One Hell Of A Week!

It was like the weather gods were taking pot-shots at the riders, hurling ice, rain, wind and sunshine in random order throughout the week – but it was still epic!

Words: Kev | Photos: Paul


“You’d just have to go to the ‘Burt’ if you were a Kiwi and consider yourself a motorcyclist, wouldn’t you?” The question was put to me by an Australian motorcyclist – he’d flown over just for the ‘One Hell Of A Week’ that his mates had been raving about all year. He was blown away when watching the hillclimb, beach race, circuit sprints, speedway, supercross and the street racing, reveling in the conditions as well as the event itself, which is far more than a race meeting. How do you answer that? I had to agree, it really ought to be on the list…

So the weather wasn’t as kind as last year, cutting the speedway short after some great packed-house action was terminated as the track flooded (more hail than rain too!) But every other event charged on. It was a tyre-changing marathon as wets were swapped for slicks and back again so many times that we may have discovered a few that ought to qualify for Marc Marquez’ pit crew!

Starting off with the southernmost road racing event in the world, traction was the name of the game as the bikes scrabbled off the line and spun up to the summit of Bluff Hill, the location of the NZ Hillclimb Championship event, the finish line being 1.4km away up one steep piece of tarseal. The road is so steep it’s quite daunting in the dry – and it wasn’t dry for most runs. In the damp and trying conditions, there were plenty of ‘moments’ to entertain the crowd. Cameron Donald flew in to ride the McIntosh Suzuki and, fortunately for me, decided to have a crack at the open title, stepping out of the pre ’82 class despite his gorgeous ride being eligible. After a run that left him head on tank, gathering himself together after coming ‘so, so close’ to ending the week badly, twice in the same run, he pipped Seth Devereux by 0.3 to take the NZ Hillclimb title. “It’s a man’s hill, that one – I won’t forget Bluff Hill any time soon, that’s for sure…” said Donald after his final run. Quite a statement from a man with two IOM TT wins and a couple of Macau GP’s among others to his name.

Also pleasing the crowd with a burnout and some great wheelies in the wet was Aaron Slight, competing on the Honda VFR800 he rode to the event. He didn’t change tyres for any of the racing; he simply jumped on and rode what he brought.

The consensus was the chip used to pave the road is some derivative of soap-stone – slippery as…

On the up-side, Cam left the door open for me to retain the pre ’82 title, despite a spooky fourth gear tank-slapper on the final section. Might have dropped the forks a tad too far… End result – stoked. To all the competitors who took on that hill on the day – respect.

The organisers worked everything out so you could watch the hillclimb, then head to Winton, a short drive away, to watch the NZ Supercross title being fought out on a fantastic course, all prepped to perfection for the event. Talk about Southland laying on the facilities! Fuller coverage of the moto dudes in action is in DRD, so if you are also a dirt fan, check out our sibling magazine. Jay Wilson (Australia) won the feature class honours and the guys put on quite the show on a seriously cool track designed especially for the event. The youngsters also got to battle it out in front of their heroes, albeit on a slightly more forgiving track layout that meant they didn’t need clearance from flight control.



Takin’ It To The Beach!

Described by Whytey, one of the testers in both BRM and our dirty sister publication, Dirt Rider Downunder, as one of the best days he’s ever had on a dirt bike, the Oreti Beach Races had blustery but fine conditions, making for brilliant racing on the wide open sands that Burt Munro used to race on. With competitor numbers well up this year, the spectacle of the big field in the feature 50-mile race was enjoyed by all, particularly those with the throttle cables stretched tight on the sand. The race carries with it the national title and the trophy represents the longest running motorcycle event in NZ, the label of the Burt Munro and is the most sought-after trophy of the event. It would be nice to see a few old-school converted big capacity road bikes out there in the tradition of beach racing though… anyone?

From the sand to the tarmac, it was Teretonga Circuit’s time to shine. The cold (for us northerners) weather was defeated by the effort to change wheels back and forth to counter the moments of sunshine, the odd sleet squall and the constantly changing track conditions for much of the day. A full gamut of bikes took to the track, from pre 1963 girder front-ends to the latest superbikes, so there was something for everyone there.

With Cam Donald and the McIntosh all prepped and ready to take to the track in the post classic class, it was brilliant to see none other than John Ross, NZ supersport champ and superbike front-runner take up the challenge on Te Anau local, Sid Chaloner’s 1982 Nico Bakker Honda and provide the fans with some world class racing. Unfortunately for Donald, after winning the first two rounds, a puncture saw him retire in the final round, ending play but with Ross coming to grips with the bike he hadn’t ridden previously and getting quicker each time out, it was an impressive display by the duo – I was too far behind to really get the opportunity to see them for long… In case you were thinking it was only ‘relatively fast, considering the bikes are old school’ here’s an interesting number for you: 1min 02.641. That’s the new pre ’82 lap record at Teretonga, set by John Ross on a hardly ideal day. To give you some idea of how quick that is, he won the Formula Teretonga race on his Suzuki GSX-R1000 superbike with a quickest lap barely a second quicker! Yep, him and Cam were absolutely on it, relegating the rest of us to our own battles but no less enjoyable. It really was awesome to have bikes and riders of that class racing classics. Ross won the overall in both of his classes, boding well for the upcoming nationals.

Always entertaining, Australian superbike legend Robbie Phillis also had a great day at Teretonga, riding Garry Jamieson’s Moriwaki Monster Honda 750 in the pre ’89 class. Now a regular attendee at the ‘Burt’ he’s already planning to be back next year.

It was well run, as usual, and really did have a good representation from all of the classes, again, unique to the BMC with moderns and classics rubbing shoulders in the pits.



Getting’ Sideways

Unfortunately for the speedway fans, Mother Nature had a hissy-fit and the ensuing hailstorm, followed by torrential rain, put paid to the second half of the meeting. Still, the spectators got to see some great racing before the plug was pulled. The size of the crowd demonstrated just how popular this discipline is with the fans, so next year, expect the sideways brigade to be making up for lost time. Due to the cancellation, the trophies stayed put until next year, which was a real shame after a spectacular first half.


Wyndham CBD

The forecast basically said to flip a coin for tyre choice but on the day, damp was as dry as it got. With the track builders literally shovelling hail off the track at 5am after a blizzard swept through, conditions were, to be polite, challenging. As the temperature swung between the low teens and sunny to freezing with sleet and hail, it was a day for the hard men, and lady, as winner of the Spirit of the Burt Munro Challenge trophy was Francie Winteringham, racing several classes, including swinging on Rhys Wilson’s Rudge sidecar outfit. After the hillclimb tankslapper, my right arm was still pretty unimpressed with me, and being a ‘soft’ northerner, I sat out the wet Wyndham racing, choosing to watch instead… The Southerners are a hardy lot but there is no disrespect given should you not feel comfortable to compete. In fact, the welcome you receive at the Burt Munro Challenge is unequalled anywhere, racer or spectator. Going back to the comment from the visitor from across the ditch – he’s quite right. If you’ve never been to the Burt Munro Challenge, maybe you don’t qualify as a Kiwi motorcyclist just yet…

By the way, with 600 entries it just happens to be the biggest motorcycle racing event in New Zealand. With the support of the towns in the area and motorcyclists from all over NZ and Australia, it’s just getting better, now a meeting of the codes with road, circuit, speedway and motocross riders all coming together to share what they have in common. The event is as much a rally as a race meet, with many riding the best roads all the way down the country to meet old friends, make some new ones and watch as much or as little racing as required. With bands every evening and no attitudes, as the saying goes, it’s one hell of a week!



Legends at the Burt Munro Challenge, brought to us by Honda

Being motorcyclists, the speakers were always going to be riveting. What eventuated was definitely that – as well as side-splittingly hilarious as the previously undisclosed tales came out of the bag when the guys got together. Hugh Anderson was in great form, giving an insight into the racing world he was so much a part of. Then we had the dirt legends, Josh Coppins (who won the motard class at Wyndham) and Ben Townley. It was fascinating following their progress around the world, culminating in results like Josh winning an MX GP in MX1 and then the anthem sounding again as his good friend Ben Townley took out the MX2 class – the most successful day of NZ Motocross ever.

Then it was time for IOM TT legend, Cam Donald to lead the capacity crowd through the IOM and talk about his trip to Invercargill to ride what he called a beautifully crafted motorcycle, the McIntosh Suzuki GSX1100 Bathurst Replica. The handling of the machine simply blew him away.

When road racing legends and ex teammates Robbie Phillis and Aaron Slight took to the stage, it was always going to be good… Tales of sitting on the factory roof, drinking and shooting rabbits in the surrounding paddocks with crossbows started a hilarious downward spiral as the antics of the Antipodean racers during downtime opened the eyes of those behind the windows at head offices in Europe and Japan… As for the ‘souvenir they left on a certain world champion’s car roof – and in the air vents, the stories had tears running down the cheeks of most of the room. The funniest thing was it was all true – verified by Slighty as Robbie kept dragging out unpublishable tales…like the spa pool they built outside the offices at the factory – then the drinking games begun…To be continued next year I’m sure.

Hugh launched his book at the event too, selling 140 there and then. If you want a great read about one of our living legends, Being There is a must, must read.



Honda Backing the Burt

Honda came on board as a major sponsor this year, with their top brass all riding down to the event, along with Aaron Slight. Nice to see the guys out there in all sorts of weather and really getting into the spirit of the event. The test fleet were all there, so punters could take the new models for test rides between events. We’ll be sampling a few of the bikes over the next few issues, starting with the VFR800 that Aaron competed on. The tyres are well and truly scrubbed in!

Also a huge thanks to Biketranz, who not only shipped my bike down to Invercargill, but many others, including the McIntosh Suzuki that Cam Donald raced. If you don’t have time to drive down and race or need to take a shortcut and only ride part way, you can always get Biketranz to sort your bike out and fly down…


He was a legend of his time. Burt Munro bought an Indian Scout motorcycle at the age of 15, and over the years spent hours buried away in his shed, fettling and tuning the machine until he eventually made it to the Bonneville Salt Flats where he set a land speed record of 178.97mph. He was 63-years-old at the time and returned on eight further occasions to better his record and also set the fastest speed on an Indian motorcycle (190.07mph). His life was documented in the movie, The World’s Fastest Indian, which generated so much interest in the man and his hometown of Invercargill, that the Burt Munro Challenge was born in 2006, celebrating the man’s love of speed and motorcycles.

Next year marks the tenth anniversary of the Burt Munro Challenge – why not head down to join the celebrations next November? It already looks like a star-studded event but if we told you what the plans are, we’d have our passports revoked…