With back-to-back wins in the Formula One class at the annual Boxing Day motorcycle street fight – the third and final round of the Suzuki International Series on Whanganui’s Cemetery Circuit – 27-year-old Mitchell Rees rang the warning bells ahead of the upcoming nationals.

So too did younger brother Damon Rees, who actually led the series outright after the opening round at Taupo and eventually settled for the runner-up spot, behind visiting international champion Richard Cooper.

An ideal warm-up to the five-round New Zealand Superbike Championships, starting in Christchurch in just two weeks’ time, on the weekend of January 11-12, this December series allowed both Rees siblings to stretch their legs and certainly hinted at their winning potential. 

The Whakatane brothers raced Honda CBR1000SP1 bikes during the December series and will take those same bikes now to Christchurch confident they have the bikes’ horsepower, handling and geometry all tuned for their personal preferences.  

Damon Rees lodged an impressive 1-1 (round one at Taupo), 2-2-2 (round two at Manfeild), 3-3 (at Whanganui) score-card for the three rounds of the Suzuki International Series, seeing him finish up just five points behind Cooper, and he also led the Robert Holden feature race at Whanganui right up until the 10th and final lap, when he closed in on lapped riders and then Cooper took advantage to squeeze past and snatch the race win. 

“First time for me here on a superbike, I think I did fairly well,” said Damon Rees, in an obvious understatement.

“Two third places and then leading the Robert Holden race until the end. Two lapped riders got in my way and I was screwed by someone else. I have never felt this bad in my life coming second place. I’m pretty heart-broken. I hope the officials look at it next year regarding who they let into that race. Slow riders ruined it for me.

“Other than that, the racing was good and I felt great. I know that I can run with Richard Cooper and I head over to the UK now to race him there. My confidence is high,” said the 24-year-old.

Mitch Rees got stronger as the series wore on, registering 2-4 results at Taupo, 9-9-8 at Manfeild and then qualified on pole at Whanganui and scored a perfect 1-1 to end it on a high.

“It was an outstanding weekend for me. I didn’t expect to end up on the podium here, let alone taking two wins away. I crashed in practice at Manfeild and then had to use my “rain” bike, so started 11th on the grid there. I had the speed to be up front at Manfeild but I had those problems.

“I ended up third for the series, so a Honda 2-3 result for Team Rees … it would have been good to have a 1-2, but Richard (Cooper) rode phenomenally. He was on lap record pace in his first time on this track.

“I’m looking forward now to the nationals.”

Other class winners in the series this year were Upper Hutt’s Rogan Chandler (Formula Two); Taumarunui’s Leigh Tidman (Formula Three); Hamilton’s Jesse Stroud (GIXXER Cup); Whanganui’s Ashley Payne (Formula Sport/Bears, senior); North Shore’s Gui Mendes (Formula Sport/Bears, junior); Hastings’ Gian Louie (Post Classics, Pre 89, senior); Lower Hutt’s Dean Bentley (Post Classics, Pre 89, junior); Auckland’s Peter Goodwin and Kendal Dunlop (F1 sidecars); Tauranga’s Barry Smith and Tracey Bryan (F2 sidecars); Whanganui’s Bryan Stent and Tracey Bryan (Classic sidecars); Whanganui’s Richie Dibben (Supermoto).

Early in the New Year, Damon Rees will head off to the UK to race the British Superbike Championships in the stock 1000 class and that means it will be up to Mitch Rees to fly the family flag in the latter half of the nationals here.

The New Zealand Superbike Championships kick off with two rounds in the South Island, on January 11-12 and then a week later on January 18-19, before taking a month break and resuming at Hampton Downs, in north Waikato, in March. 

Damon Rees will race the two South Island rounds of the nationals only, although Mitch Rees will contest the entire five-round domestic series, that competition wrapping up at Taupo in April.

Credit: Words and photo by Andy McGechan