The annual trek to the Burt Munro Challenge is always a highlight to the BRM calendar, as it’s a chance to blow off a little steam and relax with like-minded folk. For the lads at Team Rees it is much the same, but with a heck of a lot of racing thrown in for father and sons Tony, Damon, and Mitch. We had a chat to see how their Burt went and what’s in store for the rest of the season.
Bike – Honda CBR600RR #5
So Damon, tell us about the Bluff hillclimb?
It’s pretty scary you know, I’d say it would be a little bit less sketchy than it was if it was dry, but it was sorta like 7 degrees and it was freezing cold and windy and raining. So it wasn’t exactly ideal conditions to go learn how to go up Bluff hill.
I’d never done the bluff hillclimb before. Last year I helped Mitch at the supercross. This year he said he didn’t need me. So I went ‘sweet, I’ll go and do the hillclimb’. So probably not the most ideal of years to do it but it was still a pretty cool thing to do. I’d like to have a go at it in the dry anyway.
So how did it go, so you were in the supersport class?
It’s an up to 600cc class and they fit the motards in as well.
So you were racing against, Scotty Wilkens?
Yeah so I raced against Scotty Wilkens. There were some pretty cool names there doing it. It sorta was a Motard track, there’s only one biggish straight, and the rest of it is slippery corners. Those Motard boys can just crank through the corners whereas we have to tiptoe around half those corners so we lose a fair bit of time running around there. It wasn’t easy but I think I finished somewhere like 6th or 7th in the class, I don’t actually know where I finished up, but I did like a fairly decent time. I was only 2 seconds off what Tony did up the hillclimb in the wet so not bad considering. But It’s not a very long run so it wasn’t that fast really.
How many practice runs do you get before the timed run?
You do a sighting run, which everyone goes up at the same time in every class, and you sorta just tiptoe up it. And then they give you one practice run which is not timed, they time you but they don’t actually class it as a time, so it gives you an idea of how you went. Then it’s all go after that. I only did one proper timed run up it. It was sleeting at the top of bluff and I went ‘Umm, nah’ I decided to call it a day after that. Some might call me soft but I decided I didn’t really care what they called me. I was not keen to go riding in the snow.
After that you got the Friday off?
Pretty much, I did go to the Teretonga track, it was actually quite a nice hot day there, I went and did a few laps around the track and just got a good feel for it before we rode on the Saturday. Then I went out to the beach race and watched Mitch. It actually looked like good fun, I would probably do it if we had an extra bike and all that. It does look like quite a bit of fun but they got quite a pelting from the sand, it’s not so much fun to get roosted by.
Mitch was wearing his HJC tar helmet on the beach, it looked a bit ridiculous but it was probably the best decision he made. He Just put a whole lot bunch of tear offs on it and just went out. It was just so much better, because you can’t use the roll ons because the roll ons films just tear straight away from how hard they get sand blasted. The road helmet actually worked out really well. Tony did it last year and he went ‘nah, a road helmet would be ideal’, but you just don’t want to go wrecking one so we used an old HJC race helmet of Tony’s and Mitch went and used that and put a couple of tear off’s on it.
So the Saturday you were racing at Teretonga right?
The racing at Teretonga had pretty good weather really, like we didn’t get rain, it did spit a little bit at one stage but it wasn’t enough to wet the track. It was reasonably good, it was quite windy but it wasn’t a freezing cold day so it wasn’t a bad day for riding at Teretonga.
So the weather for most of the Burt was pretty average, but the days it wasn’t it was beautiful so to speak?
Yeah pretty much, the days that was bad were Wednesday, Thursday, Friday was good, Saturday was okay, and Sunday was on another level freezing, it was so cold.
So how many races did you manage on the Saturday?
We managed to squeeze in three races, they got through everything really well. So we did three races in the end and that was really good just because it was more racing laps for us. We haven’t done a huge amount of laps around there before. I just stuck behind Jeremy Holmes on his superstock CBR1000 and I managed to get into some pretty good times and I was pretty happy with how the day went. I won the formula 2 class so it was really good.
So this was your first year racing in the Burt?
Nah second year, I raced in it last year in the Street race and Teretonga.
So for you, was it Teretonga or the street race you were most amped on?
The circuit, I was the most happy with. The street race I was not too keen to go out there and ride just because of how high a risk it is in the street races when it’s wet. How wet and greasy it was and the track was really, really dirty. But I was pretty happy with how the racing went at the street race, but I was definitely a little more happy with how things went at the circuit. I don’t think I could have gone much better for how the conditions were, I was pretty happy with how everything went lap time wise and all that. The street race was still a bit of fun but at the same time it was ‘just bring the thing home’ just ‘cause I don’t want to go wrecking it and have to fix it before racing at Taupo. I did have a moment and that woke me up a little bit. I thought ‘why am I pushing so hard on a wet, greasy street’, so I had to slow down and cruise it to the finish line in the end. It’s not really worth throwing it down the road as it generally does a fair bit of damage to yourself and the bike when you go throwing it down the road.
So even though you backed it off you, Mitch and Tony did really well.
At the end of the day Mitch was definitely the keenest of us all to push so hard. He had a big, big moment in front of me and Tony and we were like ‘Dude slow down’. We saw the whole thing and it was quite exciting to see. To be able to finish all three of us Rees’ in 1st 2nd and 3rd was a pretty cool feeling to have all of us there.
Do you think you guys do so well in the wet because of your MotoX background?
Yeah I think that is pretty much true. If you’ve ridden moto most of your life and you hop on a road bike, you’re not really scared of the thing getting a little wild at times. If the bike gets a little out of shape or whatever you just keep it hammered. That’s why I think we don’t mind in the wet because if the bike moves around a little bit, and if you’ve got a good setup, but if the bike moves around a bit it’s not like ‘oh shit! I’d better slow down’. We’re moto boys, we just ride the thing on edge. That’s why it’s not really been so hard for Mitch and myself to get up to speed in the wet; just because we’ve got quite a natural feel with how the bike moves around so it’s not really a problem.
So with the forecast wet summer that’s good news for you guys?
Obviously we’d like to be winning in the dry, but hey, it’s positive for us. If it does rain we’re confident in ourselves that we’re not going to be slouches when it comes to the wet. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy to win in the wet, obviously it’s not. There’s some pretty good riders that are racing there and they know how to ride in the wet too, but it’s not like ‘oh shit it’s wet, we’re going to be way back’. We’re actually really confident riding in the wet. I see it as a positive thing if it does rain, but I mean at the end of the day we’d rather win in the dry as it’s a bit more of a playing field really.
For you is the Burt one of the most iconic races your riding this season?
Umm, yes that and the Wanganui Street Race, and Paeroa obviously too. The Burt’s a pretty cool one because there’s so many people from around the country that have travelled all the way down to Southland to go watch the racing or even compete in some of the events. Like it’s a pretty cool event just to go there and be there and meet all the people and stuff. I think it is quite special to finish on the podium, but obviously we’d like to win everything.
Bike – Honda CBR1000RR #11
How are you taking it that your son beat you, Tony?
It’s all good man, rather being beaten by my kids than by somebody else [laughs].
You had a pretty successful weekend anyway, didn’t you?
Yeah it was all good aye, it was always going to be a challenge in the hill climb because, you know, it was so bloody wet and slippery and miserable. You’ve basically got a 40second run and it’s not like you go down the bottom and have another go. So it was always going to be hard to go hard in those sorts of conditions.
So it’s a lack of testing and getting the setup right?
Yeah if it’s dry you can get going with it, but it was so bloody slippery. I know what I would do. I ran a much softer fork option last year for the hill climb, but I was riding the day before at the track day and they felt pretty good and I thought they’d be alright. With the rain I would’ve gone to a softer option. But it’s like you say, you don’t get lots of testing, and nobody else does as well, but we knew we were going to struggle against the motard bikes purely because they’re on the gas and we couldn’t get on the gas.
Damon said at the top of the hill is was sleeting and almost snowy, how was that?
Oh yeah it was pretty rough up there, and the worst bit was I was the first to go every time so I’d be sitting there for an hour. But hey, it is what it is, it didn’t worry me. You’d just go there and sit there and have a chinwag with everyone else.
Moving to the track, how did Teretonga go for you?
Yeah good actually we had a good day there, other than being a little windy it was mint. We had some good battles with Alistair Hoogenboezem. We’re pretty pleased with the way the bikes going, like against theirs, it was pretty good. We had some good battles, like I won the first one but he beat me in the other two. I was probably just a little bit soft going into the main sweeper off the main straight. Maybe he was just a little bit braver than I was. But, nah we had some good races, Mitch was right behind us there in two of them. So he got to learn a little bit from that I think because he managed to stick with us. That’s pretty impressive that he went that fast on his first time at Teretonga, you know?
So did you get the Friday at Teretonga as well?
Nah I didn’t because I was helping Damon get organised because he went out and did a few laps. Then we were sorta getting Mitch’s bike sorted and then heading off to the beach race, so I actually didn’t even go for a ride on the Friday. We were just straight into it on Saturday, which I thought we might be a little bit slower than we were but I put it on pole, so that was pretty good and Alastair was the only one who split the Rees’ on the front row. So it was good yeah and the races were real good, real close.
So for the rest of the season do you think Alastair Hoogenboezem will be up there with you guys as well?
Oh definitely, the guy’s fast. He was fast last year, and did really well at the last round at Hampton’s. He was the 600 champion a couple of years ago, he’s ridden plenty of big bikes like he’s ridden a BMW superbike or superstock bike in Australia so it’s not like he hasn’t done anything, you know? So he’ll be competitive, I know that he’s not doing the full Suzuki Series, he’s only doing Manfield, but he’s going to be fast wherever he goes. Honda had a good showing down there in Invercargill.
For you is it Teretonga you like racing at or do you like the street racing just as much or more?
I don’t mind either way, a race track’s a race track. I don’t care where we go or whatever, you know, I don’t go should we go into the street race or should we go on the circuit, like I enjoy either way. It’s a motorbike and you go and do as best you can, what you can do on the day is what you can do. You can’t always do the business. It was a pretty testing old street race, as everyone would have seen or heard, it was pretty miserable weather wise, and it was flipping freezing, but it was what it was. The boys, Mitch and Damon, have done a fair bit of riding over the winter, and I haven’t done anything and I knew as soon as it rained those boys were going to be hard to beat and they proved it in qualifying, they were both faster than I was, but they both followed me around didn’t they? [laughs] But that was cool and I said to Mitch, in those conditions you just need to ride the thing, you don’t wanna go firing it into the fence. I said to him I’m never going to go shoving it under you around here, it’s just not worth it. To be honest with you it was a very hard eight lap race because you’re stuck behind your son going ‘don’t fall off, don’t fall off, don’t fall off’ cause you know it’s going to be… and normally you wouldn’t think about that with anyone else, but yeah, it was pretty dirty and greasy and that’s what happens when it rains.
So everyone else got two races in and you guys only got one race on the Sunday?
Ah nah, we were only about half way through the programme so there were quite a few people that didn’t get a second race. We were about to go out actually, I had my helmet on ready to go, and then they pulled the pin on it. And fair enough too, the fencing was getting blown over the winds were so high and stuff like that, so that was that. It was all good.
So it’s all go from here, but the Burt was a good start to the season?
Yeah, the good thing and the reason we go to the Burt Munro is because it’s a whole bunch of different riding we can go and do. It’s a motorcycle event and there’s nothing else in New Zealand like it and Honda support the event so well so we like to support it as well if we can. It does make it hard going straight into the Suzuki Series afterwards because you know you’ve got your bikes at the bottom of the Island, you’ve got to get everything back, and get everything sorted and you’re into it again. Also a lot of guys have been out and doing laps of Taupo recently so there’s going to be a fair bit of competition this weekend to have a go against and it’s definitely not going to be easy.
You guys take the Burt seriously but it’s not always about winning is it?
Oh yeah exactly, it is about going to the event. Last year was the first one I went to and it’s been going for 10 years. Lots of people say ‘I don’t want to go to Invercargill because the weather’s no good’, but you can’t have that in mind, you just go there and have a good ride and as I said you can do more than one event. Look, Mitch got to do the supercross, the beach race and the circuit race, and Damon and I got to do the hillclimb, the street and the circuit so you’ve got to be happy with that.
So next year are you guys going to mix it up at bit and swap around events?
I dunno I haven’t thought that far ahead actually. As long as the boys want to go down, we’ll see how we go aye. It’s also good to go down, you know the National round is there too, you get a few laps of Invercargill too at the circuit. Mitch had never been to Teretonga before he got there the other day so he’s done some laps there now, so when it gets to nationals he knows where he’s going now.
On the way down you guys stopped off at another track for a trackday didn’t you?
Yeah we went to Manfield on the Friday on the way down and did a trackday there which was really good, because we wouldn’t have got there before the next round so we were sorta behind the eight ball. But then we went to Ruapuna and did the King of Ruapuna round, I think it was their last round of their series. We got a really good day down there and got a bunch of laps in which same thing, the Nationals are down there so it’s good testing time you know, to gauge yourself on that track. It was good really, yeah.
I was just as well Damon and Mitch know the boss so well and they can get all this time off to go racing
Oh yeah it is pretty hard on the team here actually, they do really well. We’re gone for a whole week and basically only leaves five outa nine, they got through it really well but yeah, when it comes to nationals I’ll be flying back and forth to work.
What’s happening with summercross this year, the days are swapped or something?
Yeah we did this two or three years ago. The reason for that is the second day isn’t a stat holiday, so you won’t get a crowd on the non-stat day and a lot of seniors have to go to work, so we swapped it around for that reason.
So will you, Damon, and Mitch be coming straight back from Whanganui for that?
Yeah we’ll be coming back that night, boxing day night. Obviously Honda is the main sponsor and we want to be there to help out and fly the flag for Honda. Mitch was going to ride the summercross but it’s a bit of a tall order doing boxing day on a superbike and then coming back and doing that.
Bikes – Honda CBR1000RR #94 and Honda CRF450 #866
So the Burt was your first trip to Teretonga?
To ride it was yeah.
So do you reckon those two days of riding on the way down helped the setup for Teretonga?
Oh shit yeah, on Manfield I was struggling and couldn’t get the bike to work how I wanted to, it just didn’t feel comfortable. Then we went to Ruapuna and made some changes and the bike was fantastic and got better and better as the day went on. Then we went to Teretonga Wednesday and did some testing as well. The bike was pretty good, it wasn’t too far off Tony and the times he was doing. Then Saturday we had the race meeting at Teretonga.
What’s the track like there?
Umm it’s quite fast and flowing. I guess it’s probably one of the easier ones to learn in the country but it’s hard to go faster than what you’re already doing sorta deal.
Who holds the track record there, Tony?
Nah, I’m not sure who holds it there.
So how did you do on the Saturday?
So Saturday, qualified 3rd on the grid. Tony, then Alastair Hoogenboezem, and then me and then Damon. So he did good. Then it was John Ross and then Jeremy Holmes the local boy.
So was that mostly Honda’s up front?
Yeah john ross was the only one not on one and he was on a Suzuki. Five out of the top six were on a Honda and Damon was the only one on a supersport. He did well.
So you qualified well, how did the actual race go?
First race not bad, got a pretty good start. Managed to get into second and follow the old man for about a lap and then Al passed me, so then I just sorta sat behind those two and was pretty comfortable. And then just made a couple of mistakes at the back markers and lost some time which was a bit of a bummer.
So being two fast was your downfall?
Yep, nah they just managed to get past them in a better area than I did. Like I was right behind them but about half a second back, whereas they were up each other’s ass. So if one went for a pass the other one was right there and I was sort of a little far back and I just lost a couple of seconds on one of the lapped riders which fucked me up a bit.
So you were pretty comfortable just sitting in that position?
Yeah yeah yeah, I was pretty happy with what sorta times and how I was going. I was trying but there’s still more there. I was not that far off them so I was pretty pumped on that one.
Not to jump ahead, but on the Sunday at the street races tony said to you before the racing to watch yourself because of the wet and the danger on a street circuit obviously, so you were hanging it out a lot more at the street races right?
Nah I was trying, I was going harder at the circuit, there’s still more in there though.
Both Damo and Tony said you had a little moment there standing up on the pegs and that, how far through the race was that?
That was about three or four laps in.
Damo then had one a couple of laps later as well didn’t he?
So he says… [laughs]
What does that mean??
Well I didn’t see it, you can’t really see behind you. (duh!)
So you beat Tony by point two of a second?
So he was literally beside you?
Yeah he was just back from me, it was bugger all.
Did you know he was there, could you see him or hear him?
Nah, didn’t even know he was there. But it was kinda hard because there was heaps of back markers in that race.
As I was talking to Damon before, do you think your history on dirt bikes helped you?
Yeah definitely. Yeah you’ve got better feel and you’ve got better experience with the motox when it’s muddy and that.
So going into the race you were pretty confident?
Yeah for sure, you just rock up there and do your thing and it’s all good.
So is there qualifying for the grid?
Yeah so they have a practice session that is practice and qualifying together so you basically get your times outa that. So it was quite good for me as I just followed those two in front of me and just gassed it a bit harder before the line and managed to get a faster time.
You’re essentially a rookie and this was your first ever street race, where do you go from here?
Next is Tri Series this weekend. So Tri Series, Nationals, Wanganui, and Paeroa.
So do you feel there’s a little bit of pressure on you now to follow up on this street race win at Wanganui and Paeroa?
Oh there’s always that. I’ve got lots to learn and that’s what really matter.
Lots to learn? You won!
Yeah but I could’ve gone faster, could’ve been better. I wanna dominate really. Nowadays that’s what would be nice. Just everywhere you go you wanna dominate. It’s just working harder at that stuff and learning more about suspension and tyres. All that really.
So are you doing testing in the week or just using the race meetings for testing?
Just using the race meetings as learning and testing. Like we’ll go the Friday before each round of the tri series and do that stuff, because there’s always a practice the day before so we’ll do that (which pretty much all of the guys go do anyway), so we’re just going to do the same sorta thing. But the Burt Munro for us was good, because we’ve done so many different events and testing on the way down there that by the time we get back and start the Tri Series we’re good to go.
So going back to the Thursday you were racing the Supercross at the Burt, how did that go?
Got fifth. That was behind BT, Coopers, Carter, Coppins and then it was me. Then obviously on the beach race got fifth in the 450 class and 3rd in the open. Bike wasn’t fast enough though. I put some different gearing on it but just didn’t have enough horsepower. Needed some engine work done to be competitive.
So next year now that you’re killing it on the tar, do you think you might skip the supercross and hit the hill with your brother and dad?
Yeah like, really what I could have done that, because they called the supercross off until 5 o’clock so I could have probably done a couple of runs there and then supercross. Like I enjoy doing the supercross thing so I’ll probably continue to do that. I do want to do the hill climb but while I can do the supercross thing I may as well.
You’d do it on the CBR you wouldn’t bother with a motard?
Yeah CBR, definitely.
So after this season, are all three of you going to be on thous?
Yeah that’s the plan and Honda’s got a new CBR1000 coming. That should be a good bike so, yeah, it’ll be starting it all over again and building fresh bikes from the start. That’s obviously presuming that we get some, but I’m sure Honda will be coming to the party there.
When does that land?
Next year in 2017 sometime they’ll start making their way into the country.
What did your dad say to you when you took your helmets off after that street race?
Oh he just said ‘good job, congratulations’. I think he was pretty pumped for me. I guess we weren’t all pushing that hard. He knew it was going to take a little bit to get past and he was I guess concerned for my wellbeing if I crashed as it was a little sketchy around there. But it was all good.