The Christmas rush may be over by Boxing Day, but nobody in Whanganui will be slowing down at all. Let’s just hope the Police are looking the other way on December 26 when motorbike riders take over the city once again.
Motorcyclists are expected to hare down Ridgeway Street, along Wilson Street, into Taupo Quay and Heads Road, before looping around Guyton Street and back into Ridgeway again, all of it at eye-watering speeds, often in excess of 200km/h. There is no doubt that these riders will ignore stop signals, fail to give way and, most probably, swerve across the centreline at every opportunity. And there are very few places in the world where this can happen, Whanganui transformed again to host the traditional Suzuki Series finale, a full day of racing around the city’s famous Cemetery Circuit.
For more than half a century the barriers have been put up for this world-renowned motorcycle “street fight”, with straw bales positioned and spectator fencing laid out along the gutters of Whanganui’s public streets.
Started in 1951, the event has been rained out on only one occasion, in 2012, as torrents of water washed away some of the huge trackside barriers, but fingers are crossed that there’s no rain in the forecast this time around. In fact, it’s likely to be another scorcher on Boxing Day, both in terms of the sun beating down and of bike riders trying to beat each other to the chequered flag.
Taupo’s Scott Moir (Suzuki GSX-R1000) won the Suzuki Series overall last season and he’s up the pointy end of the trophy chase this time around too, second in the premier Formula One class standings after round two and just three points behind the leader, Wainuiomata’s Shane Richardson (Kawasaki ZX10R).
But round two of the Suzuki Series at Manfeild a week ago, on December 16, really belonged to visiting British rider Peter Hickman (BMW S1000RR), who won both the two F1 outings at the Feilding circuit. Hickman may be a first-time visitor to New Zealand but he’s shown to be a fast learner and, besides this, he’s also the 2018 Isle of Man Champion and so no stranger to racing at breakneck speeds close to curbs, gutters, telephone poles, and hay bales. He’ll be right at home on the streets of Whanganui. Hickman’s back-to-back wins at Manfeild have propelled him from 11th after round one to now be ranked third in the F1 class standings, just eight points behind Moir.
Series leader Richardson knows he’ll have his work cut out to finish ahead of riders the caliber of Moir and Hickman, or other notables such as Wellington’s reigning national superbike champion and 2015 Suzuki Series champion Sloan Frost, fellow Suzuki star Daniel Mettam, from Glen Eden, and visiting Liechtenstein rider Horst Saiger, who won the Suzuki Series in 2014.
Also expected to feature on the Cemetery Circuit are Whakatane’s Rees family – 2016 Suzuki Series champion Tony Rees and his two sons Mitch and Damon – but Richardson says he is looking forward to the big day.
“It will be my first time there on a 1000cc bike (at Cemetery Circuit), so I will have to make the most of the first two practice sessions in the morning, making sure I qualify on the front row,” said Richardson. “This will put me in the best position to fight for the win. Scotty (Moir) has proved he is fast there on a regular basis and, with Hickman’s talent, I expect him to be up there, as well as a few other regular contenders.”
With 10 points the difference between winning a race or finishing back in sixth, and two F1 races on Boxing Day, any slip-up by any of these contenders could be costly.
Meanwhile, the crowds at Whanganui on Boxing Day are sure to get right behind local hero Richie Dibben, the Kiwi international hoping he can make his comeback from recent injury and delight again with his prowess on the tight and twisty circuit.
Interest will also be strong in the GIXXER Cup class – reserved for riders aged between 14 and 21 years and all on identical Suzuki GSX150F bikes – where two young men share the points lead, Taupiri’s Zak Fuller and Hamilton’s Jesse Stroud, the son of Suzuki’s nine-time former national Superbike Champion and four-time former Suzuki Series Champion Andrew Stroud.
Racing is expected to be intense in the various other classes too, although each class has its favourite with Whakatane’s Damon Rees leading the 600cc Formula Two class; Palmerston North’s Jacob Stroud dominating the Formula Three class; Paraparaumu’s Peter Bogusz heading the Post Classics Pre-89 (senior, over-600cc) class; Auckland’s Scott Findlay on top in the Post Classics Pre-89 (junior, under-600cc) class; Ngaruawahia’s Steve Bridge the man to watch in the combined senior Bears (non-Japanese bikes) and Formula Sport class; Te Awamutu’s Gary Morgan leads the combined junior Bears/Formula Sport class and Tauranga’s Duncan Hart rules the Super Motard class.
International talent abounds in the sidecars classes, where visiting UK rider John Holden and Tauranga’s Robbie Shorter are dominating the F1 grade and Tauranga pair Barry Smith and Tracey Bryan have a firm grip on the F2 grade.
It will be an intense day of race action and there will also be off-track activity to enjoy on Boxing Day. Spectators who have purchased “early bird tickets” through Ticketek online are in the draw to win a Suzuki GIXXER150 bike and, as well as being a passionate supporter of motorcycle racing, international DJ Carl Cox will also host a concert at the end of the day’s racing at Whanganui on Boxing Day.
Credit: Words and photo by Andy McGechan