So much talent heading to Suzuki Series start line
For three weeks each December, the speed of life quickens as the annual Suzuki Series weaves its magic.
Bike racers, engineers and mechanics, team managers, sponsors and the many fans all become engrossed in this special 'mini' season of pre-nationals racing.
This year's annual three-round Suzuki Series kicks off at Taupo's Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park this Sunday, December 9, and there's no let-up with the series heading to the Manfeild Circuit Chris Amon, on the outskirts of Feilding, for round two just a week later, on December 16, before its traditional Boxing Day finale on Whanganui's famous Cemetery Circuit.
It has been 10 years since the Suzuki Series was first created, in 2008, and its popularity continues to grow, with the public street event on Boxing Day, in particular, drawing large crowds.
The entry list for the premier Formula One class is again both long and illustrious this season, but if Taupo's Scotty Moir can pick up where he left off last year, then the Suzuki star will rank among the favourites to win again in 2018.
However, there is a trio of other former Suzuki Series winners who will rank right up there alongside him – Liechtenstein rider Horst Saiger (Yamaha), Wellington's Sloan Frost (Suzuki) and Whakatane's Tony Rees (Honda).
Glen Eden's Daniel Mettam is another who should feature in the F1 class on Sunday. He won the Suzuki Series’ 600cc Formula Two trophy in 2015 and the national 600cc supersport title in 2016. The Suzuki star finished overall runner-up in the Suzuki Series' F1 class last year and finished third in the superbike class in the 2018 nationals.
British rider Peter Hickman will be first-timer in the Suzuki Series, but his stunning credentials will instantly elevate him to favourite status too.
Internationally-renowned Hickman won at the Isle of Man earlier this year, setting a new lap record, and also celebrated wins in 2018 at the North West 200 in Northern Ireland and at the Ulster Grand Prix.
Hickman will race at all three rounds of the Suzuki Series and will be racing his BMW motorcycle under the Carl Cox Motorsports banner.
Other international stars set to make the trip Downunder include British and world sidecar championship contender John Holden, who will again have Tauranga's Robbie Shorter as his "wingman". Holden and Shorter won the sidecars class in the 2016 edition of the Suzuki Series.
British duo Phil Hyde and Gary Bryan also add international sparkle to the sidecars class in what will be their first Kiwi appearance, while Manx racing regular Nigel Rea, also from the UK, will make his Kiwi debut in the 600cc class.
Former Dutch sidecar champion Kees Endeveld and Australians Phil Underwood and Stephen Ford will also be hoping to put their respective nations on the map here this summer.
But, despite the presence of the international stars, it was Kiwi rider Moir who commanded the largest share of the spotlight last year and he could be the man to beat again this time around too.
Moir had arrived at Whanganui's final round of the series on Boxing Day last year with a slender seven-point lead over his two key rivals, Aucklander Mettam and Whakatane's Mitch Rees, but he simply refused to let the pressure tell on him.
The then 33-year-old Moir dominated this traditional post-Christmas race meeting at Whanganui, wrapping up the Suzuki Series' premier F1 class title, his first major road-race title win. He also celebrated a start-to-finish win in the event's coveted Robert Holden Memorial feature race.
The Suzuki Series also offers races for Formula Two (600cc), Formula Three, Classics (pre-89), sports bikes, super motard bikes and sidecars, so there's no shortage of on-track action.
A new competition was hatched last year for fledgling riders – the GIXXER Cup class, reserved for riders aged between 14 and 21 and all on board identical 150cc Suzuki GSX150F model bikes – and it returns to the programme again this year.
There are expected to be at least 18 riders on the starting grid in the GIXXER Cup class, with entries received from as far afield as Australia, Greymouth, Nelson, Sanson, Rotorua and Auckland.
Hamilton bothers Caleb and Jesse Stroud are among the GIXXER Cup entries, these two siblings the sons of Suzuki's nine-time former national superbike champion Andrew Stroud and so, if genes count for anything, they will certainly be worth watching.
© Words and photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ
CAPTION: Taupo's Scotty Moir (Suzuki GSX-R1000), among the favourites to win the Suzuki Series again this season. Photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.comBack