson), the family bought a Clive Watson-built F2 outfit and started sidecar racing. In 2019, the team finished third in the Modern Sidecar Championship. The team’s usual passenger was unable to make the trip to NZ so have recruited experienced Kiwi passenger Mickelson.
Joyce started racing Speedway Sidecars in 1984 and continued until 2000 and then Road Racing Sidecars in 1988. He raced on and off with minimal success until a return in 2012 aboard a short Rick Hanger Monocoque, when he finished third at the 2013 Australian F1 Sidecars Championship.
Blythe is very experienced and had many successes, the last of which was her finishing runner-up at the Cemetery Circuit 2018 and third overall in sidecars in the New Zealand Superbike Championships that year.
However, the international stars won’t be having things all their own way, with New Zealand riders also world class competitors.
Suzuki’s former national and Suzuki Series champion in the F1 class, Wellington’s Sloan Frost, will be determined to win again, while last year’s Suzuki Series outright winner and fellow Suzuki rider Scott Moir, from Taupo, and Suzuki’s 2019 national superbike champion Daniel Mettam, from Glen Eden, Christchurch’s Alastair Hoogenboezem (Yamaha) and Whakatane’s Rees family – dad Tony and his sons Mitch and Damon (all Honda) – won’t be taking a back seat either.
Wainuiomata’s Shane Richardson returns from overseas, where he is currently leading the British Superbike Championships in the superstock class. He will race a 1000cc Kawasaki in the F1 class in the Suzuki International Series.
Wellington’s Glen Skachill returns to racing after a number of years away and he will also add spark to the F1 class on his BMW bike, while reigning national Supersport 600 champion Avalon Biddle has delighted organisers with news that she will race the Suzuki International Series and make her debut on the public streets of Whanganui on Boxing Day.
Rangiora-based Kiwi international Biddle will race her ZX6R Kawasaki in the F2 (600cc) class.
“I feel this is a reflection of the confidence riders have in the increased safety measures that we have put in place over the past few years. These top riders perhaps feel they can now commit to pushing it even harder on the street circuit,” said Willacy.
The Suzuki International Series also offers races for Formula Three, Classics (pre-89), sports bikes, super motard bikes and sidecars, so there’s no shortage of on-track action.
The always-popular GIXXER Cup class, reserved for riders on identical 150cc Suzuki GSX150F model bikes, returns to the programme again this year with the rider age-limit restriction lifted, meaning individuals such as Frost, Moir and Mettam are expected also to line up and give talented youngsters such as Jesse Stroud (Hamilton) and Caleb Gilmore (Whanganui) something to really think about.
© Words and photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ
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