The New Zealand Superbike Championships, again being run in conjunction with the Suzuki International Series, kicked off at Taupo’s International Motorsport Park with the event encompassing both parallel-but-separate series and signalling a furious the start to the 2023-24 season.
Right from the start, Whakatane’s Mitch Rees began his national title defence in the premier 1000cc class with a top-of-the-table performance, qualifying his Honda CBR1000RR in the No.1 spot.
Rees then won the first two of three superbike points races and seemed to be heading towards a perfect weekend, until this dream was ‘ruined’ by his own team-mate, his 56-year-old father Tony Rees snatching the final race victory instead.
Mitch Rees should have seen that coming, actually, because Tony Rees is a multi-time former national champion and quite obviously still capable of running with and beating the nation’s motorcycling elite.
Tony Rees was fourth soon lights signalled the start in the day’s rain-affected third and final superbike race.
Then, before the completion of two laps, Tony Rees had powered through to pass Christchurch’s Alastair Hoogenboezem, visiting British star Davey Todd and Mitch Rees. The elder Rees then took the race lead from Christchurch’s Dale Finch at the end of lap two.
The Motul Honda Team Rees owner held out over the following laps against strong challenges from his 30-year-old son Mitch, Finch, Whanganui’s Richie Dibben and Upper Hutt’s Luke Riley, to add yet another podium result to his long and much-admired race career.
With Mitch Rees finishing 1-1-2 over the weekend and Tony Rees finishing 3-2-1, it meant that the men in red had finished the weekend 1-2 on the top two steps of the podium, with Finch settling for third overall.
“I had a fair bit of confidence in what this bike could do, even in the wet conditions, but I simply made no mistakes and this was the reward,” said Tony Rees afterwards.
“It’s awesome to be racing side-by-side with my son at the nationals.
“The last time I was top of the podium at the nationals was probably the last time I won the title, in 2017. It’s been a long time between drinks.”
Mitch Rees was philosophical about being beaten by his dad in the final race.
“There was a lot of rain spray being thrown up by the bikes in front of me in that last race and I was considering just letting them all go, thinking more about the championship than the race win. I didn’t want to take risks,” said Mitch Rees.
“But then I managed to reel them in and knew where I could get past Dale (Finch) and into second. Dad was just out of reach for me. I’m super proud of dad. He was riding unreal in the wet.”
It was significant to note also that Mitch Rees broke the Taupo lap record in a sun-kissed race one on Saturday, a benchmark that had previously set by his younger brother Damon Rees, who sadly passed away earlier this year.
‘Damo’ Rees passed away while in hospital in England, struck down by a medical tragedy totally unrelated to the sport he loved and memories of his brother spilled over to tears when Mitch Rees learned he’d also now joined his one-time sibling rival as a member of the exclusive ‘26 Club’.
The new Formula One Superbike lap record at Taupo is now one minute 26.9 seconds.
The riders all now head to Manfeild, on the outskirts of Feilding, for round two in both series next weekend. The Suzuki International Series will wrap up, as always, on Whanganui’s famous Cemetery Circuit public street environment on Boxing Day.
The Boxing Day ‘street fight’ is not part of the NZSBK series, but that six-round NZSBK competition resumes in the New Year, with rounds three, four and five in the South Island – at Christchurch, Timaru and Invercargill respectively – with the series then travelling north again to wrap up with round six at Hampton Downs, near Huntly, in March.
Class leaders in both series after the weekend in Taupo are: Whakatane’s Mitch Rees (F1/Superbike class); Invercargill’s Cormac Buchanan (F2/Supersport 600 class); Taupo’s Karl Hooper (F3/Pro Twins); Papakura’s Craig Coulam (Formula Sport, Senior); Whanganui’s Jeff Croot (Formula Sport, Junior); Hamilton’s Jesse Stroud (Supersport 300); Hamilton’s Nathan Finlay (GIXXER 150); Christchurch’s Diego Petrucci (Supersport 150); Hastings’ Gian Louie (Post Classics, Pre-89, Senior); Auckland’s Scott Findlay (Post Classics, Pre-89, Junior); Invercargill’s Jon Rawcliffe (Post Classics, Pre-95, Senior); Christchurch’s Jordan Leslie (Post Classics, Pre-95, Junior); Britain’s Davey Todd (Supermoto); Panmure’s Adam Unsworth and Whanganui’s Bryce Rose (F1 Sidecars); Whanganui’s Peter and Lucy Dowman equal with Edgecumbe duo Ian Burke and George Vennell (F2 Sidecars).
© Words and photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ
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