This Saturday and Sunday is MotoFest time again at Hampton Downs, the biggest annual motorcycling spectacle on the Kiwi race calendar and, sharing the programme with the third round of five in the New Zealand Superbike Championships (NZSBK) will be Slight and his fellow bike legends of years past.
They will gather at the Star Insurance-sponsored Legends Garage in the pit zone at Hampton Downs, alongside exotic and famous bikes from the recent past and to meet and greet many of their fans … but also intent on getting out on the race track and show they’ve still got what it takes.
The inclusion in the MotoFest programme of the inaugural Motul NZ Classic Grand Prix will offer ample opportunity for these now-veteran riders to rekindle the flames of their youth and engage in a little friendly handlebar-bashing action on the picturesque North Waikato race track.
There may even be a few joyous tears in the eyes of the now 54-year-old Slight when he takes a rare opportunity to get up close and personal again with one of the bike that made him a legend, the Honda RC45.
Anyone watching World Superbike racing at its peak in the 1990s would be familiar with seeing Slight wrestling a green and white Castrol-sponsored Honda RC45, up against a sea of red Ducatis.
Runner-up in the WSBK series twice (once losing by just 4.5 points) and finishing third on four occasions (including once for Kawasaki), no-one came closer more often, and gave so much, without actually lifting the title.
But that’s only one reason why Slight is special. Another is he’s one of the few riders to campaign a factory bike from start to finish across its entire racing career. Slight took the RC45 to the podium for its first race in 1994 at Donington Park in the UK, and he rode it six years later, in its last race at Sugo, in Japan in 1999.
The bike that will be on show at Hampton Downs this weekend is, as far as Slight is aware, perhaps the closest thing he’ll be able to get to one of the bikes he actually raced back in those times.
The bike that will be at Hampton Downs is from Irishman Tom Dermotty‘s private collection.
“There should not be any of these left anywhere in the world,” exclaimed Slight.
“This bike is not actually one of my factory bikes, but the closest you’ll ever get to one of these now,” said Slight. “It’s as close to factory as you can imagine and even I’m amazed.”
Slight, who won the Suzuka Eight-Hour three times in a row – in 1994, 1995 and 1996 – said it would be a thrill to do a few laps on the RC45 Honda.
Aucklander Graeme Crosby is another Kiwi great who will be popular with the crowds at MotoFest.
“Croz”, as he’s affectionately called, raced all around the world in the 1980s and holds the distinction of being the only person to have won the Daytona 200, the Imola 200, the Suzuka 8-Hour endurance race and the Isle of Man TT.
Always good for a laugh and a joke, Crosby also takes his motorcycling seriously and he is looking forward to getting out onto the track in the Motul NZ Classic Grand Prix at MotoFest.
“I’m spoiled for choice really as to what I might ride” said Crosby.
“I have a replica 1980 Freddie Spencer Honda superbike, an identical machine to the one that was raced by Spencer to third place, behind me and American Wes Cooley, in 1980. I have a replica 1980 Moriwaki Kawasaki, an Eddie Lawson replica Kawasaki Z1000 and a 1981 Wayne Gardner replica Moriwaki Kawasaki too.”
Well-known Kiwi businessman Mike Pero is a key sponsor of this year’s third annual MotoFest at Hampton Downs and he will be taking the opportunity to get out on the track on what is a genuine factory Yamaha YZR500 that was raced by Australian Grand Prix star Kevin McGee.
“There are only a handful of these machines in the world and I’m very privileged and honoured to be able to ride this machine in Kevin’s absence,” said Pero.
American great Wayne Rainey rode an identical machine to claim three wins and his third consecutive 500cc world championship title in 1992.
Pero will also be riding his 1995 Yamaha TZ250 Grand Prix machine at MotoFest.
Meanwhile, Slight, Crosby and Pero will be rubbing shoulders in the Legends Garage, and possibly on the race track too, with fellow icons of the sport, men such as fellow Kiwi heroes Graeme Crosby, Paul Treacy, Stu Avant, Richard Scott, Gary Goodfellow and Andrew Stroud, to name a few.
Irrepressible Australian Robbie Phillis, a former team-mate of Slight’s, will also be hanging around the Legends Garage, keen for a chat or just to sign autographs, and this site will surely be one of the hot spots at this year’s Mike Pero MotoFest.
It will pay to keep a close look-out too for Waikato man Hugh Anderson.
Four-time road-racing world champion Anderson is to be inducted in the MotoGP Hall of Fame later this year.
Anderson made his first GP appearances in the 500cc and 350cc classes in 1960, taking a podium in the latter. Two years later he added the 125cc and 50cc classes to his resume, becoming a race winner in both. That set his course and for 1963, when Anderson took on the 125cc and 50cc World Championships, eventually winning the title in both categories.
He retained the 50cc crown the following year to make it back-to-back titles and was third in the 125cc title fight, reversing that in 1965 as he regained the 125cc crown and was third in the 50cc class. Anderson retired in 1966 after taking an impressive 25 Grand Prix wins and four titles in just six years and Kiwi sporting legends don’t come much greater than this man.
For more information on the Mike Pero MotoFest weekend, go HERE
© Words and photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com
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